Treasures of the Pazyryk Culture

Russian Federation
Date of Submission: 16/01/2018
Criteria: (i)(ii)(iii)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of the Russian Federation to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
The Altai Republic, Kosh-Agachskiy, Ulaganskiy, Ongudaiskiy, Ust'-Koksinskiy, Turochakskr regions
Coordinates: N50 54 890 E85 34 623
Ref.: 6283


Altai is the unique region on the planet. It guards huge layers of life - sustaining activities of human civilization. It's a place of formation and cultural evolution of ethnic groups that are scattered through the Eurasia.

The Altai Republic, including the Altai mountain range is a part of the Russian Federation. It has external borders with Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan. The Altai Republic is one of the most original ones among the Russian regions due to the richest natural and cultural heritage. During the milleniums priceless monuments of human history and a huge cultural heritage of global civilization was formed here.

The "Treasures of the Pazyryk Culture" of the Early Scythian Epoch includes the unique and world famous burial mounds (kurgans) and petroglyphs of the Pazyryk Culture. The Pazyryk Culture is one the related Central Asian cultures of the Scythian time. On the large area of the Altai Mountains it existed from the 6th to the 2nd centuries BCE. This culture has left clear evidences which are presented by unique burial complexes. The archaeological sites presenting cultural heritage of Pazyryk time include burial mounds (the frozen tombs of tribal nobility) and petroglyphs made in an "animal style".

The objects included in "Treasures of the Pazyryk Culture" of the Early Scythian Epoch are:

- archaeological monuments (mounds and petroglyphs) of Pazyryk Culture:

Pazyryk is a group of archaeological mounds (N50°44'45.26" E88°4'16.69"). It is located at a distance of 80 km southeast of Lake Teletskoye and on the territory of buffer zone of the Altaisky Zapovednik, which is the World Heritage Property component.

Katanda is a group of archaeological mounds (N50°54 890' E085°34'623'') situated in the cooperation area of Biosphere Reserve "Katunsky" - another component of the World Heritage Property "Golden Mountains of Altai". It is at a distance of 5 km to the northwest of the Katanda Village;

A petroglyphic complex Elangash (N50°08.853' E088°18.280') is located in the Elangash River Valley in Kosh-Agach district, in the cooperation area of the natural park "The Ukok Quiet Zone". The task of the park is conservation of the natural objects of Ukok Plateau which is also a component part of "Golden Mountains of Altai".

- the similar archaeological monuments of Pazyryk Culture (mounds and petroglyphs):

Tuekta is a group of archaeological mounds (N50°50'726" E085°52'981") situated also in Ongudai region, on the left bank of Ursul River, in the north-eastern part of the village of Tuekta;

Kalbak Tash presents a petroglyphic complex (N50 40 272 E86 82 076) located on the right bank of the Chuia River, 18 km southeast from Inya village of Ongudai district on the pass named Kalbak Tash.

On September 8, 2008 UNESCO consultative sub-regional workshop on development of transboundary cooperation for conservation of the cultural heritage of the Altai Mountains was held in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. This conference was organized by the UNESCO World Heritage Center for discussing the issues of conservation of cultural and historical heritage of the Altai region, located in four countries — Russia, Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia.

During this meeting they emphasized outstanding universal value of the Altai as the cradle of nomadic civilizations of the Central Asia who possessed high abundance and variety of cultural and historical monuments of different epochs, among which of a special uniqueness are the monuments of the Pazyryk Culture.

The outstanding importance of the Pazyryk cultural values in Altai was stated in the album "Preservation of the frozen tombs of the Altai Mountains", published in 2008 by UNESCO. The archaeological sites of Pazyryk cultural heritage include burial mounds (kurgans) and petroglyphs. Multimillennial history of the Altai Mountains is closely linked with large-scale events that took place in the vast spaces of North and Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Due to the unique discoveries in the Pazyryk burial mounds (Ulaganskiy administrative district) scientists use terminological definition "Pazyryk Culture" for archaeological sites of Skythian times.

The most famous monuments of the Pazyryk Culture are: archaeological mounds in Pazyryk, Ukok, Bashadar, Tuekta, Katanda, and petroglyphic complexes - Elangash, Kalbak Tash.

The highly developed and unique Pazyryk Culture became a world heritage. Currently in the Altai Republic over six hundred burial mounds (kurgans) associated with the exponents of Pazyryk archeological culture have been investigated. Objects found in the frozen tombs are of high importance when investigating the social history and worldview ideas of the Pazyryk populations.

The phenomenon of permafrost ice lense formation under the stone mounds of the kurgans was registered nowhere so far outside the Altai Republic. The permafrost created a thermal insulating layer that prevents the soil from heating in summer and provides fast freezing of soil in winter due to free convection in the stone mound of the barrows. Thus, a special microclimate different from surrounding climate outside was created in the stone mound.

Objects found in archaeological barrows were superbly preserved. They are horse harness, carpets, clothing, shoes, hats and articles from wood, precious metals, leather, fur, felt, as well as all kinds of textiles and horse equipment.

Discovering the mummified bodies of people with tattoos on the skin in the burial mounds of Altai became a sensation, enriching the cultural heritage of all humanity.

All the burial monuments of the Pazyryk Culture have the same general structure: the diameter of stone mounds range from 25 to 50 meters, the height above the ground is measured from 2 to 4 meters, the depth of the grave pit is up to 7 meters, the total area of the grave pits is from 25 to 50 square meters.

Inside the burial pit there was placed a funerary chamber made of hewed logs with double walls and double ceiling, at the southern wall was placed a wooden sarcophagus up to 5 meters, carved from a thick larch and closed with a slotted lid.

Objects from the archaeological barrows such as tools, household items, clothing, jewelry, and items of weaponry make it possible to represent the material culture of the Altai Mountains populations that lived more than two thousand years ago.

Perfectly preserved funerary constructions, made from a log cabin testify ancient skills of home construction. The Pazyryk populations still remain the only ancient people in the world, whose tattoo we can see. Those tattoos can personally convince of the reality of this ancient information. Tattoo applied on the body of men and women, indicate a high level of its performance: the mummies found in the «royal» burial mounds were covered with drawings from head to toe.

Pazyryk tattoos, besides typical for this culture images of the mystical griffin­deer-ibex, feline predators with hook-like mouth, depict the real animals dwelled in Altai (tigers, mountain sheep, ibex) and koulans unknown here.

Among the tattoo images there is also a spotted predator, which can be as well as Altai snow leopard or the leopard which did not dwell here (the latter is quite possible, since articles from the fur of leopard were found in the first and second Pazyryk mounds). Thus, the tattoo shows that people buried in the "frozen" tombs of Altai were representatives of the highest cultural community.

Finds from Pazyryk barrows provide evidence that 2,500 years ago local nomadic peoples already had trade relations with distant countries.

Ancient burial mounds of the Russian Altai have preserved handicrafts from China, shells from the shores of the Indian Ocean, Anterior-Asian carpets and textiles of local production. Pazyryk people themselves rather exported fur and gold articles to China, India, Persia, Sogdiana, which caused myths about "the griffins guarding gold".


The Pazyryk kurgans (Ulagansky district) are located inside the buffer zone around the component part of World Heritage Property «Golden Mountains of Altai». They are on the altitude of 1,600 meters above the sea level, where the comparatively limited area of the valley includes about 40 different archaeological structures: large and small stone mounds, oval and round flat stone platforms and fences, stone circles, rows of stones set vertically.

Archaeological mounds are considered to be the most important Scythian burial sites in the Altai Mountains, because they laid the foundation for studying the frozen tombs.

One of the richest is the fifth kurgan which is located in the centre of the complex. Its mound presented piled stones, not very high, with gentle slopes, its diameter was 47 meters, a height of 2,2 meters. About 1,800 cubic meters of stone was used to construct it. Here archaeologists have found the oldest preserved Persian carpet and another carpet, presumably of local production, depicting a man on horseback. Among the remains of four purebred horses, which, apparently were brought to Altai from the south, they found well preserved wooden jewelry of harness, felt saddles blankets, and other trappings braided in the tail of horses.

In this mound they also found a collapsible tent, fragments of wagons, the famous wooden chariot, and richly decorated saddles. Therefore, we should note that in this period of time the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and other nations with developed culture did not use saddles. As for the Altai Mountains, it was the region of the Central Asia where the first felt yurt was invented and a horse was domesticated earlier than anywhere.

According to epic studies, it was horse domestication that served as the basis for the emergence of a new hero image in folk literature — an athlete in the heroic legends.

Some samples of ancient musical instruments such as harp, horn drum were found in Pazyryk kurgans. A small drum made of two halves of bull horn has an average height of 18 cm. Researchers suppose that the discovered drum was likely of sacral and ritual use.

The more complicated four-stringed musical instrument — a small harp (its Altaian name is «diadagan») has a length of 83 cm. It was hollowed out from a single piece of wood coloured in red outside and its open parts were covered by membranes from a skillfully made leather.

According to the Altaian mythological legends a folk hero Shunu liberated his people which were captured by enemy and kept for a long time in a dark cave. Shunu managed to withdraw his people from the cave due to playing the diadagan and due to throat singing.

Pazyryk Culture is characterized by the existence of a Scythian triad, which unites it with other cultures of the Eurasian steppes. These are identical weapon systems, the construction and objects of horse harness, and the Scythian animal style.

Found in the Pazyryk burials vivid examples of Scythian - Siberian animal style mainly portray excruciation of peaceful cloven-hoofed animals by predators which are mostly winged.

The important discovery were the mummified bodies of the leader and his wife (or concubine) in the Pazyryk mounds. Outside the grave chamber in the northern half of the burial pit there was a horse entombment with a full set of horse harness in accordance with the number of sacrificed horses. And the number of horses in the mounds varied from 7 to 14.


The burial complexes of Tuekta (in Ongudai district) include 197 mounds. Research data on these sites are kept in the museum collections of the Altai Republic and Russia. Burials of the elite of Pazyryk society were also found in the log sarcophagus inside a wooden cabin placed in grave pits under the piled stones. From inventory items there were found ceramics, saddles, jewelry, weaponry, and etc. Medieval burials were put in grave pits under these stone mounds. Such objects as a silver jar, jewelry and weapons were removed from them.


The first mound with a height of 2 meters and a diameter of 40 meters containing the permafrost was discovered in Katanda. The ice lense has preserved a variety of unique articles from textile, leather and wood. Under the multiple layers of logs there was discovered a hewed log cabin with double walls and double ceiling. The logs were set almost according to the modern construction technologies. This kurgan contained unique items of clothing from sable and ermine fur preserved in a good condition. A fur coat, the sleeves of which were painted in different colors (green, yellow and brown) demonstrates a flaky design. Besides this original decor, the coat was decorated with a buckle carved from wood and covered with golden foil. Artistic design of this coat shows the high technology and art specific for its time.

There is also famous long-tailed coat from Katanda and felt carpet with colored appliques, and wooden carved decorations in golden foil, made in Scythian-Siberian animal style. All these findings demonstrate surprising for its time jewelry craftsmanship of Pazyryk society.

Petroglyphic complexes


The petroglyphs in the Elangash valley (Kosh-Agach municipal district) make an indelible impression. In point of fact they present a huge source on the history of culture and fine art by the ancient populations of the Altai, including the Pazyryk Culture. Petroglyphs of the Altai Mountains make up part of the immense ancient rock art of Siberia, Central Asia in contrast with woodlands and taiga. These petroglyphs have own characters and stories related to the life of ancient hunters and herders in the steppes and deserts of Eurasia.

The main attraction of the valley is a giant rock art complex, stretched for 18 kilometers into the valley, it reaches a width of 1,5 km. Scientists have copied over 30,000 drawings from here. The most common themes of petroglyphs are deers, goats, bulls procession, anthropomorphic figures, camels, chariots, fighting beasts. Drawings were made by incusing and graffiti techniques.

According to scientists, the numerous ancient drawings on rocks illustrate not only the various scenes of everyday life such as migrations, hunting, war, but also scenes from myths and heroic legends.

Kalbak Tash

A petroglyphic complex "Kalbak Tash" (Ongudai district) is located at a distance of 7 km to west from the village Iodro. It is one of the largest archaeological sites in the Altai Republic where rock paintings of different periods from the Bronze Age to the ethnographic antiquity are accumulated. Petroglyphs present drawings made in Pazyryk and Hun-Sarmatian times, as well as in the early Middle Ages. They include scenes of hunting deers, wild bulls, bears. Images of the main characters of the Pazyryk animal style such as goats, wolf-dogs, feline predators, deers and horses also present in the scenes. The petroglyphs portray not only the various shapes of real animals, people, scenes of everyday life, hunting, war, but also stories and mystical animals which have arisen from religious beliefs, from ancient myths and heroic legends.

Researchers estimate that petroglyphic complex "Kalbak Tash" contains up to 8,000 drawings and inscriptions. Data research works on petroglyphs are being continued up today.

One of the most expressive monuments of ancient art is rock painting - petroglyphs. Petroglyphic sites of the Pazyryk Culture are distinguished by the technique of pecking or incised engraving and graffiti techniques. The central role in Pazyryk art plays fight of beasts - a plot line specific for Scythian art in general. The petroglyphs mainly portray images of wild animals and hunting scenes. Basically when making multiple rock images the ancient artists were motivated by the desire to ensure maximum success in hunting and convey a sense of afterlife as a whole.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Criterion (i): The masterpieces of Pazyryk art enriched the world culture with unique articles created by the hands of the ancient craftsmen. Pazyryk culture formed a unified "animal style" in the Altai Mountains. Pictures of animals with reversed hindquarters or thrown on back hind limbs were depicted on clothings, tattoos of the embalmed bodies found in archeological mounds and petroglyphs.

Pazyryk animal style is distinguished by unique mystic perception of the universe, what was expressed through truly beautiful images. The dynamism of compositions and three-dimensional images which perfectly fit the shape and material of articles are especially highlighted.

Artistic techniques of the animal style show the big scale of mixing the Anterior Asian and Scythian-Siberian styles. These were the cultural traditions with a long history of development. Therefore Pazyryk artworks present one of the most amazing trends of ancient art, exquisite and elegant, which are considered to be the highest achievements in the world of decorative art as a whole. Images of animal style allowed the Pazyryk society to unify the expression of the ancient model of universe.

Criterion (ii): Archaeological monuments of Pazyryk Culture represent changing of human values in Central Asia. So, burial traditions of Pazyryk society are different from the previous Arzhan- Maiemir cultures. "Horizontal" system of relations between the alive and the dead (burials on the «horizon» and in shallow grave pits) used in the previous era was changed drastically: Pazyryk funeral rites presented deep grave pit and the level of the outer surface, and "communication with another world". These rites come from their ideas of more complicated cosmological model of the universe in three dimensions (the upper, middle and lower worlds).

Hewed grave chambers draped with carpets and felt did not only serve as the burial place, but also represented a kind of shrine in which the sacrament of transition from the world of the alive to the world of the dead was performed. Thus, transformation of worldview ideas led to a change in the burial practice of Pazyryk society.

Secondly, Pazyryk burials preserved mummies with intact tattoos representing unique samples of the oldest tattoo in the world in general. Pazyryk tattoos are distinguished by not only complicated technology, but also repeatable design elements. That gives evidence to the tradition of using applied to a human body tattoo not only as an ornament or pattern, and also a sign, a kind of symbolic text.

Pazyryk tattoo artists had distinctive personal style and they were not only professionals in their field, but also acolytes of cult, since the creation of indelible ink images on the body was an elaborated sacral ritual which completely changes the spirit of the person. It was the rite of passage, allowing someone to gain access to the sacred knowledge. Mummification of bodies of Pazyryk people was based on local traditions of conserving the embalmed bodies using mercury compounds. Due to it the tattoos on mummified bodies were preserved in a good condition. And that provides the more comprehensive interpretation of the semantics of tattoos of other peoples in the world.

Thirdly, Pazyryk Culture significantly influenced on the development of horse riding in Central Asia, as it was typical for Pazyryk society to use horse riding, they were the first to invent horse-mounted cavalry in contrast to chariot riding in the previous era. A horse played a particular role in life activity of the ancient Pazyryk people, as well as in funeral and memorial practice. This fact is testified by horse burials, carts or chariots found in burial complexes. Their preference for certain color of horses evidences that Pazyryk society had basics of selection works in horse breeding.

Criterion (iii): The object "Treasures of the Pazyryk Culture" of the Early Scythian Epoch nominated for inscription on the World Heritage List is a unique testimony to a civilization which had disappeared.

Though in general, later Pazyryk Culture was transformed into the culture of Hun (Bulan-Koba) type, as evidenced by the succession of the funeral rites and the elements of material culture. But as a self-sufficient culture with the whole range of characteristics, the Pazyryk Culture fits into the category of lost one. The patterns of the highest decorative art, material culture and the traditions of funeral processions, unique techniques of embalming the deceased tribesmen, and the ways of playing the ancient musical instruments (the pazyryk harp, the ritual drums) were lost.

Criterion (vi): The worldviews and beliefs of Pazyryk society are widely covered through their funeral rites, rock paintings and a huge layer of fine art preserved in the samples of material culture.

The sun cult was the main in the worldview system of Scythians what is evidenced, first of all, by round hemispherical stone mounds imitating the sun. Different images of griffons, roosters, tigers on the sarcophagus, and a chariot necessary for performing the cult symbolize the Sun. The most exponential are the scenes with goddess on the skythian carpets.

Pazyryk art has images presenting connection of the soul of the deceased with the totem animal. The goddess of fertility is unique, as it's one of the ways of ancient artistic expressions of the divine characters.

The Pazyryk people's ideas of the universe consisting of the upper world (consisting of spirits of animals and human figures), the middle world (the people and the spirits of the middle world), the lower world (where water serves as a entryway to the lower world, and there are also illustrations of sunset being swallowed by a beast) served as a basis for subsequent cultures. The trinity model of the universe was brightly reflected in the epic literature of the Altai people.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The "Treasures of the Pazyryk Culture" of the Early Scythian Epoch includes the unique and world famous burial mounds and petroglyphs of the Pazyryk Culture and represents an integral natural and cultural complex. During the centuries, beginning with 7th and 6th centuries BC, it preserved sustainable natural ecosystems, rich biodiversity and evidences of the ancient civilizations.

Cultural heritage sites of the Pazyryk period (archaeological mounds, petroglyphs) are protected by the laws and enactments of the Governments of the Russian Federation and the Altai Republic, and other federal and local legislatures.

The status of World Heritage cultural property the "Treasures of the Pazyryk Culture" of the Early Scythian Epoch will ensure the higher guarantee for preservation of natural and cultural monuments, prevent possible threats to its integrity from human economic and recreational activities.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Pazyryk archeological sites have enriched the world culture with unique items created 2,500 years ago by hands of the ancient craftsmen. Findings from the Pazyryk frozen tombs are of the same scientific value as the Egyptian pyramids. Some of the UNESCO properties are typologically similar in content with the nominated archaeological mounds of Pazyryk Culture. The archaeological monuments of Vergina in Greece (more than 300 burial chambers) among which a royal tomb of Alexander the Great's father, Philip II with the attributes of the royal burial was discovered. Alike the Pazyryk archaeological sites, the attributes of the burial monument Lepenski Vir in Serbia also evidence the world view ideas of the ancient inhabitants. The cultural landscape in the Valley of Orkhon River in Mongolia represents the evolution of nomadic pastoral civilization for two millennia, but the monument itself belongs to the Turkic-Mongol period.

Nominated petroglyphic monuments of the Pazyryk culture are close to such objects of UNESCO as: "Petroglyphs of mongolian part of the Altai Mountains", "Petroglyphs and archaeological landscape of Tamgala", in Kazakhstan, the Mount Suleiman-Too in Kyrgyzstan, "Gobustan" in Azerbaijan, Val Camonica Valley in Italy, "Plateau Tassalin-Ajer" in Algeria. They have the common feature: for a long historical time petroglyphic complexes of all these monuments depict the ancient images of mystical animals, numerous compositions of people and animals, scenes of hunting. These images were formed starting from the Paleolithic period to the ethnographic time.

The Pazyryk royal burial mounds are completely different from the above-mentioned UNESCO sites as the frozen tombs of Altai contain permafrost, which created conditions for preserving ancient artifacts (such as the embalmed bodies, clothing samples, textiles, etc.). Sacrificial horses, images of mystical animals, images of goddesses represent a unified system of worldview ideas. Later on, the discovered patterns of the animal style were continued in rock-pecked images of the petroglyphic monuments of Pazyryk Culture.