Humans have inhabited present-day Kazakhstan since the earliest Stone Age, generally pursuing the nomadic pastoralism for which the region's climate and terrain are best suited. By some estimates Kazakhstan has been inhabited for almost 1 million years. In 1958, archeologist H.A. Alpysbayev found Stone Age tool — choppers, chisels, bifaces, knives, scrapers of different types — on Karatau's ridge near Zhambyl in southern Kazakhstan in 1958, which could have been made by Homo Erectus. The most ancient sites were at Shakpakata on the Mangystau peninsula and Arystandy in the Zhambyl region. More than 5000 stone tools, all of them choppers with sharp ends, were found at the sites of Borikazgan and Shabakty in Zhambyl. [Source: “Code for Monuments of History and Culture of Kazakhtan, South-Kazakhstan region”, 1994, ***]

Neanderthals were present 140,000 – 40,000 years ago in the Karatau Mountains and Central Kazakhstan. Modern Homo sapiens appeared 40,000 – 12,000 years ago in Southern, Central, and Eastern Kazakhstan. After the end of the last glacial period, 12,500 – 5,000 years ago, human settlement spread across the whole of Kazakhstan, eventually leading to the extinction of large animals (mammoth, woolly rhinoceros). The hunter-gatherer communes invented bows and boats, and used domesticated wolves and traps for hunting. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The Altai region — located where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan come together — is home to the Denisova cave, famous for the 2010 discovery of 50,000-year-old fossils of a new kind of human, the Denisovans. Since then, Neanderthal bones, and tools crafted by Homo sapiens have been found in the cave. This makes it the only place where all three hominins have been known to live. Conditions in the Altai region are stable, so ancient humans may have taken refuge there during glacial interchanges and lived off the diverse game species. Malaya Syya in Khakassia, another ancient archeological site in the region, has been dated to 35,000 B.C. +

The area of what is now Kazakhstan was occupied by a series of nomadic tribes and horsemen of which very little is known because they had no written language and tended to stay on the move rather than establish settlements that could be excavated by archaeologists. Most of what is known has been gleaned from a handful of settlements and burial places that have been found.

In 4th to 3rd millennia B.C. the steppe zone of Eurasia became wetter. This caused changes in the life of ancient Kazakh people. Previously nomadic hunters and fishermen gradually began to settle in the valley of the Ishim, Tobol and Irtish rivers. These began to develop cattle-breeding and farming. There is evidence that the earliest known domestication of horses began in the Botai (Botay) settlement (See Below).

Ancient Earthworks and “Nazca” Lines in Kazakhstan

The discovery of 8000-year earthworks and lines in northern Kazakhstan, largely revealed using satellite imagery from Google Earth, made global headlines in 2015. Ralph Blumenthal wrote in the New York Times, “High in the skies over Kazakhstan, space-age technology has revealed an ancient mystery on the ground. Satellite pictures of a remote and treeless northern steppe reveal colossal earthworks — geometric figures of squares, crosses, lines and rings the size of several football fields, recognizable only from the air and the oldest estimated at 8,000 years old. The largest, near a Neolithic settlement, is a giant square of 101 raised mounds, its opposite corners connected by a diagonal cross, covering more terrain than the Great Pyramid of Cheops. Another is a kind of three-limbed swastika, its arms ending in zigzags bent counterclockwise.” [Source: Ralph Blumenthal, New York Times, October 30, 2015 ^^^]

Described in 2014 “at an archaeology conference in Istanbul as unique and previously unstudied, the earthworks, in the Turgai region of northern Kazakhstan, number at least 260 — mounds, trenches and ramparts — arrayed in five basic shapes. Spotted on Google Earth in 2007 by a Kazakh economist and archaeology enthusiast, Dmitriy Dey, the so-called Steppe Geoglyphs remain deeply puzzling and largely unknown to the outside world.” ^^^

“At first Mr. Dey thought it might be a leftover Soviet installation, perhaps one of Nikita S. Khrushchev’s experiments to cultivate virgin land for bread production. But the next day, Mr. Dey saw a second gigantic figure, the three-legged, swastikalike form with curlicue tips, about 300 feet in diameter. Before the year was out, Mr. Dey had found eight more squares, circles and crosses. By 2012, there were 19. Now his log lists 260, including some odd mounds with two drooping lines called “whiskers” or “mustaches.” ^^^

In October 2015, “in the biggest sign so far of official interest in investigating the sites, NASA released clear satellite photographs of some of the figures from about 430 miles up. “I’ve never seen anything like this; I found it remarkable,” said Compton J. Tucker, a senior biospheric scientist for NASA in Washington. Ronald E. LaPorte, a University of Pittsburgh scientist who helped publicize the finds, called NASA’s involvement “hugely important” in mobilizing support for further research. ^^^

“I don’t think they were meant to be seen from the air,” Mr. Dey, 44, said in an interview from his hometown, Kostanay, dismissing outlandish speculations involving aliens and Nazis. (Long before Hitler, the swastika was an ancient and near-universal design element.) He theorizes that the figures built along straight lines on elevations were “horizontal observatories to track the movements of the rising sun.” ^^^

Bronze Age Kazakhstan

Archeologist have identified more than 100 Bronze Age sites dated to the early centuries B.C. These people practiced nomadic animal husbandry, mining and the production of bronze wares. The sites revealed foundries where metals were fused and used to make weapons, tools and ornaments.

According to the Kazakhstan government: At the beginning of the 1980s some remains of Prototown civilization were discovered in the steppe zone. Archaeologists who studied the Arkaim and Sintash excavations found settlements with rectangular or rounded building surrounded by walls made from a special mixture of gypsum and clay blocks. The walls had the parapets, towers, labyrinthine entrance, ditches and external fortifications. There appeared to be dwellings for nobles and common population as well as working places and a central square space, perhaps used for meetings or ritual celebrations. These settlements, or Protowns, had a system of streets and a means for water collection. Dwellings ranged from 150 to 300 square meters and were two-storied.[Source: “Code for Monuments of History and Culture of Kazakhtan, South-Kazakhstan region”, 1994,; some of the claims may be exaggerations]

A great amount of weapons, tools, bronze ornaments were found. Temple complexes were also found along with small stones in the shape of men. Clay “tablets” with the different signs were found. The inhabitants in Prototown were farmers and cattle herders. There is evidence of the production, melting and processing of copper and bronze.

A “Prototown” younger than the one in Arkaim was discovered in Mangistau in Toksanbay. A Late Bronze Age site is located is Kent in Central Kazakhstan. One of the most important Bronze Age site belongs to the Begazy-Dandibai culture of Central Kazakhstan. This was one of the largest centres of copper and bronze production and consequently weapons production in ancient Kazakhstan.

Early Horsemen

From the first millennium B.C. to the Christian era nomadic tribes began to consolidate into larger units such as the Scythians in southern, eastern, and central Kazakhstan. These groups formed religious cults that worshiped deities associated with the sun, fire, fertility and totems. An emblem with a snow leopard in front of a snow-capped mountains dated to 700 B.C. was found in burial mound found outside Almaty.

Around 500 B.C., southern Kazakhstan was inhabited by the Saka, a nomadic people linked with the Scythians. They were one of the few people who managed to hold off the conquering armies of Alexander the Great. They also left behind the Golden Man, an amazing golden warrior’s costume found in a tomb near Issik, 50 kilometers from Almaty. It is comprised of 4,000 separate gold pieces, many of them with animal motifs, and includes a 80-centimeters -high headdress with images upward-pointing arrows, snow leopards and a two-headed mythical beasts.

According to the Kazakhstan government: “In Kazakhstan the culture of the ancient nomads was formed during the Bronze Age and cane be seen at Saka culture sites like the kurgan (barrow) of Issik, Chilik, the mausoleum of Tegisken and Yagaraka, and the Saka cities of Chirik-Rabat and Balandy. From the 3rd century B. C. onward, present-day Kazakhstan was inhabited by communities such as the Usun in Semirechye and the Kangiu in the South of Kazakhstan. These people engaged in cattle herding and farming. In the territory of Kangiu fortified settlements with stationary dwellings of green bricks appeared and urban construction was developed. Signs of developed settled and urban culture have been found in the Aral Sea area, around the Djety-Asar hills. Links with Sogdian population in Central Asia and ancient Turks have also been found.[Source: “Code for Monuments of History and Culture of Kazakhtan, South-Kazakhstan region”, 1994,]

Horses Domesticated 5,500 Years Ago in Botai. Kazakhstan?

In 2009, scientists announced that pastoral people on the Kazakh steppes appear to have been the first to domesticate, bridle and perhaps ride horses — around 3500 B.C., a millennium earlier than previously thought. The discovery was made near a settlement called Botai in northern Kazakhstan, where the steppes of Central Asia begin to give way to the forests of Siberia. John Noble Wilford wrote in the New York Times, “Evidence for the earlier date for equine domestication is described in the journal Science by an international team of archaeologists. The report’s lead author is Alan K. Outram of the University of Exeter in England. [Source: John Noble Wilford, New York Times, March 5, 2009 +++]

“The archaeologists wrote of uncovering ample horse bones and artifacts from which they derived “three independent lines of evidence demonstrating domestication” of horses by the semi-sedentary Botai culture, which occupied sites in northern Kazakhstan for six centuries, beginning around 3600 B.C. The shape and size of the skeletons from four sites was analyzed and compared with bones of wild horses in the region from the same time, with domestic horses from centuries later in the Bronze Age and with Mongolian domestic horses. The researchers said the Botai animals were “appreciably more slender” than robust wild horses and more similar to domestic horses. +++

“Dr. Outram said in an interview that it was not clear from the research if the breeding of the tamed Botai horses had by then led to the origin of a genetically distinct new species. But their physical attributes were strikingly different, he added, and this made the animals more useful to the people as meat, sources of milk and beasts of burden and locomotion. The second pieces of evidence were the marks on the horses’ teeth and damage to skeletal tissue in the mouths. The researchers said this was caused by the wearing of mouthpieces, bits, inserted for harnessing with a bridle or similar restraint to control working animals.” +++

“ Other archaeologists, digging at other sites, have detected similar traces of what they said was bit wear, but this has been disputed as support for domestication. Dr. Outram said that some of the damage to the Botai teeth and jawbones could have been caused only by bit wear. Botai pottery yielded the third strand of evidence. Embedded in the clay pots were residues of carcass fat and fatty acids that “very likely” came from mare’s milk, the researchers said. This “confirms that at least some of the mares of Botai were domesticated,” they concluded.” +++

Modern Botai Horsemen

On the people that live in the Botai region today, Sandra L. Olsen wrote in Natural History magazine, “Nazar and I were perched on the edge of a thirty-foot river terrace, gazing down at his herd of horses on the opposite bank of a shallow river. They were drinking and grazing in total harmony, heads bobbing and tails switching as if to an unheard melody. Beyond stretched the velvety, sage-green steppe, interrupted by the occasional peak or dark patch of pines. Botai’s inhabitants had the same food preference as modern Kazakhs—horsemeat and perhaps mare’s milk—and they herded horses to survive. Indeed, unlike the modern herders, they ate little else. [Source: Sandra L. Olsen, Natural History magazine, May 2008 ]

“Admittedly, Nazar’s people have lived in this region for only about 1,100 years: the Kazakh language and culture likely originated farther east, in Siberia. However, they are part of the larger tradition of horse pastoralism, which extends across most of the Eurasian steppes, from Ukraine to Mongolia. Years of excavating the Botai culture great deal about how horses and humans forged their enduring bond. The sites’ configurations and artifacts speak volumes if you can figure out how to interpret them. To do that, I had to fall back on the experience of my Kazakh friends and crew. I watched the herders and their dogs rounding up the horses, the local women milking the mares to make “koumiss”, a mildly fermented beverage that is a community favorite, and villagers preparing horsemeat in various dishes.

“Gradually I came to understand that those traditions illuminated the lives of their predecessors in the Copper Age, when people made tools of stone, bone, and more rarely, copper, but not yet of the bronze or iron. could see that Nazar and the one other herder from his village led a quiet life, with little human interaction. They were shy and hesitant in the company of the archaeological field crews. But the two men would emerge confident and powerful when mounted on the tall gray Russian stallions they rode to oversee their herd of 250 smaller, bay-colored Kazakh horses. The herders’ life may seem tranquil compared with the stresses of urban dwellers, but it is quite arduous. The herd must be taken out to graze on natural vegetation, and tended through the night, even in the dead of winter, here where temperatures often plummet to a bracing —50 degrees Fahrenheit. (That does not include the wind chill factor, which takes on new meaning when one rides a horse at full gallop!)

“It might seem unduly cruel for the horses themselves, having to scratch through the winter ice and snow to find enough of the sparsely spaced, shriveled “Artemisia “and feathergrass to survive, until you realize that wild horses thrived near the Arctic Circle during the last glacial maximum of the Pleistocene epoch, the Ice Age that ended about 11,500 years ago. Horses, it seems, are quite well adapted to cold, dry environment.”

Sintashta-Petrovka Culture of the Russian and Kazakhstan Steppes

20120209-Model of a chariot from the Oxus Treasure.jpg
Model of a chariot
from the Oxus Treasure
“The culture of the Russian and Kazakhstan steppes was virtually unknown until” the early 1980s, Wilford wrote in the New York Times, “when Russian archeologists began systematic excavations at several sites east of the Ural Mountains. One of the first sites explored was at a place called Sintashta, southeast of the city of Magnitogorsk. Another was Petrovka, 400 miles to the east on the Ishym River in northern Kazakhstan. [Source: John Noble Wilford, New York Times, February 22, 1994]

“Archeologists thus refer to these ancient people as the Sintashta-Petrovka culture. Their widely scattered settlements were linked culturally, as seen in the many similarities of their ceramics, metal weapons and tools, architecture and burial rituals. Find in Ancient Cemetery

At Sintashta, archeologists uncovered a large settlement of about 50 rectangular structures arranged in a circle within a timber-reinforced earthen wall. They found slag deposits from copper metallurgy, bronze weapons and gold earrings and the remains of six chariots in a cemetery of elite graves covered by earth mounds, or kurgans. Similar artifacts, and more chariots, were discovered at several other sites.

Russian scientists estimated that the culture flourished between 1700 and 1500 B.C. This inspired Dr. Stuart Piggott, a retired archeologist at Edinburgh University in Scotland and a specialist on ancient wheeled transport, to propose several years ago that if these people had developed chariots, as preliminary reports from the graves suggested, they could be the earliest developed anywhere.

Begash: Home of Grain-Eating, Trading Horsemen?

Together with his Kazakh colleagues, Frachetti began digging a decade ago in the Dzhungar Mountains of Kazakhstan. A site called Begash has yielded some interesting discoveries related ancient horsemen. Ancient pastoralists built this dwellings there dated to around 2500 B.C. In a nearby grave, archaeologists found tiny grains of millet and wheat, the oldest domesticated grains yet found in Central Asia. [Source: Andrew Lawler, Archaeology, May/June 2012 \^/]

Begash is a Eurasian pastoralist campsite, located in Semirch'ye in the piedmont zone of the Dzhungar Mountains of southeastern Kazakhstan, which was occupied episodically between ~2500 BC to AD 1900. The site is located at about 950 meters (3110 feet) above sea level, in a flat ravine terrace enclosed by canyon walls and along a spring-fed stream. Archaeological evidence at the site contains information about some of the earliest pastoralist "Steppe Society" communities; the important archaeobotanical evidence suggests Begash may have been on the route which moved domestic plants from the point of domestication into the broader world. [Source: K. Kris Hirst,]

Andrew Lawler wrote in Archaeology magazine: “Covering nearly 500 square miles” is a region between “the Tian Shan and Altai mountain ranges” that “boasts sharp peaks topping 12,000 feet, as well as harsh desert. At a site near a village called Begash, on a flat terrace enclosed by steep canyon walls alongside a small stream, the team uncovered the foundations of simple stone structures along with an array of potsherds and bronze and stone artifacts in stone-lined oval and rectangular tombs. The earliest layers at Begash date to at least as early as 2,500 B.C.,based on alpha magnetic spectrometry dating of organic remains, says Frachetti. One woman was laid to rest with a bell-shaped hooked bronze earring around 1700 B.C., according to electron spinresonance dating. Similar earrings are only found several centuries later some 600 miles to the north on the Siberian steppes, hinting at styles that moved north over time. \^/

“More surprisingly, the excavators found wheat, which was first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, and broom corn millet that was first widely grown in northern China. The grains were used ritually in a burial, and radio- carbon dating of the remains dates them to about 2200 B.C.,making them the oldest known domesticated grains in Central Asia. The people of Begash may not have grown either grain—there are no grinding stones, the telltale sign of grain preparation—but instead received it via trade networks stretching from the Near East to China. \^/


The ancient horsemen of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are often described as Sakas. Saka was the term used in Persian and Sanskrit sources for the Scythians, a large group of Eastern Iranian nomadic tribes on the Eurasian Steppe. Rene Grousset wrote in “The Empire of the Steppes” (1970) "The regions of Tashkent, Fergana, and Kashgar were inhabited by the people known to the Chinese under the name Sse (ancient pronunciation, Ssek), to the Persians and Indians as Saka, or Shaka, and to the Greeks as Sakai: our Sakas. They were in fact the 'Scythians of Asia.' They formed a branch of the great Scytho-Sarmatian family; that is, they were nomadic Iranians from the northwestern steppes."

According to Kazakhstan government sources: Since ancient times, this region has been involved in various ethnic and genetic relations. Different communities ranging from tribal confederations to large states, formed on the basis of interaction between different ethnic layers, have led to the formation of the Kazakh ethnic territory and a steppe civilisation which has developed into the Kazakh nation. [Source: B.E. Kumekov, National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Kazakhstan, 2010 ]

The origin of Kazakhstan statehood is connected with the Sakas (the 7th - 2nd centuries B.C.), who mainly engaged in nomadic and semi nomadic livestock breeding. The nomadic way of life allowed the sakas and Scythians to succeed in making the Great Steppe habitable. The core of the Sakas was made up of Issedonian tribes. Eye-witnesses characterised them as brave warriors possessed numerous herds of horses, sheep, and cattle. The Sakas were wonderful riders and expert marksmen. A historian of ancient Greece named them the best archers in the world.

The Sakas belonged to an early class society having three estates: chiefs, priests, and community members (shepherds and fanners). A supreme chief or king originated from warriors. The king was considered to be chosen by the gods as a mediator between heaven and mortals. The art of the Sakas culture is most vividly expressed through their painting in the animal style, manifesting their mythology and attitude toward life, and a special symbolic system for showing the nomadic concept of the world. This is proof both of their high skills in metallurgy, and progressive artistic thinking. In the 4th - 3d centuries B.C., the Sakas developed a written language, an inherent characteristic of any organised state.

Therefore, the processes of establishing of a state and the appearance of a written language for the Sakas were interconnected and simultaneous. Continuos linguistic and cultural contacts among the Iranian, Ugric, and Prototurkic tribes were maintained on the Kazakhstan steppe in the 1st century B.C. changed the ethnic and linguistic situation, and caused the Turkic expansion to prevail.

Sakas Versus Scythians

Modern debate about the identity of the "Saka" is due partly to ambiguous usage of the word by ancient, non-Saka authorities. According to Herodotus, the Persians gave the name "Saka" to all Scythians. However, Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23–79) claims that the Persians gave the name Sakai only to the Scythian tribes "nearest to them". The Scythians to the far north of Assyria were also called the Saka suni "Saka or Scythian sons" by the Persians. The Assyrians of the time of Esarhaddon record campaigning against a people they called in the Akkadian the Ashkuza or Ishhuza. Another people, the Gimirrai, who were known to the ancient Greeks as the Cimmerians, were closely associated with the Sakas. In ancient Hebrew texts, the Ashkuz (Ashkenaz) are considered to be a direct offshoot from the Gimirri (Gomer). A cataphract-style parade armour of a Saka royal, also known as "The Golden Warrior", from the Issyk kurgan, an historic burial near ex-capital city of Almaty, Kazakhstan. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The Saka were regarded by the Babylonians as synonymous with the Gimirrai; both names are used on the trilingual Behistun inscription, carved in 515 B.C. on the order of Darius the Great.[9] (These people were reported to be mainly interested in settling in the kingdom of Urartu, later part of Armenia, and Shacusen in Uti Province derives its name from them.) The Behistun inscription mentions four divisions of Scythians: 1) he Saka paradraya "Saka beyond the sea" of Sarmatia; 2) the Saka tigraxauda "Saka with pointy hats/caps"; 3) the Saka haumavarga "haoma-drinking Saka"(Amyrgians, the Saka tribe in closest proximity to Bactria and Sogdiana); and 4) the Saka para Sugdam "Saka beyond Sugda (Sogdiana)" at the Jaxartes. +

In the modern era, the archaeologist Hugo Winckler (1863–1913) was the first to associate the Sakas with the Scythains. I. Gershevitch wrote in “in The Cambridge History of Iran”: "The Persians gave the single name Saka both to the nomads whom they encountered between the Hunger steppe and the Caspian, and equally to those north of the Danube and Black Sea against whom Darius later campaigned; and the Greeks and Assyrians called all those who were known to them by the name Skuthai (Iškuzai). Saka and Skuthai evidently constituted a generic name for the nomads on the northern frontiers." Conversely, the political historian B. N. Mukerjee has claimed that ancient Greek and Roman scholars believed that while "all Sakai were Scythians", "not all Scythians were Sakai". Persian sources often treat them as a single tribe called the Saka (Sakai or Sakas), but Greek and Latin texts suggest that the Scythians were composed of many sub-groups. +

In 2015, Archaeology magazine reported: “Following tips from local officials, archaeologists working at the Koitas cemetery recently excavated a kurgan, or burial mound, which had clearly been looted in antiquity. They found scattered bones from an elite Scythian burial, including a vertebra with an entire 2.2-inch-long bronze arrowhead embedded in it. Bone growth suggests that—defying the odds for a spinal injury victim in the Iron Age, or any age, for that matter—the Scythian survived for some time after the blow. [Source: Samir S. Patel, Archaeology magazine, October 7, 2015]

Kazakhstan’s Golden Man

In 1969, burial chamber containing the the "Golden Man of Issyk" was found by Kazakh archeologists under the supervision of K.A. Akishev 50 kilometers to the east of Almaty in southern Kazakhstan. The burial chamber was made of Tien- Shan spruce logs. In the southern and western parts of the room were pottery and various objects. The remains of a buried man was found in the northern part, placed directly on the strip- and-board flooring of the chamber. Archeologists determined the man was 17 - 18 years old and said he was a young male Saka chieftain dating to the fifth-century B.C. [Source: Silk Road Adventures, advertising guidebook across Kazakhstan. The ministry of tourism of Kazakhstan].

The body had been attired in boots, trousers, and a leather tunic (caftan) decorated with some 2,400 arrow-shaped gold plaques. Plaques of horses with twisted torsos decorated scabbards that held an iron dagger and a sword. Ceramic, silver, and bronze vessels, a bronze mirror, and flat wooden dishes and beaters for koumiss (fermented mare's milk) were also found in the tomb. [Source: Suzanne Lettrick, Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads]

The Golden Man was wearing richly embroidered golden attire. On his head was a 70-centimeters-high, conical-shaped headpiece, decorated with gold plates of various forms and sizes. In total, the headpiece had around 150 ornaments on it, including upward-pointing arrow and golden plates. It clasped under his chin. He also wore a spiral golden neckpiece, the tips of which featured the images of tiger heads at its ends. The golden man’s opulent clothes suggests he belonged to the nobility. Such apparel is thought to have been worn on the days of ceremonial functions and parades. The “Golden Man’s” left ear lobe was pierced and found with a golden earring with turquoise pendants. He was clad in a short caftan, entirely embroidered with golden pieces. There were two gold rings on his fingers. A large complex of the Sakh animal style art from the Issyk burial mound is an important contribution into the world's culture treasury.

The headdress of the Golden Man features an image of a horse with goat horns, which, apparently, symbolized the merging of images of the sun deity and a tribal totem. Similar findings have been found in the mounds of the Pazyryk culture in the Altai region. Another important discovery made at the Issyk site was a silver bowl with an inscription. A written language records a high level of socio-economic organization and genesis of the state. However, the Scythians did not have a written language. There have been no traces of written records found at thousands of other Scythian burial mounds.

The Golden Man has become a national symbol of Kazakhstan. Easuli recognized by his trademark conical gold headdress, he has appeared on Kazakhstan’s currency and decorates the monument to independence on Almaty’s Republic Square. In 2006, President Nursultan Nazarbayev unveiled a statue of him outside the Kazakh Embassy in Washington. The original is on display at Almaty’s Museum of Gold.

Discovery of the Golden Man

In 1969, the Kazakh archeologists under the supervision of Dr. Kemal Akishev of the Kazakh Institute of Archaeology uncovered the sarcophagus which contained the skeleton covered with 4,000 gold ornaments. The archeologists named the burial Issyk after a nearby town since it was never mentioned in any folk legends. Nearby were 45 grand burial mounds that stretched out at a distance of three kilometers. Issyk, having such impressive neighbours, did not stand out in any way: it rose only 6.5 meters above the ground. The other burial mounds measured 15 meters in height. As was the case with the other burials, Issyk was raided in the ancient times. Fortunately, the raiders neglected a side burial, where the remains of a man was laid. This man became known as the "Golden Man of Issyk". [Source: Silk Road Adventures, advertising guidebook across Kazakhstan. The ministry of tourism of Kazakhstan].

Jeannine Davis-Kimball wrote in Archaeology magazine, “In the spring of 1969, a farmer from the Issyk collective farm, 31 miles east of Alma Ata (now Almaty) in southern Kazakhstan, was preparing the soil for planting when he noticed something glinting in the furrow left by his plow. Pushing the soil aside with his boot, he exposed a small gold plaque--treasure from a burial in a large kurgan, one of several that broke the flatness of the field. The central tomb in the kurgan had been plundered in antiquity, but the robbers had missed a rich burial hidden in the side of the mound. The farmer reported it immediately, and Kemal Akishev of the Kazakh Institute of History, Ethnography, and Archaeology (now the Kazakh Institute of Archaeology) hurried to Issyk and began systematic excavation of the kurgan. Akishev and his colleagues soon uncovered a sarcophagus constructed from large fir logs, within which they found a skeleton covered with 4,000 gold ornaments. [Source: Jeannine Davis-Kimball. "Chieftain or Warrior Priestess"Archaeology, September 1997: 40-41]

The Semirechye area where the Golden Man was found is a unique archeological area, with its relatively high royal burial mounds, with the highest reaching 18 - 20 meters in height. The presence of relatively small number of these "Sakh pyramids" and thousands of small mounds suggests division of society into two groups - the privileged minority and the nonprivileged majority.

Golden Man Really a Golden Priestess?

In the 1990s, review of the Golden Man evidence suggested that the body was not male, but that of a warrior priestess. Jeannine Davis-Kimball wrote in Archaeology magazine, “Although the burial was said to be of a man, the headdress reminded the Kazakh excavators of hats worn by brides in traditional wedding ceremonies. Kazakh bridal hats, part of a dowry passed from generation to generation, are also decorated with ornamental plaques of gold and silver cast from coins. Artifacts in the Issyk burial are so similar to those that we have found in burials of women warriors and priestesses at Pokrovka in the southern Ural steppe that we cannot help speculating that this person was actually a young woman. Three earrings adorned with turquoise, and carnelian and white beads, perhaps from a necklace, suggest more elaborate jewelry than is usually associated with male Saka warriors. [Source: Jeannine Davis-Kimball. "Chieftain or Warrior Priestess"Archaeology, September 1997: 40-41]

Suzanne Lettrick of the Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads wrote: “Generally, analysis of a skeleton will determine the person's sex. However, bones of the Gold Man's skeleton were broken and fragmented so a reliable determination was not possible. Prof. Orazak Ismagulov, physical anthropologist at the Kazakh Institute of Archaeology, suggested that the skeleton was that of a male after examining only the cranium and a few long bones. (Subsequently, Ismagulov has said concerning the skeleton, that it had been badly fragmented and was in very poor condition at the time of excavation. He also indicated that the skeleton was that of a very small person, and could "well have been that of a female." [Source: Suzanne Lettrick, the Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads ]

“There are many similarities between the Issyk Gold Man's tomb and other warrior/priestess burials. For instance, a conical headress was found in the Gold Man's tomb. It was decorated in gold and was 25 inches tall. Gold-foil depictions of animals were attached to the sides of the headdress. Though believed to be a man's tomb, this headdress reminded the Kazhak excavators of bridal hats passed down through generations to be worn by brides in traditional weddings. The Gold Man's tomb contained three earrings with turquoise, carnelian and white beads which suggests jewelry not associated with Saka men. The tomb also contained a silver spoon with a slender handle. Carved bone spoons were found in the warrior and priestess burials at Pokrovka and other Sarmatian sites. Similar to the Gold Man burial, the Pokrovka burials also contained bronze mirrors, which are associated with priestesses.

“In 1993, the frozen body of a fifth-century B.C. Ukok priestess was uncovered in the Ukok Plateau in the Altai Mountains by Natalia Polosmak of the Russian Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Novosibirsk. This tomb contains objects that were also found in the Gold Man's tomb. In the Ukok priestesses tomb was a silver mirror, wooden trays and bowls that held koumiss, and a koumiss beater, which according to Polosmak, was the most sacred object associated with female priestesses. The priestesses clothes were similar to the Gold Man's wardrobe and she wore an elaborate coiffure resembling a conical hat. The similarities between the Gold Man's tomb with that of other warrior/priestess tombs suggest that the Gold Man was actually a woman. However, unless DNA analyses can be made on the bones to determine the actual sex of the body the scientific fact may never be known.”

Golden Scythian “Sun Lord” and Warrior Princess

In July, 2010 archeologists announced that they discovered the tomb of a gold-clad ancient Scythian warrior, nicknamed “The Sun Lord,” whose torso was entirely covered with gold. Joanna Lillis of wrote: “Researchers uncovered the find in a Scythian grave consisting of seven burial mounds in Karaganda Region east of the capital, Astana. The opulence of the warrior’s burial indicates that he was a leader as well as a fighter, expedition leader Arman Beysenov explained. “He was probably a ruler and a warrior simultaneously,” Beysenov said in remarks quoted by the Kazinform news agency on July 16. “The person’s torso was entirely covered with gold. The figure of a leader like this was associated with the sun. He was a sort of ‘sun lord.’” [Source:Joanna Lillis,, July 19, 2010 |::|]

“The warrior was likely buried in the 4th or 5th century B.C. in a grave that was actually discovered half a century ago, though excavation work only started last year. Robbers had looted the grave in ancient times, Beysenov said, but it still contained quite a horde of ancient treasure. One of the burial mounds alone yielded 130 gold objects that included the figure of a feline predator, pendants and parts of sword belts. Archeologists also found hundreds of gold beads and 14 bronze arrowheads in the grave. |::|

In 2013, archeologists in Kazakhstan announced they had discovered the ancient grave of a young woman wh was given the nickname “Princess of the Scythians.” Joanna Lillis of wrote: “The elaborate tomb was found in Urdzhar district in eastern Kazakhstan during road repairs, Tengri News reports, quoting expedition leader Timur Smagulov. A team of lecturers and students was called in to investigate, and the group unearthed a stone sarcophagus containing the body of a young girl. [Source: Joanna Lillis,, May 31, 2013 ]

“The “Princess of the Scythians” was clearly a prominent figure, judging by the treasures buried with her, most notably a gold headdress decorated with figures of animals and topped with arrowheads. It is similar to the one worn by Kazakhstan’s most famous archeological find, the Golden Man – a Scythian warrior prince interred wearing some 4,000 gold ornaments. This type of headdress was part of the ceremonial clothing that the leaders of the Scythians – who inhabited the Eurasian steppe in ancient times – used to parade in, Smagulov said. “It is quite possible that the buried woman was the daughter of a king of the Saka Tigrakhuda tribe.” The grave – which also contained ceramics and the bones of a sacrificed sheep – is believed to date from the 4th or 3rd century B.C.”

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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