The natural and cultural complex "Bashkir Ural" is located on the western macroslope of the Southern Urals within the limits of the mountain forest zone of Bashkortostan. "Bashkir Ural" occupies the territory of approximately 45 thousand hectares (450 km2). The main part of the complex "Bashkir Ural" is slightly affected by the man-induced changes (the standard residential population density makes up 2,3 people per square meter) and consists of a specifically protected state wilderness area "Shulgan-Tash" and a part of a state entomological wildlife reserve "Altyn Solok".
The eastern part of the complex "Bashkir Ural" is located at the junction of two massive wood biomes of European-type broadleaved forests and light-coniferous and Siberia-type parvifoliate hemiboreal forests with grass layer. About 90% of the complex territory is covered with woods.
The land area of "Bashkir Ural" comprises a high diversity of wild landscapes: mountain rivers gorges, plateau-like summated szyrts, steep-sloped ranges, bottom-lands and water storage basins. Low anthropogenic effect, variety of land forms within the complex territory and the convergence of European and Siberian floristic and faunal assemblages made conditions for a particularly high biodiversity of the complex. All of the above mentioned points have, in its turn, been making the given area attractive for a man to live since ancient times and defined the natural management culture and traditions.
The famous cave Shulgan-Tash (Kapova) belongs to the unique phenomena - it is one of the largest coves in the Southern Urals with more than 150 Paleolithic cave drawings of global importance having been discovered (drawings of mammoths, horses, rhinoceroses, bulls and abstract characters in red ochre). The radiochemical analysis testifies that Shulgan-Tash drawings are not less than 13-14 thousands years old. Such antique cave art can be found only in France and Spain. Discovery of the Paleolithic art in the Southern Urals within the distance of 4 thousand kilometers from Pyrenees gives evidence to the existence of the Ural center of the Paleolithic culture (the second after the South-Western Europe).
A dwelling site of Paleolithic people with plenty of bonfires, charcoal and different objects have been found in the vegetable soils of Shulgan-Tash cave during the recent years. As much as 193 objects were found, with the tools made of the local cryptalline limestone, calci-spar and green and brown jasper prevailing. Green serpentinite ornamentals, discovered in the soil, are purely unique. There are also pendants made of bones or, possibly, mammoth tusks. Discovery of a clay lamp fragment was unique, since earthenware is very rarely found in the cultural Paleolithic soils.
Since ancient times to the present days within the area of "Bashkir Ural" there have existed the settlements of indigenous inhabitants, guarding and carrying on the archaic traditions, customs and rites of the Bashkir people, their culture stemming from the semi-nomadic lifestyle. Their legends, mythological epic cyclus, archaic rites are full of cosmogonic mythology with the Shulgan-Tash cave cult being its core. This cult, surviving from the Stone Age up to the present, has reflected in many ancient eposes of the Southern Urals (eposes: "Ural-Batyr", "Akbuzat", "Kara-Yurga", "Akhak Kola" and others). The wildlife preserve "Altyn Solok" (which means a "Golden Bee-tree") comprises objects of historical and ethnographic value, being the domain of the Bashkir national culture: "Masim" ridge, "Babsak-biya" burial mound, "Yilkysykkan" lake; 5 sites, explicitly referred to in the Bashkir epos are also found here.
Age-old traditions of national harvesting are sparingly preserved within the territory of the complex; among other factors, wild-hive beekeeping is being revived. Forest bee-keeping is an ancient and globally unique way of national harvesting of the Bashkir people. This craft concerns bringing the honey-bee clusters in to the artificially made and fitted caverns. Major efforts in genetic conservation of the Burzyan wild hive bee are under way.
Natural and cultural complex "Bashkir Ural" represents a unique territory with all the most valuable cultural and archaeological sites, environmental assets and cultural traditions of its inhabitants preserved.
Vast and diverse landscapes of "Bashkir Ural" impress by their original natural beauty. The territory of the complex is almost entirely forested. The relief is ridged, steeply-sloping and dissected by deep-cut river valleys. Sudden elevation drops and rocky cliffs occur in the valleys of rivers Belaya, Nugush and some streams.
Precipitous cliffs up to 100 m high are of frequent occurrence. Karstic phenomena are widespread throughout the territory of the complex.
Shulgan-Tash (Kapova) cave won the worldwide fame owing to its Paleolithic drawings. Cave art of Shulgan-Tash represents a masterpiece of human genius, meanwhile its cult and thereto related rites and mythological concepts are an excellent specimen of the cultural traditions of Eurasian antique nations.
Wild hive beekeeping, as an original form of bee-farming, originating from the high antiquity and surviving to the present time, is an outstanding model of land tenure and human-environmental interaction, specific for the Bashkir culture.
With respect to its physiography, "Bashkir Ural" presents an outstanding specimen, reflecting the important stages of Earth history, including the ongoing processes of land form development (karstic phenomena, elation etc.).
"Bashkir Ural" is a unique natural complex, comprising the ranges of utmost importance and significance in the view of their biodiversity preservation, including the habitats of rare and endangered species of plant and animal life.
Criterion (i): The most significant cultural site of the nominated area is Shulgan-Tash (Kapova) cave. The Upper Paleolithic rock carvings were discovered in the cave in 1959. It is the most large and antique assemblage of rock drawings within the territory of Central and East Europe
Finely coloured images of animals are marked by their realistic nature, though touched by primitivism and schematism. Drawings of mammoths, rhinoceroses, bulls, men and different symbols show expressiveness and a profound distinctive character. Horses are imaged very vividly. The style of paintings has no direct parallel either in the Urals, or in West Europe. There are sets of drawings bearing mythological symbolism and particularly speaking for the existence of a horse cult. Such examples of existence of audibly mythological pieces of work among the Paleolithic rock drawings are particularly rare worldwide, and it makes the cave-painting of Shulgan-Tash a globally unique phenomenon.
Conventional signs ,bearing purely geometrical shape represent the primary component of Shulgan-Tash cave-painting. It must be noted, that the conventional signs of Shulgan-Tash cave are specific and have no direct analogies among the geometrical shape of West European Paleolithic cave art paintings.
Considering the creation time of these drawings, their artistic expressiveness, distinctive style and the technological level of their performance too high for its time, one can state that Shulgan-Tash cave art drawings represent a masterpiece of human genius.
Criterion (iii): With respect to the arrangement and content of the paintings, it is also fair to say, that in the ancient times Shulgan-Tash cave used to be a sanctuary, related to the mythological concepts of Paleolithic people. Each hall with drawings in the cave was a part of this sanctuary and, apparently, performed its certain functions. Veneration of Shulgan-Tash cave, which concerned pilgrimage, various rites, sacral rock-splitting and wall painting in ochre, is a unique example of the cave cult tradition, widespread in the Urals since the outset of the Upper Paleolithic era. Ceremonial rock-splitting tradition of this period was documented in the surrounding caves and other cave sanctuaries of Southern Urals; it was preserved up to the early Middle Ages and as late as the ethnographic modernity. The tradition of drawing ochre paintings in the cave recesses persisted in Southern Urals during 8-9 thousands of years. Shulgan-Tash cave remained a sanctuary throughout the duration of a number of millennia, as confirmed by both archaeological evidence and the results of Bashkir folklore research. According to the recent ethnographic exploration, the local Bashkir people still worship the cave.
Consequently, cultic veneration of Shulgan-Tash cave and thereto related traditions alongside over a period of a few millennia and partially remaining in the present is a unique evidence of cultural traditions of the Bashkir people.
Criterion (v): The territory of the natural and cultural complex has represented a model of balanced interaction with nature practically ever since the time of its first human habitation. Basically, such types of minor forest products harvesting as livestock grazing, haying, wild harvesting and hunt were developed. The terrain of the natural and cultural complex presents itself as a site, preserving a unique ancient craft of the Bashkir people – wild-hive beekeeping, being an outstanding example of human-environmental interaction. Wild-hive beekeeping originated within the territory of the present-day Bashkortostan about one and a half thousand years ago. All the stages of beekeeping craft development can be viewed within the complex; Bashkir honey, produced by the Burzyan wild-hive bee, is acknowledged to be the best in the world in the view of its taste and the set of trace elements.
Criterion (vi): Shulgan-Tash cave and the nearby located Yelkysykkankul (Shulgan) lake are depicted in the mythological eposes "Ural-Batyr", "Akbuzat", "Akkhak Kola", "Kara Yurga", "Kongur Buga" and in numerous legends. The cave and the lake Shulgan appear in them as an entrance to another world and an underwater land where snakes, divas, fancy winged horses and herds of domestic animal slive. Padishah Shulgan is supposed to have been the master of the cave and the underwater world. As a matter of fact, this place is described as a mythologic "centre of the world", with various cosmogonic stories of Southern Urals’ mythological legends unfolding around it. The mythology of the remote ancestors of the Bashkir people formed in the frame of development of a cave sanctuary as a microcosm model.
Shulgan-Tash cave veneration had an impact not only on the development of an original Bashkir epic tradition, but also on the mythological mindset formation of the whole Uralo-Povolzhsky region and even the ancient Indo-Aryans.
Criterion (viii): The natural and cultural complex "Bashkir Ural" belongs to the region of Southern Urals low-mountain relief, being marked by well-defined narrow linear folds, formed by diverse massive materials.
With relation to its geological structure, the terrain of the complex is part of the Preduralskiy fore deep and the Urals orogen region. Preduralskiy fore deep is filled by a series of Ordovician carboniferous shelf sediments. The most notable event of the XX century throughout the history of worldwide coal formation exploration is the introduction of the Bashkirian timescale (late Namurian to early Westphalian stages), which is included in the General stratigraphical scale of the carboniferous system of the world. Various natural geologic sections of the Bashkirian, being widespread within the territory of the complex, are of great geological and geomorphic value.
Karst activities occur in abundance within the terrain of "Bashkir Ural". Such karst landforms as funnels, delves, caves, "endangered" rivers and tubular springs are of frequent occurrence in limestone and magnesian lime.
The largest quantity of coves in Russia can be observed within the area of the complex. 166 caves of more than 50 m in length are found here.
Consequently, with respect to its geological aspects, "Bashkir Ural" represents an eminent specimen, reflecting the principal stages of Earth history, including the ancient life traces, ongoing geologic processes of land form development and significant geomorphic and physiographic phenomena.
Criterion (x): The natural and cultural complex "Bashkir Ural" is marked by high biodiversity, due to landform diversification, its location at the joint of two vast natural ranges of forest and steppe zones of Europe and Asia, and the complicated Southern Urals vegetational history.
The complex takes a significant part in the preservation of ecosystems of two forest biomes – European nemoral broad-leaved forests and Siberian light-coniferous forests, being located on the borders of their ranges.
895 species of higher tracheophytes vegetate within its territory, which makes up about 60% of the whole Southern Urals flora. 56 rare species of this amount are included in the Red Book of Bashkortostan Republic and 11 species are enlisted in the Red Book of Endangered Species of the Russian Federation.
More than 2000 animals are detected within the area of the complex, 84 species being included in the Red Book of Bashkortostan Republic, 40 species - in the Red Book of Endangered Species of the Russian Federation and 177 - in the European Red List and Bern Convention. Two Important Bird Areas of European value "Belsko-Nugushskoye Mezhdurechje" ("Belsko-Nugushskoye" interstream area) (BS-008, RU208) and "Uryuk" (BS-009, RU209) are included in the biosphere reserve.
Threatened and endangered species intensify the environment-oriented functions of the complex "Bashkir Ural". These include more than 10% of the local plant kingdom. Such particularly rare species of insects as gymnodus cariarius hermit beetle ( Gymnodus cariarius), Armenian bumble bee (Bombus armeniacus), Bombus paradoxus Dalla Torre bumble bee and Bombus sostitialis bumble bee, as well as butterflies – apollo (Parnassius apollo) and black apollo (Parnassius mnemosyne) are found here. Such vertebrates, enlisted in the Red Book of Endangered Species of the Russian Federation, as freshwater sculpin, brook trout, grayling, Russian bystryanka (Alurnoides bipunctatus rossicus), black stork, golden eagle, imperial eagle, spotted eagle, white-tailed eagle, gerfalcon, fish hawk, peregrine falcon and harrier eagle inhabit the reserve.
The authenticity of Shulgan-Tash cave art was confirmed by longstanding archaeological explorations and numerous scientific investigations. Shulgan-Tash cave is covered with various legends and epic tales, the latter being documented by the pathbreaking scientific travellers as early as in the XVIIIth century. As of this day, there is a score of documented and published versions of various legends concerning the cave, the lake Shulgan and numerous epic tales, presenting the cave as the centre of the storyline. In general, the site has remained in a fair condition and stayed unaffected by anthropogenic activities. Some of the drawings were partially covered by calcitic dropstone or water-eaten. The cave is located within the terrain of the State Nature Reserve and is safely guarded by the security and electronic alarm and observation systems all year round. There emerges a question concerning the issue of restoration and storage of some certain colour paintings and the elaboration of a modern technique of the complex museumification.
Wild-hive beekeeping, being an ancient Bashkir craft, is rapidly developed in the biosphere reserve and within the terrain of Burzyanskiy region by its local residents. It is based on the unique Burzyan bee breeding and preservation of the national traditions of wild-hive beekeeping among the local residents. During the recent decades this craft has obtained support of the Government of the Republic of Bashkortostan. Bashkortostan has always been known for its honey, with the Burzyan wild-hive honey having become a genuine brand. Specific conditions with the aim to maintain the Burzyan bee and wild-hive beekeeping are provided in the reserves "Shulgan-Tash", and "Altyn-Solok". The foundation of a biosphere reserve will intensify the integrity of the given terrain and guarantee the preservation of biodiversity and the Burzyan wild-hive bee genetic conservation.
Integrity of the "Bashkir Ural" nature complex is assured by the natural areas of preferential protection: nature reserve "Shulgan-Tash" and the entomological wildlife reserve "Altyn Solok". The size of the site and the relative inaccessibility of the larger part of its territory and a reasonable legislative security are significant attributes, insuring the safety of primeval landscapes and natural processes, underlying the site's outstanding universal value. The complex comprises a sufficiently large area and holds all the natural elements, necessary to maintain the ecological and biological processes, crucially important for a longterm conservation of ecosystems and biodiversity.
Kakadu National Park (Australia) can be treated as a good example of preservation of natural archaeological sites and ancient cultural traditions of the local population.
With respect to its territory size, age and the artistic expression of the rock paintings, Shulgan-Tash cave can be compared to the caves of Vezere Valley (France) and Altamira (Spain), being included in UNESCO World Heritage List as masterpieces of human genius. However, none of the caves in Eurasia, but Shulgan-Tash, have so many legends and epic tales, illustrating practically the whole course of evolutionary development of oral poetical folk arts since the ancient cosmogonic myth legends to historic eposes of the late Middle Ages related to them.
As for its natural component, "Bashkir Ural" can be compared to Nahanni National Park (Canada), presenting complex natural cavernous landscapes, and clearly demonstrating the evolutional geologic processes and the junction of two biomes (Nearctic boreal forest and Nearctic alpine tundra). "Zolotye Gory Altaya" (Golden Mountains of Altai) is another similar object with its unique value in the diversity of vegetation of different natural zones (steppe, tundra, taiga, etc.) and picturesque mountain scenes. However, the natural resources of "Bashkir Ural", its floral and faunal composition, geologic sections and the results of karst activities are unique and bear an absolute global value.
The natural and cultural complex "Bashkir Ural" partially meets the definition of the cultural and natural heritage, given in Articles 1 and 2 of the Convention, and, consequently, can be nominated as "mixed cultural and natural heritage".