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Turkic sanctuary of Merke

Date of Submission: 24/09/1998
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
Institute of Archaeology, Ministry of Science - Academy of Sciences
Coordinates: Kirghizki Alatau mountain range, 37 km South of Merke, Zambyl region. 43°N. 73°E
Ref.: 1131

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The material and spiritual culture of the Turks is expressed and embodied in the burial and ritual complexes of their sanctuaries. They can be found all over the steppe zones of Eurasia, signing the ways of diffusion and the stages of formation of the Turkic ethnos. At the present most of them are severely damaged by the impact of natural and anthropogenic destructive forces.

Only the sanctuary of Merke, located at 3000 m. above the sea level, because of its difficult accessibility, is well preserved. It is represented by small "temples" consisting of barrows, empty funeral fences and anthropomorphic steles (balbal): totally more than 170 monuments have been found until now, distributed on an area of 250 sq km of mountain plateaux, defining a space for burials, worship and ritual ceremonies. About 70 of them have steles, single or in group up to four, set in situ mainly on the tombs, sometimes outside the funeral fences, and only in one case 'buried' inside a fence. The fences define a sacred space and the steles probably represent idolised ancestors.

The relics of the sanctuary represent all the stages of the history of the Turks, from the origin to the classic forms of the epoch of the Turk Khaganate. In the sanctuary of Merke the Turkic nomadic culture is expressed by the choice of the natural landscape and by the vastness and lightness of the human intervention. Highland alpine meadows, large plateaux abundant of water and green pastures, flocks and herds, yurtae and shepherds, petroglyphs on rock surfaces, barrows, sacred fences and anthropomorphic steles: the complex makes all the material elements transmuted into harmonic and ecstatic messengers of the unity of the supreme sky.