WHS: Petroglyphs within the Archaeological Landscape of Tamgaly

After our intriguing visit to Astana, it was back down to Almaty in the south, and heading 170 km northwest out into the Zhetysu to visit a place just about the opposite end of civilization timescale in these parts; a World Heritage Site with some 5000 petroglyphs dating back to the Bronze Age carved into the rocks:

Petroglyphs within the Archaeological Landscape of Tamgaly



Set around the lush Tamgaly Gorge, amidst the vast, arid Chu-Ili mountains, is a remarkable concentration of some 5,000 petroglyphs (rock carvings) dating from the second half of the second millennium BC to the beginning of the 20th century. Distributed among 48 complexes with associated settlements and burial grounds, they are testimonies to the husbandry, social organization and rituals of pastoral peoples. Human settlements in the site are often multilayered and show occupation through the ages. A huge number of ancient tombs are also to be found including stone enclosures with boxes and cists (middle and late Bronze Age), and mounds (kurgans) of stone and earth (early Iron Age to the present). The central canyon contains the densest concentration of engravings and what are believed to be altars, suggesting that these places were used for sacrificial offerings…

The petroglyphs are mostly found in six clusters in that central canyon, aka “the lush Tamgaly Gorge,”


We’re not talking “gorge” in the sense of a massive abyss like the Grand Canyon mind you, this is a Kazakh steppe “gorge,” which means it’s more like “a clump of small hills together”:


But once you get in there, you find then why yes, every place there’s a slice of bare rock, you find that it’s covered with etchings of animals, hunters, and whatever else the Bronze Age version of taggers felt would look good.


So, really, what we’re doing here is checking out the prehistoric version of street art.


One thing that’s clear is that these artists really had a thing for horns. The local version of deer did have suprisingly impressive horns in real life, but carvings like the one on the lower right here? Pretty sure that no matter how strong your neck muscles are, horns that big are … impractical.


And this one here clearly has some particularly brave Kazakh riding it, which is an extreme sport we’d certainly like to try:


In fact, some of them look more like elephants:


Things start to get pretty interesting at larger locations like this one, where you’ve got not the usual solitary bowhunters, but something that looks more like a conga line of dancers, with a haloed something overseeing the revelry:


Here’s another good example of the haloed somethings:



Things like this seem fairly clearly religious in some fashion but nobody has a compelling explanation of just exactly what might be represented here exactly. The ancient astronaut crowd has their usual explanations, and they work in 8000 year old geoglyphs just being discovered out here in the Kazakh steppes:

Nasa puzzled by huge, 8,000-year-old mystery structures in Kazakhstan that resemble ancient crop circles


Nasa has released pictures of huge patterns drawn on the ground in Kazakhstan, in an attempt to solve the mystery behind how they got there.

The huge formations are known as the Steppe Geoglyphs. Scientists have little idea how they were formed — but think that solving the mystery could lead to a huge change in how we understand early humans…

One thing you start to realize after a while visiting World Heritage Sites is how much we just plain don’t know about prehistory. But here’s a remarkably good chance to see it up close and personal for yourself, be sure to put it on the list for your next visit to Almaty!


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  1. […] that the profile there would strikingly resemble the carved petroglyphs we visited just before; curved horn horses are definitely a Kazakh […]

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