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20 May 2010

Heaven behind a wall

Yulia Sergeyeva, Vostochno-Sibirskaya Pravda. Translated by Heda Jindrak

Heaven behind a wallAncient stone walls. They surround mountains in Khakassia, transect promontories on the Baikal. People who built them have left so long ago, that the descendants remember neither the names of the tribes, nor the language the ancient architects spoke. Scientists do not know exactly to this day  for what  purpose these  walls were built. There are 90 such "fortified towns" on the territory around lake Baikal, and in Khakassia, where they call them "sve", there are more than 50. Various hypotheses and versions about the time when they were built, and their functional purpose were discussed at the international scientific conference "Ancient cultures of Mongolia and Baikal Siberia".

"Khakass people call these mountain structures by the term "seve" or "sve", which means  a "fortress" in translation,"  - said Andrei Gotlib,, Khakass archeologist, candidate of historical sciences. In Republic Khakassia, as a matter of fact, there are 15 mountaintops known, which are called "svetakh" - that is - "mountain-fortress". On the territory of Irkutsk region, similar structures are called Baikal "fortified towns" by scientists, but the people call them "kurykan walls". And in Mongolia, such structures are called "shebe", which is very close to Turkic "sve". On Olkhon, for example, there is Shibet promontory, where in 1879 Ivan Cherskiy discovered remains of a wooden wall. And the name of another promontory, where there is a stone wall, -  Khorgoy - is related to Mongolian "khorgo" - a shelter,  an enclosure.

Andrei Gotlib noticed that these strange structures in borderland areas between the steppe and mountains are known throughout Eurasia, it just so happened that they have been studied most thoroughly by Irkutsk and Khakass scientists. Around the Baikal, four such objects have been fully excavated, in Khakassia 5-6.  The Baikal area is richer in these "fortified towns".  From the data of their investigator, dean of the department of law, sociology and media of Irkutsk GTU, doctor of historical sciences Artur Kharinskiy, 90 "fortified towns" are known in this area. Andrei Gotlib counted more than 50 sve in Khakassia. The chief topographic difference between the Baikal "fortified town" and a Khakass sve is that they were built more often on promontories, while in the Minusinsk Depression they were built on mountains.


"Fortified towns" of cattle herders


For a very long time, as Andrei Gotlib noticed, these "fortresses" on mountains and promontories were believed to be monuments associated only with the Middle Ages. As scientists believed, served purely the purpose of fortification - defense from other people. In the 80's of 19th century, famous researcher Dmitri Klementz turned his attention to "sve" in the Minusinsk Depression, and no less famous Nikolai Agapitov started his investigations in the Irkutsk gubernia.  The latter described 10 "fortified towns" located in Kudinsk valley and in the Olkhon area. However, for a long time archeologists did not pay any attention to these monuments.


-  Some of the "fortified towns" in Irkutsk region were investigated in the early to middle 20th century by the sampling-shaft method, - says Artur Kharinskiy.  - And, as a rule, the majority of these monuments yielded very few artifacts associated with activities of  ancient peole. Or  else none were found at all. Now we know only several "fortified towns" with sufficiently dense cultural strata. It is several objects on the north shore of Baikal, first of all Baikalskoye-1 and Baikalskoye-2, and "fortified town" Mankhai in Kudinsk valley. Those cultural strata may not be as dense as materials from some settlements or encampments, but, nevertheless, they contain extremely interesting finds.


Andrei Gotlib, who started his excavations of sve in Khakassia 20 years ago, came to the conclusion that there is a definite connection between the Khakass fortresses and Baikal "fortified towns".  The Khakass monuments are located on mountaintops. As a rule, these mountains are for some reason conspicuous - picturesque rocks, vertical cliffs.  They "aim the eye". Such fortresses in various territories can be at an altitude of 60 meters to a thousand. There are some mountaintops with artificial walls built by dry stone method, which are very noticeable,  200 and some meters long. Some parts of these walls have been preserved to a height of around 3 meters., and are 1.8 to 3 meters wide. Then there are huge mysterious structures with stone walls and earthwork embankments, or simply earthwork embankments with deep moats. At the same time, the dimensions of such a monument are significantly greater than those of a stone sve.  In some cases, the dimensions are 1.5 to 2.5 kilometers ( 1- 1.7 miles). There are some walls up to 7 kilometers! (4 miles and a bit).  "It is a totally different group of monuments; I can't say from what period," - noted the scientist.

But many things about the stone sve were explained after excavations.  "The excavations presented a completely paradoxical situation, - says Andrei Gotlib. - We got a very strongly expressed cultural stratum. Extremely interesting finds showed up. We always believed that these "fortresses" date to the Middle Ages, but practically no medieval artifacts and strata were found in these monuments. The earliest of these monuments were built in Khakassia at the outset of the Bronze Age.


As it turned out, some of the monuments yielded artifacts from the remarkable Afanasyevo culture, that is - the third millennium before our era, when E, Europeoid population groups first appear on the Sayan-Altai territory, who were livestock herders, with some agriculture and metallurgy. One of such sve, at an altitude of 900 meters above sea level, yielded Afanasyevo pottery. At the very least six monuments in Khakassia belong to the very bright, mysterious Okunevo culture. That is early bronze Age, which existed almost four thousand years ago. It is known throughout the world for its astonishing art - stunning petroglyphs and stone images.  The "fortresses" also contained fragments of decorated pottery, ritual vessels-burners, arrowheads, stone polished axes, adzes, scrapers. "It was amazing, - says Andrei Gotlib. - After all, our Minusinsk archeology is traditionally funerary. We do no have a single reliable settlement of Afanasyevo or Okunevo cultures. And suddenly we see very active life on these mountaintops. The Chebaki sve yielded 44 thousand animal bones! It was an entire residential complex," explains the scientist.


Because sve date to the Bronze Age, and the majority of researched Baikal "fortified towns" date to the end of the first millennium before our era or the beginning of the first millennium of our era, we can speak of some succession, believes Andre Gotlib. He is confident: complicated fortification structures are associated with herding tradition, which came later to the Baikal area than to Khakassia.  "The tendency lets us say that the idea originated in the European part, in Northern Caucasus and Central Asia. The Afanasyevo culture has very much in common with the kurgan culture of the steppe part of Russia, and correspondingly on the territory of Ukraine.  Okunevo culture echoes with the remarkable, interesting "catacomb" culture of the Middle Bronze Age in the steppes of Ukraine and Russia. In my opinion, the Baikal territory is the eastern zone of distribution of this cattle herding tradition. And this universal defense idea, the idea of "fortified towns", stretches from Europe to East Siberia. Farther we do not know so far if there are any monuments left."

If Andre Gotlib's hypothesis is true, then there is no bronze at the Baikal "fortified towns". Artur Kharinskiy does not agree with this conclusion.   "If you are thinking about age, then the oldest fortified town-shrine is known on the north shore of Baikal, and its name is Baikalskoye-3. It dates to the end of  the 3rd - beginning of 2nd millennium before our era, noted the scientist. - It is definitely not later than what we have in Khakass-Minusinsk depression. We also have the Early Bronze Age.  And at the same time this "fortified town" was not built by the people who later built the majority of the "fortified towns" on the Baikal shores. The builders of Baikalskoye-3 were carriers of  an original culture, characterized  by beautifully ornamented pottery, tools of quartzite and quartz, and artifacts made of antlers of the red deer."  "But this monument absolutely is not similar to a "fortified town" or to a mountain structure sve, - contradicts Andrei Gotlib.

-  For example, there are no walls."  However, so far only 4 out of 90 "fortified towns"  of the Baikal area have been excavated, and it is impossible to guarantee that not a single one of them belongs to the Bronze Age. In the history of "fortified towns", there are more questions than answers. For example, who were the people who built these structures?



Without name and language


Who were they, what language they spoke -  that is the most baffling mystery. In Khakassia, as Andrei Gotlib told us, local people thought that the fortresses were left since Mongol times. But at Baikal, in the words of Artur Kharinskiy, the situation is even more interesting. Investigators Ivan Cherskiy and Nikolai Agapitov, when collecting material from local people in 19th century about the "fortified towns" in Olkhon area, found out that people called them "Chinese courts". That means the people believed that before the Buryats came to the area, Chinese lived here.  "Of course, that is not true, - says Artur Kharinskiy.  - No Chinese lived here. Simply the idea that China ruled these territories at one time was preserved."  In some versions, some of the "fortified towns" could have belonged to Khori-Buryats in 17th century, who left for Mongolia after Russians came, and their place was taken by migrants from the upper Lena - Ekhrits.


Where did the name "Kurykan wall" come from? Academician Alexei Okladnikov tried in his time to create a cultural-historical schema for our region, which encompassed the period from the Paleolithic until the coming of the Russians. He believed that in the second half of the 1st to the beginning of the 2nd millennium of our era, the area around Baikal was inhabited by Kurykans (Guligans) - people who are mentioned in Chinese chronicles and Turkic epitaphs. Only those, and archeological search can just barely touch the mystery of who lived then on South Siberian territory. Kurykans are first mentioned in the chronicles as part of the federation of tribes Tele, who in the 5th century of our era began to move from the north of China to Central Asia, and from there, possibly, also to South Siberia. The chronicles say that this nation lived in the area of North Sea. And what is this? Baikal, or possibly something entirely different. Nobody knows. Even if you accept the version that Kurykans moved to the Baikal, they could easily have lived in the Selenga delta or Tunkin valley, as Artur Kharinskiy notes. But Alexei Okladnikov very elegantly connected Kurykans with the well-known concept "Kurumchin smiths", which was proposed by Bernhard Petrie. In 1912 and 1916, Petrie excavated several residential structures of a semi-subterranean type in the valley of Murin river by Shokhtoi ulus of  Kurumchin area, some of which yielded remains of metallurgic production. And he called the unknown masters of these habitations "Kurumchin smiths".  Okladnikov thought: why could the Guligans of Chinese chronicles not be those same Petrie's smiths? The academician believed that it was precisely the Kurykans who smelted iron, built "fortified towns" and left remarkable petroglyphs along the Angara, Lena and Baikal. "Now we already see that, after all, it is not so, - says Artur Kharinskiy. - Nevertheless the legend spread among the masses, and the idea that Kurumchin people and Kurykans are the same is  firmly entrenched."

So who were these ancient architects, if not Kurykans? Archeologists have not found so far any change in the material culture along Baikal shores throughout the first millennium of our era. Pottery did not change, burial customs did not change. That means that most likely there was no migration of another culture in this area in 5-6th centuries, including "Guligans" of Chinese chronicles. A new ethnos shows up on the peri-Baikal territory around 8-9th centuries of our era, as Artur Kharinskiy says. That means that the majority of the strange "Kurykan walls" were built by some other people. Out of the large numbers of "fortified towns" that have been studied, the majority date to the first half of the first millennium of our era. This period in peri-Baikal history is called the Elgi period. The first cemetery which permitted this archeological culture to be defined, was excavated  on Olkhon near Elgi. The Elgi peole buried their dead in pits, on their side with bent legs, head towards the southeast. This burial tradition is characteristic for the population of the south part of peri-Baikal area from the 3rd century before our era until the 4th century of our era.  "I don't know what ethnos this was, - said Artur Kharinskiy right away. - I don't know what language they spoke. But it certainly seems that most likely these people were the builders of the majority of the "fortified towns".  Scientists can't determine exactly to this time why these strange structures were needed on wind-blown mountains and promontories.


Eternal Blue Heaven


If you ascend a mountaintop with a "fortified town" in Khakassia, then almost certainly you will see other such structures on neighboring mountains. Khakass scientists even though at the beginning that this was some sort of general signaling system. But later they renounced this hypothesis. The fortress version also fell by the wayside.  "The fortification level of these walls is quite low, - says Andrei Gotlib. - From the point of view of the medieval era, they can't stand any criticism. It is very easy to conquer such fortresses, they are far from sources of water, even of wood."  The same can be said of the "fortified towns" around the Baikal. It is very uncomfortable to live here; it is hard to ascent to them, there is very strong wind, you have to go down to get water, often there is no fuel nearby. If people ever lived in many of these places, then it was not for long.

In Artur Kharinskiy's opinion it was not at random that places on elevations were chosen. Such a place was a "transit sacral zone" where representatives of the human world could meet with celestials, and perform rituals, just like, for example, the Tailagan and Buryats do. Many nomadic people worshipped Heaven as the supreme deity. Tengri - Eternal Blue Heaven. The finds confirm that the places were sacral. Andrei Gotlib was lucky to find a bone plaque with a depiction of a female face of Okunevo culture in one of the sve.  "After all, we have not found cultic, sacral objects anywhere except in burials, - he says. - And here we find it in a citadel behind stone walls. In some places, there are engraved anthropomorphic images on remnants of the stone slabs."  In one case, archeologists found dismembered parts of a human skeleton in  remnants of a stone wall. This may have been a ritual sacrifice.


In Artur Kharinskiy's opinion, people who performed rituals in the shrines had various functions. There were those who acted as intermediaries in communication with the spirits. They were the ones who entered the territory of the sacral zone, but the majority of people who participated in the rituals stayed outside the wall. "We observed an interesting phenomenon during excavations of the Baikalskaya-1 and Baikalskaya-2  "fortified towns", relates the scientist. -  The "fortified town" itself is located on a high promontory, but behind the walls, built of stone and earth, we found several small flat areas, where, probably, representatives of  separate families gathered. Just like with today's Altai peole, Buryats, Khakass - each family lights its own fire and brings its own sacrifice to the spirits."  However, Andrei Gotlib notes" in some of the sve, there are also residential structures.  Probably at some time they were not used only for sacral functions. He believes that the fortresses were "poly-functional".  They were used not just for prayer, but for living as well.  Artur Kharinskiy explains it this way:

Very often - and it is characteristic for European history too - shrines would be the place where people gathered in critical times, -  he says.  - People would lock themselves up in a church or temple, and defended themselves. The version that some of the "fortified towns" were used as fortified defense structures is confirmed by written sources. The first Russian explorer who came together with the Cossacks on Baikal shores, Kurbat Ivanov, came to the area to make the population pay yasak (taxes). People who lived on the mainland part agreed to pat yasak, but the Olkhon population refused to submit to the Russians. Some of them, as Kurbat Ivanov reported, "locked themselves behind walls of a small town" and defended themselves form the Cossacks. Most likely this could have been the same "fortified town" on Khorgoy  promontory; its cultural stratum dates to the second millennium of our era.


One way or the other, but the scientists agree:  so far there is not enough material to solve even one tenth of the riddles held by the ancient monuments. Complex excavations are necessary both in Khakassia and in the Baikal area, as Andrei Gotlib believes.

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