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Mountainside gallery where all civilisations added their own art from Bronze Age to medieval times

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16 October 2017


Every major civilisation added their own distinct imprint to the collection of rock art at Dus-Dag mountain. Picture: Marina Kilunovskaya

There are 500 or so exhibits and the artwork here spanning some 4,000 years until the end of the first millennium AD.

Every major civilisation added their own distinct imprint to the collection of rock art at Dus-Dag mountain in modern-day Tuva Republic, literally from the age of the spear until well into medieval times. 

Archeologist Dr Marina Kilunovskaya said: 'This way they were marking their presence, showing that they were now the owners here.'

To their credit, successive civilisations coming here did not destroy the jottings of those who went before them. 



There are about 500 exhibits on Kara-Turug. Pictures: Marina Kilunovskaya

Each new incoming group on this crossroads of ancient civilisation  enriched the collection with their own artistic flourishes.

In truth, they probably came here for salt - there are copious local supplies - but they left their etchings depicting their life and beliefs, and they remain with us today.

'The petroglyphs were made by people who lived in this area in different times, starting from the Bronze Age in the third millennium BC,' said the academic, who is senior researcher at the Department of Archeology of Central Asia and Caucasus, Institute of the History of Material Culture, in St. Petersburg.

Her insights are riveting after painstaking research this summer into these hitherto unstudied petroglyphs.


'The most popular image - a bull. This was an epoch of the bull.' Picture: Marina Kilunovskaya

In a nutshell, she suggests that this rock art tells us that some of the oldest of the great nomadic cultures that - over several millennia - populated Siberia may not have been as nomadic as we thought. 

In the Bronze Age, petroglyphs at Kara-Tarag she has detected evidence of houses, with homely domestic scenes. 

'I am suggesting that ancient nomads knew how to build houses - and they depict these houses,' she told The Siberian Times.

Archeological discoveries tell us that ancient populations built log structures for burial chambers 'but it seems to me these (drawings) are real houses' in which Bronze Age families actually lived.

She explained: 'There are mainly domestic scenes but there also are images of houses in the Bronze Age.



Bronze Age chariot. Picture: Marina Kilunovskaya

'And what is surprising is that these are regular houses with roofs, although we are used to thinking that nomads lived in yurts.' 

The images of houses, sometimes even included floor plans.

They indicated that, for example, these ancients, predating the Scythians, led not only nomadic life but also were familiar with long term domestic life.  

They put down roots. 

The rock images evidently do not show similar houses in Scythian times, yet archeologists know they had the skills to build them: from the impressive burial chambers which have preserved right the way through to our times, for example in the Ukok plateau in the high Altai Mountains, and the Arzhan I and II sites in Tuva. 




'I am suggesting that ancient nomads knew how to build houses - and they depict these houses.' Pictures: Marina Kilunovskaya

They built them for their dead, so it is not unreasonable to suppose they also used them for the living. 

'The images of houses are unique,' explained Dr Kilunovskaya. 

'According to our understanding, nomads had no houses - but they were burying their dead in log cabins. Funeral chambers were made of wood which means they had understanding about 'wood architecture'. 

'We might be seeing houses of the dead (in this rock art) although, I think, we are seeing domestic scenes.

'There are couples depicted around houses and animals: goats, bulls, and dogs.'

She is currently engaged on a thesis to untangle these issues but talked us through the sweep of history depicted here in petroglyphs.

Arzhan 2 excavations site

Pazyryk burial chamber

Ukok burial chamber

Wooden burial chambers in Arzhan-2, Pazyryk and Ak-Alakha burial mounds. Pictures: Konstantin Chugunov, Anatoli Nagler and Hermann Parzinger; mazimus101, Vladimir Mylnikov/Science First Hands

'We discovered a unique monument of rock art at Kara-Turug, which has 20 groups of petroglyphs,' she said.

In other words, the ancient art gallery 20 different viewing spots for these remarkable petroglyphs. 

'The earliest we can date to the Bronze Age,' she said.  

'The Bronze Age era is the time of the first wave of migration to Central Asia, Mongolia, and the Sayano-Altai highlands, when an Indo-European population came here. 

'They were cattle breeders, moving along the 'steppes corridor' to the east. 

'These people left numerous archaeological sites here ... They also left specific rock art. 

Scythian deer

Scythian deer

'For Scythians the central deity was the deer. So we see deer appearing on the rocks.' Pictures: Marina Kilunovskaya

'It is special style in depicting animals. The most popular image - a bull. This was an epoch of the bull. 

'And creatures that were somehow related to the bull - well-known horned faces, so-called masks, of gods with horns.

'At that time, battle scenes also appeared, and at the end of Bronze Age, images of chariots.

'As for the houses... I believe that they are related to the late Bronze Age, to the pre-Scythian time.... 

'The houses are surrounded by the drawings related to the Bronze age - of bulls and chariots.'

She said: 'The next layer are the Scythian petroglyphs. For them the central deity was the deer. So we see deer appearing on the rocks. 

Deer in Mongolian-Transbaikal style

Deer in Mongolian-Transbaikal style

Deer in Mongolian-Transbaikal style

Scythian time stag in Mongol-Transbaikal style. Pictures: Marina Kilunovskaya

'The drawings are not very naturalistic, so we presume this was kind of deity. Also there are hunting scenes here. 

'Then came the Xiongnu times. They have a special style, very dynamic. Scenes of hunting and battles. 

'The next layer are drawn by the Turks. They loved to draw their warriors - in armour, with banners.' 

She said: 'Locals treated this ancient rock art with great reverence.' It was not vandalised. 

There is one enduring likeness through these epochs, and it keeps repeating, she said.

'The one image depicted in all the epochs is a mountain goat or sheep. They all hunted this animal and it is on their drawings. 


'The one image depicted in all the epochs is a mountain goat or sheep.' Picture: Marina Kilunovskaya

'The methods of drawing differed in every epoch. 

'The earliest stages - in the Bronze Age - they used sharpened bone and a stone. Bronze was not suitable. 

'In Xiongnu times they begin to use iron, as they learned to make durable iron. And they begin to engrave the drawings.

'We can also say that Scythian masters always did sketches - with charcoal - and then engraved very thin lines before making general drawings over these lines.'

Turkic engravings

'The next layer are drawn by the Turks. They loved to draw their warriors - in armour, with banners.' Picture: Marina Kilunovskaya

The end result is a treasure of epic proportions handed down from our ancestors, each epoch leaving their own imprint for future generations. 

'No one has studied this territory before,' she said. 

'I want to say big thanks to the Mongolian side [Institute of Archaeology of Mongolia] for the help in the research of these petroglyphs as they are located right on the border. 

'This territory is quite hard to study, as this is a frontier area and special access from border guards is needed. 

'But we managed to get the access and worked right on the border.'

Kara-Turug is located on the border between Russia and Mongolia, in the shore of Ubsunur lake. Picture: Marina Kilunovskaya


Comments (7)

it's nice to see something left from my ancestors
Ethem ACAR, Sakarya,TURKEY
04/04/2022 11:22
In Observing the pictures of the Turks Where one soldier is riding a horse and there is another being pulled behind him, I am wondering if that is possibly a mule. I am not a scientist but I do know about Mules. This animal has an upright mane,different tail,and longer ears. It also has a large blanket/ pad on its back Did they use Mules?
Mary Lou Linge, Overton Nevada USA
12/06/2019 02:12
Thank you Dr. Kilunovskaya, very interesting. A few things: I agree, it does look like a cart, with an articulating joint allowing it to be steered. Also, I was unaware the "Xiongnu" (Mongols) were casting iron weapons in this region, although this is the region that "Iron Man" statue originated. Lastly, when I read beginning, and read Dr. Kilunovskaya's name, the first thing that crossed my mind was "is that suffix related to the "Scythians" and wow, she then elaborates on the Scythian culture.
Dave Wickes, Kanagawa, Japan
08/06/2019 20:08
I observed a large number of petroglyphs in the Kosh-Agach area of Altai. I was told that specialists have concluded that the earliest are Bronze Age, because metal tools would have been necessary to make them. But I was able to demonstrate that stone tools are sufficient. Is it possible that some of the petroglyphs are Paleolithic?
Steve Lester, Russia
02/03/2019 22:18
Symbol writing, writing by symbols. Like Mycenaeans Vincas and many others.Words but bigger meaning than written word has. Many levels, astrological, personal, societal and religion/religion in one sing. If you know what symbol means in literature ... have to say to them who think literature is best art and first, sybols were first and images, fine art is finest art and ever will be, you dont need language, no tong need for that, and also blind can see these carved images.
sarianna, Is-nääs
31/10/2017 22:05
Nice!. It's not a chariot, it's a cart, which would predate it before the chariot era (Chalcolithic?). You can see reproductions of the houses in the mountains near Tsukigaseguchi Station in Mie, behind Nara City in Japan. I think they buried the dead under the houses. You can probably see the imagery in the modern English language (maybe Y or M)?
Brian Derby, Nabari Japan
23/10/2017 11:35
刘騻, 中国
18/10/2017 10:08

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