Valley of Tsars and Baigetobe Golden Man

22 October 2019

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The Shilikty Valley is one of the most unique places of Kazakhstan. Nicknamed the Valley of Tsars, Shilikty, located at the extreme east of the country in the Altai mountains on the border with Russia, Mongolia and China, is home to barrows which hide the secrets of past epochs, long gone rulers and cultures.

The grandiose royal barrows of the Shilikty Valley consist of 51 burial mounds, some of them are 100 meters in diameter and 8-10 meters high. It is home to various cultures and monuments, including of the Bronze Age, early, middle and late Sakas, ancient Turks, etc.

It is here, in 2003, inside the Baigetobe Barrow, where a team of archeologists discovered remains of a “Golden Man”, a third after the first Golden Warrior found at Issyk in Almaty region and the Sarmatian chief unearthed at Araltobe in Atyrau region.

The Baigetobe Barrow is the oldest known royal burial mound dating back to the 8th century B.C. It is 8-meter-high and 100 meters in diameter. The burial mound has three layers: the clay layer, the stone layer and the tomb. The stone layer is 4.1 meters high and its axial length is 67 meters. Inside archeologists discovered a 3-meter high wooden crypt cut in a form of a pyramid and covering a territory of 34 square meters. Researchers believe this “matryoshka” structure was dictated by mythological ideas of the ancient society and is typical of ancient structures across the globe.

Inside the tomb, archeologists found the remains of a man who was inferred there alone. The man was buried dressed in a beautiful gown, which was decorated with 4,303 plates made of native gold. Most of the plates were smelted in forms of steppe animals bedecked with small turquoise stones in places of eyes, ears, nostrils or hooves. There are figurines of leopard, argali, deer, mountain goat, bear, wolf, eagle, gryphon and others. Unfortunately, the grave was looted back in antiquity, and the royal person was missing his golden crown, sword, dagger and ritual staff.

The size of the barrow, the clothes and the jewelry of the golden man clearly speak to his royal status. Unlike jewelry found at other barrows, the Baigetobe jewelry was not sham ors burial items but the ones the chief actually wore during his lifetime.

One of the most fascinating finds is a five-pointed star made of gold and blue malachite. The star is bone encrusted with a horn affixed in the center. In ancient times, star was a symbol of power. Archeologists also found wood planks with representations of deer drawn with oil paints.

A chapel of ancient Saka aristocracy and warriors, the Shilikty burial mounds are like portals that tell us the stories of our ancestors, their religious beliefs but also demonstrate their impressive knowledge of construction technologies and production of luxury items and weaponry.