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Petroglyphs of Moldazhar.

Travel experience in Kazakhstan.

“Not all those who wander are lost”

J.R.R. Tolkien.

Connected travel experience in Kazakhstan.

The Moldazhar Valley is 100km south-east of Ayaguz town, 85km south-west from the district capital (Aksuat Village) in the Tarbagatay District of the Eastern Kazakhstan Region, in the south-western spurs of the Tarbagatay Range in the Kyzyltas Mountains.
The Moldazhar petroglyphs were discovered by an artist regional ethnographer, Sadykov S., and studied by Rogozhinskiy A.E. in 2008. A large complex of habitation sites, burials and petroglyphs dated to the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Early Iron Age, Middle Ages and to the XIXth - early XXth century are in two adjacent valleys (Moldazhar and Tekebay).
An archeological map of the district was drawn up, the petroglyphs in the main concentration were recorded, and copies of several surfaces were made. Neolithic and Bronze Age habitation sites are located in the upper reaches of the valleys.
Stone fences with Bronze Age burials and Early Iron Age kurgans constitute small groups in high piedmont areas and on ancient terraces. The ruins of stone buildings for the wintering grounds of Kazakhs from the XIXh - early XXth centuries are found everywhere around rocks on extended areas of dry erosion valleys; ceramics of early and medieval nomads are also often found there.
Typology and Dating. Ancient engravings occur on sandstone rocks covered with a black patina. The most significant concentration of petroglyphs (over 2,000) is located in a watershed in the middle part of the Moldazhar Gorge.
The slopes and top of a large dome-shaped bald peak are interspersed with numerous fragments of sandstone of morainic origin. The most ancient Moldazhar petroglyphs date to the Bronze Age, but were, apparently, created at different periods, since several groups differ by style and content.
The earliest ones depict wild horses with an overhanging mane as well as oxen and very rarely humans. Relatively few and concentrated on the southern slope of the mountain, they are attributed to the culture of early cattle-breeders and metal-makers from the first half of the 2nd millennium BC and are known in many Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan rock art sites.
Their geographic range encompasses the southern and central regions of Saryarka as well as the Tarbagatay and Near Irtysh Area. The most numerous and remarkable series consists of Late Bronze Age petroglyphs, whose themes and style differ from those of earlier engravings.
Horses also dominate, but the repertoire was enriched by skillfully carved figures of animals, birds, and humans. The best works of the period were created on the most convenient broad surfaces. A distinctive feature is the decorative manner of depicting horses: the body is filled with non-recurring combinations of straight lines and zigzags; several of these geometric motifs correlate with the ornamentation of Late Bronze Age ceramics in the south of Siberia and Kazakhstan.
Humans stand out in the panels along with images of “marvelous” horses tamed or protected by humans from the attacks of predators. There are frequent images of single combats with warriors armed with bows, spears and clubs, and chariot battle scenes; many details of armor (forms of quivers and bows, arrowheads and spearheads) are depicted quite realistically, which permits comparisons with artifacts and dates them to the turn of the IInd - Ist centuries BC.
Close analogies exist with petroglyphs at Eshkiolmes in Eastern Semirechie, but, in general, this series of engravings at Moldazhar is unique. The Tarbagatay petroglyphs from the early 1st century BC show great similarity with Altai, Tuva, and Western Mongolia rock art. Isolated deer images, in the style of the Western Mongolian “deer” Rock Art Sites in Kazakhstan 39 stones in Moldazhar, are scattered on different slopes of the mountain and occupy secondary surfaces of rocks free from drawings from previous epochs.
Almost similarly, the creators of petroglyphs in the Early Saki period, distinguished by the uniqueness of their animal style and a specific repertoire, had a limited choice. Images of wild animals –deer, wild boar, predators in traditional hunting and chasing scenes – supplement skillful engravings of horses with riders and a rare motif for petroglyphs: imprints of horse hooves.
Based on many analogies, these drawings date to the VIIIth - VIth centuries BC. The medieval epoch is less distinctly represented among the Moldazhar petroglyphs. No figures of mounted standard bearers, indicative of ancient Turkic rock art, are known, although there are tamgas such as those found from the early medieval period in the Altai, Western Mongolia and Semirechie.
Some hunting scenes depicting dashing animals, executed in a unique ancient Turkic “animal” style, also date to the same period. A single combat scene of two warriors with long sabers can be dated to no earlier than the Xth century.
Among the latest Moldazhar petroglyphs, numerous Kazakh tamgas are carved on different rocks with ancient drawings and are grouped in a specific order. All signs are similar in technique, size (2 –  4cm) and paleography, and resemble tamgas reproduced on documents from the XVIIIth - XIXth centuries.
In three cases, three “sultan” tamgas are depicted together; six tamgas of a different type are carved together on another rock. They are attributed to lineage signs of Kazakhs from the Middle and Greater Zhuses.

“Rock Art Sites in Kazakhstan”.  Alexey E. Rogozhinskiy.

Photo by
Alexander Petrov.