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Home » Almaty province petroglyphs. Cave drawing in Almaty region.

Eshkiolmes Cult Subjects.

Tours to petroglyphs in Kazakhstan.

One of the most complicated and studied insufficiently problems is decoding of the separate subjects and clarification of the meaning and intention of the ancient pictures. The most numerous and the most interesting pictures of bronze epoch and early iron epoch appeared with people which did not have written language, so the pictures served as the specific marking system. The Person - giant which shoot archer.Petroglyphs as the other directions of art were not only the kind of creative work in ancient times: they were connected with the ideology of population and ancient religions imaginations.
The doubts can appear in the minds of modern reader if he is not a specialist in this field: the numerous scenes of battles and hunting do not convince of the fact that not the scenes from the life but the religions imaginations of pagans are presented on the rocks. Give the examples. The territory of Kazakhstan in the second millennium B.C was occupied by the tribes of cattle-breeders and farmers, but there is no subjects with plough or cattle breeding on the rocks.
Cattle breeders of Bronze Age did not pictured the heads of sheep and cows, but one of the main topics of their creative work was a wild bull-aurochs and the scenes of hunting. People with tails, maskers, and anthropomorphic sun headed subjects are pictured in petroglyphs. The world outlook of ancient people of bronze epoch was differed essentially from imagination of our contemporary. It was the mythological. The myth regulated the interrelations of man and society, man and nature.
To enter the world of that epoch's imaginations of man, the researchers have to use the written sources remained with other people, religious texts, to carry out ethnographical observations, to study the remained religions ceremonies of retrograde peoples which remained in a form of survivals, to use information of linguists. It is established that among the tribes of bronze epoch existed the cults of sun and fertility, cults of sacrificial chariot and selected animals. The Person - giant which shoot archer.The important role played imaginations on the world harmony and khaos, cult of warriors.
But there some subjects in petroglyphs, the meaning of which is remained still unclear. E.E. Kuzmina, who studied the world outlook of sakes and scythians, other to define the repeating canonized subjects and to look for their analogies in the environment close by origin to these tribes for reconstruction the ideologies of ancient nomadic tribes. But, using different written sources, as the rule, belonged to other people and referred to the latest period, it is necessary to take into account the character of spread of the main ideas and cults, their sources and zones of spread.
Some cults and ideas can be referred to the general human ones, the others are the specific for Indo-European people, and the third are caused by some regional or local peculiarilies of social-economical and cultural development. For example, the pictures of sun headed subjects attracted of specialist during the long time. The Horseman on horse, to the left of it demon.The similar pictures appeared firstly on bas-reliefs in ancient Egypt. Anthropomorphous sun headed figures are known in petroglyphs of the New World on the Columbian plateau,in Northern Africa, in Mongolia, in Altay, in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan
Different hypothesis on migrations, cultural influence of one ancient people to another ones find confirmation not always. The appearance of sun headed idols on the American continent in the III millennium B.C is difficult to explain by the migration there of people from the Old World. Some imaginations of different people which lived on the huge distance from each other could appear independently, because of some similar economical, social and political development.
Peculiarities of mythological world perception in the different part of the world are similar enough on the define stages of development, such as the appearance of producing forms of וeconomy, forming of clan tribal nobility or assimilation of metal production. So, agricultural people began to worship the Sun, as the harvest depended on it in many aspects. Note that sun headed idols in Kazakhstan were pictured by settled people, which were engaged in agriculture as well as in cattle-breeding.
Tradition of picturing of sun headed idols in Kazakhstan could not be adopted Irom North America, but it is not excluded that this tradition had been introduced in Kazakhstan through the Near East, where the developed agricultural civilizations and religion appeared earlier. The Animal with horn.So, we can recognize that similar imaginations could appear on the general human level on the definite style of social-economical and cultural development except the sun headed idols.
The cult of fertility, connected closely with the sun and cult of world harmony can be referred to the general human cults. The cult of fertility in that or another case is presented in all pagan religions of the World. It is necessary to note that the fertility was adopted in ancient periods widely-it is reproduction of herd and harvest, and the birth of child and the most important is reproduction of the World itself-change of day and night, seasons of year. The idea of fertility was main connecting line of all elements of the religions - mythological world outlook of people of that far epoch.
The most important factor, providing reproduction of the World, universal fertility was always the ceremony of sacrifice. In connection with this it is not casually that the big quantity of pictures of wild rams and goats in sacrificial pose had been found in the mountains Eshkiolmes and in other sanctuaries of Semirechie. Different people of world had their own sacrificial animals and ceremonies of sacrifice themselves were different, but the cult of fertility always had the central place.
Two deers and the person.In Semirechie in the bronze epoch the main sacrificial animal and symbol of sacrifice was the bull, in sakae period-goat, wild ram or deer, in the ancient Turkic time - horse. Exactly pictures of these animals, often pictured in the scenes of hunting or fearing them by predators dominate in the petroglyphs of Eshkiolmes. The idea of fight of the world importance and harmony with the forces khaos is peculiar in fact to all myths of the world people. This cult expressed the fight of man with surrounding element, fight of the world ordered by man and the wild unrestrained nature out of the dependence Irom the form of display.
These ideas are presented by the scenes of hunting for the wild animals are presented in petroglyphs of Eshkiolmes as well as on bas-reliefs of Near East. For example, the tsarist hunting for lions in the pictures of ancient Shumer is very close by subject and style to some scenes of Eshkiolmes.
Ancient imaginations on the fight of man for assimilation of nature, for preservation of cultural territory won from the nature are expressed in the cult of fight of harmony and khaos. Tamga and the person on horse.The part of this cult ban be considered the cult of home oven, the keeper ofwhich was a woman, very often-mother-earth. The protectors of this cult also were always female idols: Isida, Anakhita, Gera, Umay and the others. This cult is presented apparently by the numerous pictures of women in birth in the mountains Eshkiolmes.
But except general human, stage cults and ideas can be defined also the big layer of Indo-European images and cults, presented on the rocks of Eshkiolmes. The idea of conquering of the wild nature by a man found its reflection in the scenes of archers' fight against giant, in the image of which were always imagined the forces of unrestrained khaos in the Indo-European mythology. The giants as well as ׂitans and different monslers were always referred to the forces of khaos and unrestrained element. The fight of people with giants is widely presented in the European mythology and in Central Asian one.Arrows flying to the person.
Some pictures of animals can be referred to the cult subjects. It was noted that far not all animals used by man in economy were pictured on the rocks. Division of subjects with animals for «prestige» and «no prestige» does not clarify the essence: the problem is not solved yet, why one animal in ancient times were worshiped and another were not worshiped. Initialiy sacralisation of some animals was started in connection with the appearance of totems, totem-protector of clan, as the rule, was presented in the image of animal.
Such animal was worshipped by all members of clan and was sacrificial already in Stone Age before the appearance of agriculture and cattle-breeding. Archaeologist V.V.Masson noted that sacralsation of some animals was started in the period of forming of producing economy. To the number of sacrificial were referred animals domesticated by a man, which played the main role in cattle-breeding. To the number of the most early and stable could be referred also the subjects with goats. The ethnographers of the early XX century noted the cult character of such subjects.
A.P. Okladnikov connected the image of this animal with the cult of fertility. Making reference on S.V.lvanov, he presents some pictures from Tadjikistan with pictures of herdsman and herd, which is shown convincingly in a form of points or spots. Among the pictures are fence with spots, circles-solar symbols, christ, twisted line (snake) and goats - the same set of symbols of fertility, (Circle-snake-goat-fence), what is in early petroglyphs of Saimaly-Tash, Kulzhabasy, Karakyr. The specific semantic field expressing the idea of fertility appears from the alternation of these symbols.
The tribes of pagans of Afganistan bring the goat for sacrifice of fertility. The pictures of fertility are not one time the main compound part of big compositions with the erotic subjects, with coupling of animals. In the most ancient petroglyphs of Saimaly-Tash and Karakyr is the mythological subject with coupling of goat by man. The role of this animal in the cult of fertility is confirmed by the new material from Semirechie. In the rock of Eshkiolmes is the picture of goats together with cut holes.The Person.
Initially the supposition was expressed that the numerous stones with holes situated in the zones of pastures, were cut in early lron Age. Further stones with holes and pictures of goats were cut together with figures of goats had been found in the mountains Kulzhabasy, on the settlement of bronze epoch Kalakau and in another monuments of bronze epoch Semirechie. We can already tell definitely that the stones with cup shaped holes appeared in Semirechie already in the epoch of bronze and were connected evidently with the ceremony of sacrifice of goat.
The time of sacralisation of the image of camel seems rather difficult. Evidently, the specific role of this animal appeared in the epoch of bronze in the south of Kazakhstan, what is connected with the specific role of this animal exactly here. The scene from the canyon Arpa-Uzen where under the figure of camel are shown people in a pose of worship of animal indicate on the above mentioned. The quantity of pictures with camels on the rocks is essentially less in Semirechie, but there are some subjects of sakae time, where their figures with crossed legs are included into the scenes with other animals in «animal» style.
One of the renewed pictures is presented by the figure of camel-deer, which can be considered also as the cult subject of early nomads' epoch. Probably so was imagined the mythological fantastic animal, which combined in it the best qualities of camel and deer. The similar combined syncretism images are widely presented in sakae art-they are mythological birds-griffons, winged tigers and horses. The cult of camel had been strengthened by the time. We know from the mythology that the idol of victory of Veretragna was imagined in the image of camel.
Steppe people-cattle-breeders knew well the fighting qualities of this animal, so the personification of victory in the image of camel together with wild boar and horse is imagined as proved and logical. Evidently the cult of camel had been appeared in the epoch of bronze in the most arid regions of South Kazakhstan where this animal was indispensable in economy, and in the late bronze and early Iron Age got spread along all Semirechie. Separating the group of sacrificial animals in the pictures many researchers for the first turn refer the bulls to such pictures.Competitive images of people. Struggle.
And if such opinion concern the most ancient group of pictures from the West Kazakhstan, there are weighty basis: in some scenes the sun headed idol is on the bull pictured, there are also scenes where the bull apparently is the sacrificial animal. Solar symbols are met often near the pictures of bulls in the most ancient sanctuaries. Centrallocation of these animals on the surface of stone and their big sizes indicate on the special role of these animals. It is essentially difficult to define the role of pictures of bulls in thepetroglyphs of Eshkiolmes.
Here the figures of bulls are done differently: in comparison with petroglyphs from the canyon Tamgaly and Kulzhabasy Mountains the bulls are pictured not long horned, but short horned ones and the pictures where the horns have the form of ring or semi-ring dominate. On the rocks of Eshkiolmes the pictures of bulls are less essentially, than in the most ancient sanctuaries, their figures occupy the central place on the surface rarely.
Evidently the cult of bull was loosing its leading place slowly in the period of late bronze, in Eshkiolmes we can see fading of this ancient cult, more specific for the period developed of bronze.
The gradual migration of population to the mountains, to the high mountainous pastures brought to the change of horned cattle for the sheep, goats and horses which are more adopted to the conditions of distant pastures' and nomadic cattle-breeding. Exactly pictures of these animals dominate in the petroglyphs of Eshkiolmes ridge. The horse also can be referred to the cult images of rock art. Mysterious figure.The role of horse in the life of ancient societies was especially important.
The horse became the main mean of transportation. In the epoch of bronze the cult of horse had been arisen in connection with the spread of chariots. The numerous pictures of horses in the petroglyphs of Semirechie confirm sacralisation of this animal's image. The horses were pictured on the rocks not only harnessed into chariots or scenes of hunting, but as independent images. From written sources it is known that ancient Greeks called chariots as «horsemen», owning of chariots and skill to fight on the chariot was the main merit of military nobility. Importance of horse in economy and in ideology had been strengthened in the following epochs in connection with transition of Semirechie tribes to the nomadic way of life.
The nomad already did not imagine his life without the horse. The horse in early Iron Age and in Middle Ages played not only the leading role in the nomadic econom, but in the military deal. This circumstance strengthened sacralisation of image, the horse became the most valuable sacrificial animal; this tradition has been kept in Kazakhstan up to current times. Ancient Turks imagined the sky in the image of horse. The sky identified with the Supreme idol Tengry.
The biggest quantity of pictures of horse is referred never the less to the epoch of bronze and is connected with another important cult topic-picture of chariot in the sanctuaries of Semirechie. As it was already noted above, the biggest concentration of pictures of chariots is in the mountains Eshkiolmes. These petroglyphs are also referred to the cult ones. During the last time such researchers as Anri-Paul Francfort and Ester Yacobsson expressed their doubt in the methods of analysis of some cult subjects in the rock art of Central and Middle Asia.
They consider that on the rocks could be pictured not chariots but cargo carriage and so the use of myth about the sun chariot under decoding of some subjects, by their opinion, is irrelevant. But in Kazakhstan pictures are known the scenes with participation of two chariots, where the archers are pictured, shooting each other. In the mountains Djungar Alatau the scene of following of one chariot by another is cut.Ritual dance.
On the following chariot the archer sitting on the crossed legs and holding the bridle reins was pictured. At least, in the canyon No.12 the sun head idol standing on the chariot was pictured. The main elements of military chariot, well known by the materials of archaeological excavations are drawn in detail in many pictures of Semirechie.
These samples let to consider that on the rocks were cut not cargo carriages, but exactly military chariots. The note of the named authors can be correct in that part where it concerns the use for interpretation of petroglyphs the myths from far regions or the myths of other epoch. But here also it is necessary to take into account that many myths and mythological elements got rather wide spread and existed for a long time. Many Indo-European myths, their personages and mythological attributes can be referred to such imaginations first of all.
Despite of fact that the direct parallels in the myths and petroglyphs is different to discover, the subjects with chariots, most likely, are the cult ones. The military chariot is necessary to refer to one of the important mythological attributes. By imaginations of ancient people the chariots were used not only by the heroes, but the idols also moved on the chariots and, first of all, the Sun Idol himself. The importance of all archaeological complexes and, particularly of Eshkiolmes petroglyphs is difficult to evaluate.
Here are not many subjects of cult character, known in the sanctuaries of the West Semirechie, but in general the rock art here is more multiform and ref1ects the latest period in the history.

Source of information:
 «Petroglyphs in Eshkiolmes mountains».K.M. Baipakov,A.N. Maryayshev, S. A Potapov, А.А.Gorychev.Almaty. 2005.

Alexander Petrov's photos.