Thursday, November 8, 2012

Nomads + Networks at Smithsonian - Ancient Kazakhstan

Our snooping around Turkic Washington DC continues with this incredible exhibit at the Smithsonian on ancient Kazakhstan. We were able to snap a couple of pictures before we noticed that photography was not permitted. The security guard noted that the ancient "altar pieces" resembled "animal crackers".

Tray with figures of seated man and standing horse
Issyk, Semirechye/Zhetisu (almaty region), 5th-3rd century BCE
Central State Museum, Almaty

Thousands of petroglyphs or "stone engravings" have been found chiseled into the rock surfaces of mountains and hillsides in central, southern, and eastern Kazakhstan.
They often depict horses, camels, animals with horns, human figures wearing animal masks that might illustrate ancient myths or rituals.  These large mysterious stones may have marked special locations, such as watering holes or sacred sites.  Although it is difficult to assign a date to them, petroglyphs certainly were not new during the Iron Age.  More than five thousand petroglyphs have been found at Tamgaly; northwest of Almaty.  It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004.

Almaty region, 2nd-1st millennium BCE
Museum of Archaeology, Almaty

 This gold headed figure is actually quite small, about 7 cm. in height.

The language of the Kazakhs belongs to the same family of Turkic languages  as the languages of the Kirgiz, the Uzbeks, and the Turkmens.  Kazakh, a unique language with Arabic and Tatar elements, became a literary language in the 1860's.  Until 1926, Kazakh had an Arabic script; from 1926 until 1940, it had a Latin alphabet; and since 1940, it has had a Cyrillic alphabet.  In spite of the significant numbers of Russians and other nationalities in the republic, the Kazakhs have retained very high usage of their own language.  In 1989 about 98 percent of the Kazakhs living in the republic regarded Kazakh as their native tongue.  Of the non-Kazakh residents of the Kazakh Republic, only 1 percent could converse fluently in the Kazakh language.  (1991)

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