A book of:The steppes of the southern Yenisei river basin are ancient and remarkable lands. Among its puzzling mysteries are megalithic stelae replete with highly artistic images about 4000 years old. Time has smoothed the lines of the drawings, with certain details lost forever, but it is worth observing them in the slanting rays of sunlight particularly at dawn or sunset. In your astonishment, the original ancient masterpieces will arise — mysterious, with the fantastic facial features of gods from a world that no longer exists...
Esin Yu. N. Mystery of the Ancient Steppe Gods. — Krasnoyarsk: Polikor, 2009
Esin Yu. N. Mystery of the Ancient Steppe Gods. — Krasnoyarsk: Polikor, 2009
The Khakassian steppe is magnificent in summer. The air is filled with the spicy aromas of grasses. Multiple hues of green and yellow combine harmoniously with the whites, blues and pinks of steppe flowers. High under the very dome of a boundless heaven, eagles soar noiselessly. Adjacent to low mountains with red and light gray rocky outcrops, valleys are overgrown with coniferous trees. On a hot day, numerous lakes and rivers provide cool havens. By autumn the summer steppe palette transforms almost imperceptibly to gold rendering the space with more depth and luxury. It is not only for nature that the landscape is remembered.
Forming an integral part of the steppe landscape are stone stelae. These stones mark a variety of ritual structures — burials, sanctuaries and memorials of ancestral remembrance — and are often referred to in European languages as megaliths (from Greek megas — «big» and lithos — «stone»). Their creation by a succession of steppe peoples occupied a period of three thousand years. The megalithic tradition of Khakassia appeared in the early Bronze Age and disappeared late in the first millennium AD. The longevity of its practice permanently altered the steppe landscape. The ancient cultures of Khakassia have thus become a visible part of the present.
Among the numerous megaliths of the Khakassian steppe, one early and remarkable group of carefully hewn and carved stelae can be distinguished. Exposed to wind, rain and extreme temperatures over thousands of years, the images have eroded and their details are barely perceptible in daylight. However, in the slanting sun of dawn or sunset, the ancient masterpieces appear. Mysterious and unreal faces seem to look back, and as one peers intently at the curious images, the world seems inhabited by mysterious pagan deities.
Khakassia is a land with a long and rich history. Including the southern areas of Krasnoyarsk region, Khakassia occupies the important Minusinsk basin of the upper Yenisei river. With regard to its environmental relationship, Khakassia is part of the Sayan-Altai highlands which constitute the northeast border of the сentral asian landmass. A system of mountains surround the Minusinsk basin — the western and eastern Sayan mountains and the Kuznetsk Alatau. These ranges simultaneously form a link and create a barrier with neighboring regions. Since extreme antiquity, therefore, the geographical position of Khakassia resulted in cultural developments that reacted to historical processes in Central Asia; but also resulted in a distinct formation of traditions.
Rock art became one such tradition. Throughout millennia, people of the Minusinsk basin used a variety of carving, engraving and painting techniques to adorn rocky outcrops and stone stelae in images. The development of stone arts was favored by an abundant and accessible supply of stone varieties among which red sandstone was especially extensive and effective. The region is so rich in monuments of ancient art that it can rightly be called an open-air museum. The central place in this museum is occupied by stone stelae or sculptures, as they are also called, dating to the Okunev archaeological culture of the Bronze Age.
Megaliths with images are not found only in Khakassia. In disparate periods they were also created in other regions of the world. Perhaps the most well known megaliths are the Easter Island stones which are listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO ) as a site of world heritage. The sculptures of the Khakassian steppe surpass those in the Pacific by their range of expressiveness, complexity and images. They also predate the Easter Island monuments by more than 3,000 years.
In what way are the ancient Khakassian stelae unique? To answer this question it is necessary to consider several details. Most evident is the diversity of local stelae. The simplest are stone slabs with images adorning the broad side. The second most numerous type consists of slabs or pillarshaped stones whose main images and compositional axis are located on the stone body’s narrow vertical side. Characteristic of this type are complex layered compositions and three-dimensional protruding images. In terms of imagery, the central image is an anthropomorphic head segmented by lines into tiers.
There is a fantastic appearance to the human image, which has the horns and ears of a bull and three large pitted circles in place of eyes. This impression of unreality is strengthened with images which occur on the torso of a deity as an open predatory mouth replete with long fangs and protruding tongue. Above the frightening head is an image of a coiled and horned snake. Other supplements to such compositions occur on the top of stelae and can be the addition of another anthropomorphic head or the head of a ram with large and formidable twisted horns. Sometimes these images are understood as part of a single anthropomorphic being dressed for ritual in a cone shaped headdress; at other times, the images seem to convey independent characters.
Our perception of these images can vary according to our point of observation, whether we confront the images frontally or from a profile. In line with such monuments existed stelae with another also entirely expressive method of utilizing the visual surface. Human facial elements occur on two adjacent sides divided by a stone’s edge. Although the profiles are distributed across two planes, the resultant image is one complete face that appears three-dimensional. Sculptures can also convey the full forms of rams or predators. Additionally, egg-shaped stones similar in size to actual human heads have garnered great interest as well as their representations of anthropomorphic heads. Apart from monumental products, analogous portable objects with similar forms, images and composition have been recovered.
In attempting to describe the phenomenon of Okunev petroglyphic art it is first necessary to characterize its key features:
— a complex internal structure to images and a rich visual language created by a broad set of visual elements with precise, apparently canonical, combinations;
— a continuous combination within one representational element conveying different objects which is incompatible with formal logic (for instance, the depiction of an animal head instead of the trunk of a humanized deity, or a depicting of a snake body instead of a spear shaft. Such images ensure several possible explanations making the process of understanding similar to riddle solving;
— the use of a wide set of spatial compositions many of which contradict the current laws of scientific perspective;
— a surprising variation of images where almost each representation is individual in some manner;
— advanced techniques for working stone and the ability to create expressive and plastic images both on planes and in volumes.
Another important feature of Okunev petroglyphic art concerns the number of its monuments. Currently about 500 stone stelae and slabs with images are known, and have survived the passage of about four thousand years. Undoubtedly this number is but a fraction of their former quantity. It is possible that during the existence of this tradition, at least several thousand stone stelae were created. Many stelae and slabs had been reused for images several times. All of these factors distinguish Okunev art from the background of other Bronze Age visual traditions from central and northern Asia. Extraordinary expenses of time and effort had been directed by ancient society for the creation of images, which occupied a special role for the population of the Minusinsk basin.
Ancient Sculptors and Artists
More than four thousand years ago, in the second half of the third millennium, a new people appeared in the Minusinsk basin. Most likely they had come from a great distance to this fertile land concealed by the Altai mountains. Parallels to their art can be found in the mountain-steppe and semi-desert zones of Central Asia. D uring that distant era, europid cattlemen associated with the Afanasev archaeological culture lived on the territory of Khakassia as well as hunters and fishermen of mongoloic stock. As anthropological research revealed, the new population also had an europid appearance, but differed from the Afanasev. Their behavior also differed. The Afanasev people lived separately and preserved a pure anthropological type for a long time. On the contrary, the new migrants married from different local tribes. The result of such a process was the formation of a mixed anthropological type. For the classical Okunev people, as for the modern natives of this region, this mixture combined europid and mongolic features. (1) A new culture, therefore, formed and was fated to leave a presence in the ancient history of Khakassia. These new people, the Okunev, had populated the steppes with their stone gods.
Okunev, the name for these people, appeared only in the twentieth century, and was not what they called themselves. Okunev is an archeological designation for the first area of excavations where their burials were found. The excavation site was located on the left bank of the Abakan river in the Okunev district (a suburb of Abakan, the modern capital of Khakass Republic). Excavations were performed there already in 1928 by the well-known archeologist Sergei Aleksandrovich Teploukhov. As a particular occurrence in the history of the Minusinsk basin, the Okunev culture was distinguished in the early 1960s by the Leningrad archaeologist Gleb Alekseevich Maksimenkov. The realization took shape after research was performed from 1962 to 1963 on several kurgans at the mouth of Chernovaya river which were in the flood zone of the Krasnoyarsk hydropower station’s water basin. (2) Elga Borisovna Vadetskaya substantiated the identification between the stone stelae, which had long been discovered in different parts of the basin, and Okunev culture. Vadetskaya carried out a comparative analysis between the slab images and miniature bone and stone objects retrieved from Okunev kurgans, and came to the conclusion of the unity of the visual language. (3) Since then, all monuments of art connected with this culture have been identified as Okunev.
What the Okunev people called themselves, we will never learn, as we still do not know what language was spoken by them. Yet due to archaeological materials, a variety of their cultural features and even their physical appearance can be restored after four thousand years. In spite of the fantastic content of their works of art, which are skillfully stylized and treated, the art allows us to imagine visually what the people of that time looked like. Remarkably, the images of Okunev deities on stelae and images on small plastic objects reflect both europid and mixed racial types, which correspond to anthropological conclusions.
Okunev funerary works and stone images, interestingly enough, treat the human head in a special way, maybe referring to its own type of head cult. It has been found, for example, that the head of a deceased person was often separated from the body, and, in some cases, this was done before internment. The separation of the head must have served a ritual function. Other burials revealed bodies that were accompanied by several skulls all missing lower jaws. In addition to these practices, the Okunev like other ancient peoples had practiced skull deformation to reduce the height of the back of the head. Most likely such manipulations were done in childhood by attaching a plate and small sacks of sand to the occipitoparietal area of the head. (4) The appearance of persons with deformed heads is present in some Okunev sculptural images. The purpose of cranial deformation might have been to reflect the sacral egg-shape form that was earlier mentioned.
The impression that a particular attitude existed toward the head is confirmed by the visual tradition of classical Okunev stelae which show representations of heads without bodies. Moreover, it is possible to say that images of heads are the central theme of Okunev art and are presented on hundreds of stelae and other types of monuments. Working out this theme in art, Okunev sculptors and artists had achieved impressive results, organically connecting a deep symbolic tradition with tremendously expressive faces. Curiously, some skulls from Okunev burials reveal traces of paint that parallel the lines on the faces of the stelae gods which might indicate the transformation of a human into a deity. One of the skulls has a distinct circle on its forehead. This location not only coincides with the third eye of faces on stelae, but also resembles the facial sign, common to the peoples of India, which has an origin in extreme antiquity.
The economy of the Okunev depended on cattle breeding with the cultivation of horned cattle. Images of corpulent long-horned breeding bulls, lean cows and oxen are typical in Okunev art. The actual prototypes of these skulls have been found in sacrificial holes of a cultic place located at the top of a hill in a suburb of modern Minusinsk. (5) Detailed images of many animals confirm that muzzles and bodies could be painted like human faces for the ritual purposes. Besides cattle, the Okunev raised sheep and horses in herds. Hunting also played an important role in the life of the Okunev and can be proved by amulets from the teeth, claws and bones of wild animals and birds. Numerous finds of fishing spears and hooks, reveal that fishing was also an essential part of the economy. The Okunev probably also practiced some form of limited agriculture. Agriculture also features in Okunev art through the theme of plants and rain, and in the archaeological sphere where stone implements resembling harvesting knives which were widespread in the ancient agricultural cultures of Southeast Asia and used for gathering millet. (6)
It is also well known that the Okunev used two-wheeled and four-wheeled vehicles pulled by harnessed oxen. Such images have remained on some stelae. In one drawing, a covered wagon is depicted and functioned not only as vehicles, but also as portable dwellings for cattlemen. At this time, wheels were not yet spoked. Animals were handled by means of ropes tied to loops which passed through their nostrils. It is also probable that oxen and cows were more docile than bulls and were used by the Okunev for riding and as pack animals. Similar practices can still be observed among the Tuvinians, Kazakhs and some groups of Altaians. (7)
The Okunev had mastered the processing of copper and bronze from which they cast blades, daggers, axes, spearheads, fishing hooks, other tools and ornaments. Along with metal items, various stone and bone products continued to be widely used such as spear and arrowheads, fishing spears, axes and adzes. The Okunev people also created potted works represented by flat-bottomed pots ornamented by comb-shaped stamps or incised lines and clay sticks elegantly ornamented with patterns. Especially distinguishable are ritual vessels of a biconical form composed of a small bowl on a high pedestal. Because of blackening on the internal surface of bowls they are usually referred to as incense burners, but may actually have been portable altars in which gifts to the gods were burnt. Aromatic plants, grasses and animal fat could be such offerings. Images on stelae and materials from burials show that incense burners were lifted to the sky and even set on the head. The rising smoke might have attracted the attention of the Okunev gods, indicating the place of ceremony and inviting the gods to their offerings. Ceremonies in which such incense burners were used could thus be devoted to various deities.
An acquaintance with the characteristics of Okunev arts allows us to imagine the clothing, hair styles of the Okunev and their manner of wearing ornaments. Among the headdresses represented, the most typical are high conical caps which are similar to the headdresses of other ancient people — the Khetts and Sakas. The Okunev tradition of depicting spears and arrowheads on the head is comparable to the golden arrows on the headdress of a Saka ruler buried in an Issyk kurgan from Kazakhstan. The head of a bird is represented above a human head on one of the stela, and partly reminds us of the ritual caps in the form of a bird’s head from the Altaian Pazyryk culture of the Scythian period. Women were represented with long flowing hair reaching below the shoulders, and, in one case, covered by a special scarf. Men’s hairstyles were short. Women, and possibly men, wore earrings from several bronze rings. Men wore short wrap jackets and trousers. Women were clothed in long dresses.
Dwellings were probably on the surface of the land or partially dug into the earth with walls and roofs made of thin tree trunks which leaned against stronger frames. For the burial of relatives, the Okunev constructed kurgans with a square enclosure of large stone blocks or slabs turned on edge and inserted into the ground. Sometimes at the corners of the enclosure, vertical stones were erected; such a practice anticipated the design of later Tagar culture kurgans from the first millennium BC . Tombs were also constructed of stone slabs. Burials are also known to have taken place in simple earthen holes, circle burials and catacomb type structures. A kurgan construction from the valley of the Tuim river, discovered and researched by Leonid Romanovich and Igor Leonidovich Kyzlasov, contains wide parallels in Eurasia.
A ring of 82 meters in diameter was framed by vertical granite stones from 0.6 to 1.2 meters in height, 8 to 9 meters between stones. In the middle of the ring there was an earthen pyramidal embankment. It could be 3 meters in initial height. At its base there was a square enclosure, 16 by 16 meters, with vertical stones, 0.6 m in height at the corners. Inside the enclosure diagonal lines were laid out in stone. In the centre of the enclosure where the diagonal lines crossed, there was a stone tomb containing the burial of a woman. Drawings of bulls were found on its slabs. A gate formed by six stones vertically inserted into the ground was located to the east from the square enclosure. The axis of the gate coincided with the longitudinal axis of the central burial tomb. The orientation of the whole complex coincides practically with the direction of the rising sun on one day of the summer solstice. As researchers have assumed, a square enclosure in the center of a ring of menhirs (from Breton. men — «stone» and hir — «long,» i.e. a big stone placed upright into the earth) symbolizes the horizon of mountain ridges with sacred tops at the corners and center, and the circle symbolizes the sky enveloping the earth. (8)
Orientation to astronomically significant points on the horizon does not mean that the Tuim river kurgan was created for astronomical observation and calculation as hypothesized for the famous Stonehenge monument of England. It is known that the conception of a world order played important roles in funerary and other rituals. Without taking such beliefs into account, it would have been impossible to provide a transition for the dead to the other world or to transfer a victim to the gods. To a considerable degree, such reasons modeled notions of a world order and impacted the design of funerary and other ritual constructions in disparate cultures. Typologically, the Tuim river construction was the predecessor for the grand ritual-funerary complexes (the so-called khereksur) widespread in Central Asia during the late Bronze Age.
One other notable feature of Okunev culture can be found in the mysterious constructions on the tops of mountain ridges. Several tens of them are presently known. One of the most grandiose constructions was discovered near Chebaki village of the Shirinskiy region in Khakassia. (9) It contains two flanks of walls in which passages were built. The length of the external wall is 210 meters while the internal wall was bounded by a small section at the top. Dwellings are connected to the walls. The walls were constructed of massive sandstone slabs, stacked without a binding mortar. The masonry of the walls is remarkably preserved and in some places reaches heights of 1.6 meters. During excavation, fragments of vessels (including the remainders of a cultic incense burner), stone arrowheads, axes, scrapers, more than 32,000 fragments of animal bones, mainly roe deer, were found. Despite the presence of walls, the assertion that this construction was a fortress should not be made since the defensive value of the walls is insignificant. It could have served as a temporary refuge for only a short time. The absence of a water source inside and nearby, reduces its protective function and makes it unsuitable for long residence. Besides, the construction is not located on the summit of a mountain. From the side of a higher neighboring range, the area of the structure could have been exposed easily to fire. It is therefore possible to assume that the basic function of such Okunev constructions was ritual. The main purpose of walls was to accent visually the features of the mountain top dominating a certain place of a ridge and to demarcate the view of the mountain on several parcels and levels which held symbolical meaning. Mountains with such constructions, undoubtedly, were venerated by the Okunev and were places to carry out certain ceremonies. The possible ceremonial content might recall the mountain sacrifices to the sky preserved until recently by the Khakass.
The development of farming, large scale constructions on mountain tops, and significant ritual funeral complexes demanded a corresponding level of social organization. Grand architectural remains, numerous monuments, complex image structures and an advanced symbolic system not only underscore the important role of art, but also evidence the existence people who preserved and developed the graphic tradition which was inseparably linked with ritual. Men were the obvious creators of the Okunev masterpieces and performers of ceremonial functions. Their burials can be separated into groups due to their attendant contents for the fulfillment of burial functions.
How Stelae were Made
The quarrying, making, transportation and erection of monumental stelae demanded a considerable expense of time and force, and the skilled techniques of stone cutting required collective action. Even for us living in a period of rapid engineering development, this would be quite a labor-intensive process.
To begin with, material, such as soft and porous volcanic tufa, as on Easter Island, was not available, but sandstone and granite were. The average Okunev stela is about two to three meters in height and weighs about one or two tons. Larger constructions exist, and the largest discovery to date is Kime Tas («stone boat»), a gray granite stela, 4.7 meters in height and approximately four to five tons in weight.
As the raw material for monuments, blocks of appropriate size and form would have been harvested from the mountain slopes or detached from rocky outcrops by means of wooden or horn wedges. The resultant volume of the work would depend on how much the stone form corresponded to a sculptor’s project. In the simplest case, only a narrow surface of a slab would be worked and carved to make relief face, breast and stomach. A considerable amount of work would be required if the sculptor wanted a saber or cigar shaped stela. After the raw stone was roughly processed by means of pounding, its surface was ground with great attention paid to the sides and surfaces where images would later be carved. Slabs intended for images were often leveled and rounded at the top. The future image was marked by chiseled or widely-spaced pitted matrix. Then the matrix was reworked with a fuller, more accurate pitting until a trough was formed. It is important to note that the Okunev used stone implements to process a raw stone and to carve images. When worked on stone the edge of a bronze chisel quickly loses its sharpness and becomes unfit for use. The Okunev did not have any metal harder than bronze. On the contrary, when stone cutters are worked, they become sharper. During the finishing stage, the carved troughs were commonly ground with small pieces of sandstone. As a consequence, the carved lines became even, and, due to the lighter color of sandstone, would stand out in contrast to the dark background of a slab.
During the excavations of an Okunev burial ground on the Chernovaya river, the Minusinsk archaeologist Nikolai Vladimirovich Leontev performed an interesting experiment by making a large anthropomorphic image on a stone slab similar to those found in the burials. It took about five or six hours of pure labor to beat and grind the lines of the image without learned professional skills and specialized stone tools (the experimenter used only raw pebbles and sandstone splinters). The entire amount of time was spent to create the simplest drawing on a readymade slab. In order to make stelae with three-dimensional images, much more time would have been required especially when accounting for the skill and strength needed to prepare the stone body and transport it.
The lines of stelae images are often painted red in shades from bordeaux to orange. Conversely, sometimes only the background was painted leaving the lines light. There are stelae with only painted images and no carvings. Despite their exposure to the elements for four thousand years, traces of a red paint on some stelae are well detected. The paint has faded strongly, but has not disappeared. Its stability may attest to the fact that the pigment was not dissolved in water, but in blood. For example, North American Indians used blood as a binder when they wanted the paint to be water-resistant and durable through time.(10) Painting their works, ancient artists aimed not only for expressivity, but also for another reason, that of magic. The image of the deity would become filled with vital energy, live, and be spiritualized.
The Evolution of a Visual Style
The tradition of creating stone stelae appeared in theYenisei region during the second half of the third millennium BC and existed there for several centuries. The tradition had undergone essential changes observable in the comparison of anthropomorphic images. According to major distinctions, the development of Okunev art is divided into three stages. (11)
During the early stage, the deity is depicted in full figure. Notably, necks are not represented and the head appears sunk into the trunk. Hands are also not depicted, but sometimes bird wings are. It is possible that figures without hands were meant to have wings. For human faces, the depiction of two eyes is typical with two inclined lines or with two semi-ovals at times. On the forehead, an inverted triangle or vertical line can appear. A line usually occurs between the eyes and mouth. There can also be an oblique line, an inclined line or two vertical arcs on the forehead. A high triangle or extended semi-oval usually represents a headdress, but a pair of vertical or diverging lines can also appear as a headdress. Sometimes the head of a bird of prey, a predator, and, in one case, a horse, can be represented as the deity. Distinctions in the internal composition of faces, the form of the top of the head, and pose are results of characterization within the Okunev pantheon. Among zoomorphic images, perhaps, the image of a bird of prey was of major importance at this early stage. Images, generally, were put on the broad flat side of a stone slab.
In the developed stage of Okunev art, the most typical images represent only the heads of deities. Their complexity exceeds early Okunev images. The face divides into three circles by two horizontal lines. In the top circle, besides two orbs for the eyes, another oculus appears on the forehead. Additionally, between the eyes on many faces, two vertical bowed lines indicate the contour of a nose. In the lower part, there are semicircles for nostrils and a pair of bovine horns on each side. Bovine horns, triangles and other elements, seemingly as a rule, are part of the head. During this stage, anthropomorphic faces were often embodied in sculpture and placed on the narrow sides of the stela. In full anthropomorphic figures, the neck starts to be represented. Also widely represented at this stage are images of bovines, snakes and mythical predators. Similar in treatment to faces, their bodies are often divided by cross-section lines into segments that contain a great number of additional graphic signs. Because the visual tradition maintained a limited set of graphic elements and particular rules for their combination, both anthropomorphic and zoomorphic content could differ widely with each drawing individualized in someway.
The treatment of the late Okunev images differs from the earlier periods for a number of reasons. Facial contouring and nostrils are absent; two eyes (usually ovular) are present; the terminals of cross-section lines between the eyes and mouth are forked like snake tongues. Such images are complex enough for their quantity of details, but in entirety they are already quite unnatural. The absence of facial contouring could well reflect conceptions about the incorporeity of deities and their existence in spiritual form. The images are located on the broad flat sides of stelae and also on rocky outcrops near river banks. It is important to note that unlike the two earlier groups of Okunev images which occur everywhere in the Minusinsk basin, the late Okunev image stones are found only in the southern part of the basin. This may possibly refer to the occupation of a new population, the Andronovo archaeological culture who left monuments in the northern part of the basin.
The Andronovo culture formed in the Kazakh steppes, and its migrants had appeared in the Minusinsk basin in the first half of second millennium BC after travelling around the Kuznetsk Alatau from the northwest. The interaction between the Andronovo and Okunev cattlemen resulted in the assimilation of the Okunev and, alternately, the expulsion of the Okunev into the peripheral mountain-taiga zone of the basin where cattle breeding would have been less sustainable. Andronovo monuments have not been found in South Khakassia, and the region might have served as an enclave where the Okunev culture could continue to exist for several centuries. This final stage of the Okunev culture has practically not been studied, and to the present day, kurgans with stelae bearing anthropomorphic faces in the late Okunev style have not been found in this region.
The evolutionary direction of style in Okunev imagery confirms occurrences when early Okunev stelae had been utilized for the creation of imagery in the classical and later groups. It is indicative that imagery found outside the Minusinsk basin to a large degree is similar to early Okunev imagery, and that the imagery and style of the classical and late periods is more original.
The Okunev visual tradition and ritual-mythological notions shaped strongly the culture and art of the Minusinsk population who generated the phenomenon of an Okunev culture. Additionally, the mongolic ethnic component of Okunev culture might have contributed some inherent features to Okunev art, such as its graphic tradition and its attention to the representation of local fauna. Among the most significant images contributed by the mongolic ancestors are elk which have been frequently pecked and painted on rocks of the Yenisei river and its tributaries.
A distinguishable small group of stelae inherited some traditions most likely from the Afanasev culture. The makers of such stelae Afanasev and their descendants who appeared in the field of an Okunev cultural influence. They pecked stones with vertical rows of horizontal arcs and oblique crosses, and also made pictures of incenseburners which, unlike the Okunev examples, had a semicircular handle on one side. Subsequently, the Afanasev graphic complex became completely integrated with Okunev works during the classical phase. (12)
Some stelae with realistic faces carved at the top of a stone appear slightly isolated in the general background of Okunev art. Eyes, lips and a nose protrude in relief and ears often point outward. In three cases, a low hat was carved onto the head. Such imagery can be compared with the sculptural monuments of the Sejma-Turbino circle witnessed in Western Siberia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and even on the western side of the Ural Mountains. Such imagery can be seen as another component in the formation of Okunev art. One image had been engraved at the bottom of an upturned Okunev stela of the classical phase with a relief egg-shaped oval in the middle. Another image was carved at the bottom of another upturned stela with vertical rows of horizontal arcs. Both instances show that such anthropomorphic faces arose later than the initial stelae images. Most likely this series of faces appeared in the Minusinsk basin at the end of the period when Okunev anthropomorphic images existed in the classical style.
In all of its directions, Okunev art seemingly reflects the existence of a particular religious community in the Minusinsk basin. Although the formation of ritual-mythological ideas and art are connected with Okunev culture, it could have also included elements from the descendants who inhabited the region earlier and migrants who came to the region during the Okunev period. In apprehending new ideas, they introduced their own conceptions and images to Okunev art.
Myths in Stone
Drawings on Okunev stelae are original graphic texts where each element bears a certain semantic meaning. Behind the images and their artistry are complex ritual-mythological conceptions. Okunev images reveal a lot about their creators, their vision and about their world order and gods. In the mythological thinking of ancient people, it would have been impossible to describe a world order without first telling the history of its origin. As mentioned earlier, the Okunev stelae have tiered compositions. Usually the stone body was divided into three tiers with each tier devoted to a part of a tripartite universe: the sky, the land and underground worlds. The ancient sculptors carved images of several mythological characters whom they worshipped, and positioned them on the vertical stone body. A major element is the central anthropomorphic face carved onto a monument. Compared to other images, this anthropomorphic face is distinguishable by its larger size, complex structure, exceeding detail and also by the fact that it is consistently present on stelae, whereas other images do not always appear. In addition, the anthropomorphic face was engraved first and was of key value for the entire composition. All of this undoubtedly specifies this image’s special place in the Okunev world and in a hierarchy of deities.
The narrow long head and the big eyes of this deity in the stela’s center conjures strongly the features of a Europid anthropological type. At the same time, the forms of its many elements markedly differ from the actual details of a human face. Noses are frequently absent in the representation of faces — nostrils are shown while a nose is not even denoted. The canonical ovular contour for heads does not entirely match the naturalistic form of a head. Okunev art contains representations of ovular forms without inner facial detailing and also includes sculpted images in egg-shaped forms. This attests to the fact that such forms were not accidental or a product of stylization. In its mythological aspect, the egg-shaped form and tripartite internal structure of the central anthropomorphic face, reveal compositional roles connected to the myths of many ancient peoples through the image of a world egg, the origin of the world. Such conceptions, for instance, were held by the ancient Indo-Europeans, the Finno-Ugrians, and the Chinese. It was believed that the upper part of the world egg represented the sky, and the lower part, the earth.
A similar system of organization can be seen operating in the egg shaped heads which are divided into three tiers. The upper tier contains eyes, the middle tier — nostrils, and the lower tier — a mouth. These are not simply the details of a face, but symbols which correspond to parts of the world. The eyes can see only in the presence of light, which is the realm of the sky. Nostrils symbolically convey breath, for which air is necessary and fills the space between heaven and earth. The symbolic association of the mouth is with the underworld. After all the basic function of the mouth is absorption and destruction. (13) Moreover, the graphic delineation of the eyes (a circle with a socket) and of the nostrils (semi-ovals) does not model their natural forms. The circle with a socket in Okunev art can represent a luminary. According to one hypothesis, the three ocular circles convey the morning, afternoon and evening sun. (14) Sometimes four to six eyes can appear on stelae, differing in form and technique of execution. This fact along with an identification with luminous celestial elements conveys a sense of an all-seeing and omniscient deity. The semi ovals representing nostrils is the firmament scheme in a vertical projection.
The use of such a sign identifies its breath with the wind of the middle world. The mouth of a deity not only equates the jaws of an animal in the lower tier of stela, but can also be depicted as a frightening animal with fangs and bared teeth. The sequence of images in composite view is complex, was perhaps not accidental, and can be correlated with stages in the development of the world. During the first stage, all parts of the future universe are enclosed in the world egg. During the second stage, the sky separates from the earth and results in the creation of space constructed along binary oppositions. For instance, the top and bottom of the stelae is one such opposition, as well as the center and periphery. Male and female elements are opposed in the symbolic structure of the stelae. Signs which can be considered female (breasts, a pregnant stomach) occur in the earthen region, the bottom half of the stone. On the top half, similar elements are never represented while phallic forms are. Therefore, the metaphorical identity of the sky is male, and the earth, female.
Images on some stelae are grouped so that they appear together as a single being: the central face — a head, the upper half — a high headdress, the lower part — the body. In another variantion, the entire stone appears as the body of a giant snake whose mouth occurs in the lower part of the stelae. However, the majority of stelae lack anthropomorphic or zoomorphic elements and may correspond to the image of a world mountain or a long pillar which functioned as the axis of the universe dividing earth and sky. Another symbolic image of the world mountain might also be indicated by the conical headdress. All Okunev stelae of the classical type which have a composite axis on the narrow side can appear as the ritual equivalent of the world mountain which was of great importance to the world model of the Okunev.
Other details of Okunev stelae are also posited metaphorically. Even the representation of such a simple object as a weapon carries visual metaphors. The depiction of a spear can have a stone or bronze head, and its staff can be the coiled body of a snake. The tip of a realistic shaft or spearhead can fork out into the tongue of a snake. The identification of a spear with a snake, undoubtedly, strengthens the weapon’s symbolic potential rendering it more lethal. The association of stabbing (weapon) with biting (snake) had not only occurred to the Okunev, but also to other ancient peoples whose languages preserve the relationship. In Russian, for example, the edge of a spear is called a «stinger.» On two Okunev stelae, bull horns, the terrible natural weapon of some real and mythical animals, are represented on each side flanking a spear on two Okunev stelae. As a result the spear not only becomes even more formidable, but also resembles a trident. The trident is a rare weapon which first appeared as an attribute of some deities from Indo-European mythology. The Okunev semblance is close to the Shivaite trident because of the form of its lateral edges which curve like the horns of a bull.
Female figures with bent knees parted on each side are significant images in Okunev art. The signs of pregnancy and the presence of animal claws and paws on some figures link them to a mythological character, a mother goddess known in many cultures. In one image, the goddess gives birth to snakes. Okunev goddess images have been connected to a ceremony of animal fertility and flora invoked for protection. Details such as long hair, rings and earrings correspond to small bone images of female faces and the images on stone stelae. However, to refer the iconography of two different representations to one deity is hardly correct. In the Okunev ritual-mythological system there may have been a number of female deities who performed different functions, such as those described in the mythologies of India, Greece and the Near East. T he pose of Okunev goddesses resemble those known in the Near East from extreme antiquity.
The Sun and Snakes
Among the images on Okunev stelae are characters with multiple lines emitting from the head upward and to the sides. The Okunev imagined a deity of the sun or of the morning dawn, the head of whom was identified with a solar disk and the hair with solar rays. A similar description of the sun as anthropomorphic with radiating light operated in different ancient mythic-poetic traditions. For example, early Hindu texts describe the sun deity with epithets such as the «Lord of Hot Rays», the «Lord of a Thousand Rays», «Radiating Shininess», and «Golden Haired». (15)
In some images, the linear rays of figures combine elements of a human being with a bird. In other images, they are placed where bird wings and a tail would occur, setting up the identity of a feathered bird. Such symbolic metaphors are closely connected in the formulation of deity as bird and some mythological systems. Perhaps the most graphic illustration of such a creature occurs on slab carvings from the Tas Hazaa burial ground which shows a human body with the head of a predatory bird. Representations of gods in the image of birds are widespread in the world. In various cultural traditions, the sun has been identified with a bird.
On most of the stelae, a deity’s head is deeply sunken into the shoulders which resemble the two mythical hills — behind the hill of the east the sun rises in the morning, and behind the hill of the west, the sun sets in the evening. The deity’s face is divided into two circles correlating to an upper world and an underworld, and resembles a rising sun with half of the disk underground. The sun’s disappearance can be explained in myth as being swallowed by a snake or a dragon that fuses characteristics of a snake with a predatory animal. The most detailed picture of the head of such a dragon was carved onto a stela from the Tibik stream. On another stela near Ankhakov district, a similar dragon type has a schematic snake body. The snake-like dragon is positioned vertically with an open mouth on a deity’s body. The mouth is placed just at the point where the triangular collars of a robe would have appeared.
The snake radiates light. A circle symbolizing the sun is represented in its mouth. On the Ankhakov stelae below the deity’s shoulder-hills, naturalistic depictions of snakes were carved with long protruding stingers. The rhythmical curve of their bodies repeat the circular form of the snake’s mouth shown under the head. Snakes can symbolize the recurrent appearance and disappearance of the sun in the sky. In total, eleven such circles are present and correspond to the number of days in which the solar year is longer than the lunar year. The number of rays on the deity’s head is 22 or the number eleven doubled, and also has a calendrical value. During ancient times in order to base the measurement of time by moon and solar cycles, every year in the lunar calendar had to adjust by the addition of a thirteenth month consisting of 22 days. In this way, the lines emitting from a head not only can represent solar rays identified with the long hair, but also symbolizes a particular unit of time affiliated with the solar cycle.
Special interest has been aroused by two large snakes flanking a figure on a stela from the Ankhakov district. They are remarkable in execution, the contour of each snake is formed by two separate snakes that are connected by transverse lines. A stinger protrudes from the head and midregion of both snakes, thus visually expressing the double and even triple strength of these snakes and their extreme danger and ability to inflict death. Perhaps these snakes or snake-spears were the terrifying weapons of the Okunev deity. The image from a stela remnant of the Es river favors such an interpretation. A snake with its head represented by the tip of a stone spear is held in the hand of a sun-head. The confluence of snake and spear imagery could indicate a particular kind of formidable weapon only associated with the sun. Additionally, the spear tips also appear on the ends of the beams radiating from the deity figure. The aforementioned snake visages are associated with the early stage of Okunev art, and the rayed head with spearheads is associated with the classical phase. The symbolism of spearheads instead of solar rays opens a metaphorical association between light rays and sharp weapons. Such a metaphorical analogy has been made by many cultures. The words for arrow and solar ray in Iranian, for instance, are conveyed by one word with the dual meaning. In Selkup folklore lightning is described as a fiery arrow. The Buryats associate lightning with a spear or arrowhead. In the Rig Veda (1700‑1100 BC ) and in the Sanskrit epic numerous metaphors link the concepts of spears, darts and arrows with rays of light or lightning. (16)
In its turn, Okunev culture identified the thrust of a sharp weapon with a bite of a snake. A direct conflation between a ray of light with a snake is present by drawing of a deity’s face from Shalabolino: beams radiating from it fork at the terminals into snake tongues. Such images reveal a warlike spirit of character, and in many respects maintain the close connection between that spirit and snake imagery. For example, in the Summerian and Akkadian compilations of the Epic of Gilgamesh (2150‑1000 BC )[not Gilgamesh, but Bilgamesh!SB] the sun is victorious over monsters and battles with various enemies from ancient Egyptian myths. In the Rig Veda the sun god also transcends darkness, and the people address the sun god for protection from illnesses and enemies. (17)
In creating the Okunev gods, such visual metaphors and attributes can be considered as praise of the exact qualities and abilities of a deity to which people appealed during ceremonies. Possibly, deities were asked to demonstrate these particular qualities and abilities. In essence, one could request the deity to blaze in the sky, grant light, banish darkness, overturn enemies and to sustain the normal rhythm of nature. (18) Such requests correspond fully to seasonal ceremonies for which the Okunev stelae were regularly and obviously created.
Symbolic World Order and the Mythical Predator
A widespread symbol in Okunev petroglyphic art is the pointed square inscribed by a circle. Due to its simple and harmonious structure, the symbol was easily absorbed during the modern history of Khakassia. Nowadays the symbol is the significant element on the flag and the top element on the coat of arms of the Khakass republic. The traditional Okunev symbol in circular or quadrangular form is referred to as solar. However, this explanation may not be completely accurate.
Okunev art does not visually indicate space but concentrates only on the distance of visual objects from an observer. Okunev art, however, is focused on reproducing a complete conceptions of objects. Using the terminology of geometry and technical drawing, the Okunev sculptural method is based on orthogonal projections. In this system, the space is conveyed only by viewing objects from a perspective on top of the object around a certain central element. For example, in order to depict a cart, the wheels would be drawn as if splayed in silhouette, fully rounded. This is precisely how a cart was rendered on the Mount Tepsei (Tepsei = Tepe, Tr.of etymology, meaning Hill. SB). The same approach can be used to explain the Okunev solar sign. Rather than convey the sun and its beams, it presents a scheme of the world. The peaked edges of the square, as orthogonally rendered shapes, refer symbolically to the four world mountains whose mythic content correlates to the four parts of the world. They are placed around a circle or a square which symbolically refers to the sky (circular horizon) or the earth (square), both of which demarcate the edges of the world. Modeling the edges of the earth, quadrangular forms also constitute the enclosure of Okunev kurgans. Consequently vertical stones appear in the corners of some enclosures and correspond to rayed symbols.
In some enclosures the corners are connected with a burial structure centrally located among diagonal masonry. Such forms seemingly relate to the four lines inside some objects. Objects that appear along the edges of the world have a protective and guardian function, safe-guarding the world from various dangers. Comparable models of the world with four mountains or deified guardians oriented to the cardinal directions are well accounted for in the ancient myths of India, China, Egypt and Mesopotamia. A later and obvious graphic manifestation of similar conceptions about a world structure is evident in Buddhist Mandalas.
The center is a vitally important part of the symbol in circular and quadrangular with rays. In various mythological systems the center of the world was attributed with maximum sacral power, the origin of order and the place of creation. Perhaps the Okunev people had the same conception. This can be judged by the complex three tiered compositions of the stelae, the center of which is occupied by a representation of the world egg. Besides the center of the symbol might be referred to by another similar sign of smaller size, visually appearing as a microcosm and origin of the entire image.
Apparently the structure of the rayed circlesquare reflected not only the idea of spatial organization, but also of time. This resulted from the close association of light with the phases of a day and with the seasons of the year in ancient consciousness. Therefore, four rays have the potential to model both the spatial and temporal structure of the world: the four parts of days, months, and years. Sometimes on each side of the peaks, horns are represented, and the number of elements along the perimeter amounts to twelve. Thus with regard to the temporal aspect, the symbols can be identified with the annual calendrical cycle. Outside of this cyclical composition, only the center, contextualized through a model of space and time, could correspond to the beginning of time.
The notions about a structure of space and time, as reflected by Okunev symbols, had an exceptionally important value for people during the early stages of societal development. Observations of the recurrence of natural processes have been understood as the basis for widespread ideas about a sacred world order during ancient periods. All natural phenomenon was considered to be regulated precisely and to be related to one system. Even the gods submitted to it, and the cultic practices were considered to be an integral part of this order. Related notions were expressed in the belief systems of cultures that were in close geographic and historical proximity to the Okunev. Examples which engage similar notions are related by the terms for cosmic law, rita (ŗtá-) and asha (ašá -) of the Rig Veda [Saka Turks in İndia!.SB] and the Avesta. (19)[Avesta was written after 4th c BC!. SB] Connecting the major parameters of the world as a well ordered whole, the Okunev image of the rayed circle-square can be considered, perhaps, as a graphic sign embodying typologically similar ideas. The presence of elements on the anthropomorphic faces of some Okunev signs indicates a deification and personification of Okunev cosmic law. The Okunev deification of cosmic law corresponds with the same process among other people.
The most typical location of the rayed circlesquare symbol is on the front bottom portion of a stela. This part of a stone is connected with the underworld. Here the symbol combines images of a pregnant abdomen and the gapping mouth of a mythical predator. On stela from Bele lake, half of the symbol is hidden inside the mouth and can be perceived as a predator swallowing or belching up the symbol. Usually the predator’s mouth seems like that of a bear or a snake. The most complete drawings of such images contain the body parts of animals who represent all three levels of the tripartite world, i.e. snakes, bears, bovines and birds. Each of them are given characteristic qualities. From a composite relation between a predator and circle-square symbol, the predator can be considered an embodiment of a threat to the world order and simultaneously as its keeper and founder. Notably, similar aspects exist between the cosmic law and the god Varuna in the Rig Veda. (20) When three of the rayed circle-square symbols occur on the sides of stelae, they correlate to the three levels of the universe.
Conveying a world order by its structure, Okunev symbols could be metaphorically identified with the sun. This is clearly evident in the link between the cycles of nature and the movements of the stars. The circular form of the majority of Okunev symbols also supposes a comparison with the sun. A similar understanding of cosmic law exists in the Rig Veda by identifying the way of rita with the way of the sun and naming the sun a rita face. (21) In the context when the circle-square occurs on the bottom portion of a stelae, the sun resting underground at night might be indicated. And the composite link between circle-square symbol and predator can also be considered as a variant on the archaic myth about an animal’s pursuit of celestial spheres which enact the changes between day and night and the eclipses.
On the whole, the older Okunev deity as a terrifying mythical predator appears as the guarantor of the orderly change of the regular phases of world order. The deity’s link to cycles of time is shown also in the use of sacred calendrical numbers in the structure of such images. (22) On stela from the vicinity of Askiz, fuller calendrical notions have found reflection in the representations of predators. In particular, on the croup of the lower animal, near the tail, seven short lines were pecked out and symbolize the number of days in a week. On the animal’s spine there are 52 similar lines corresponding to the number of weeks in a solar year. On the breast and abdomen of the animal, there are twelve lines equal to number of months in a year. However 52 weeks are short of a true solar year by one day. For two years this divergence is two days. Perhaps this was meant by the two short lines between the front feet of the beast. Using the combination of numbers presented by the image, it would be possible to calculate the repeated approach of the retrograde moments of the solar calendar — the days of the solstice and equinox. On the same stela, but on the back of the upper predator only 22 lines were pecked out. This is also a very important calendrical number.
This was necessary for reconciling an account of days by the cycles of the sun and moon, since it corresponds to the quantity of days by which the two years were longer in the solar calendar than in the lunar. All this knowledge of lunar and solar cycles was essential for the ancient inhabitants of the Minusinsk basin for the timely fulfillment of various ceremonies.
The Ritual Function of Okunev Stelae
For modern people living at a time when monumental art is created almost exclusively to ornament the interiors of buildings or squares of cities, it is difficult to comprehend the logic of ancient people in spending a lot of effort and time to engrave an image on a boulder and then to erect it on the open steppe. During those distant eras graphic activity was not limited only to aesthetic function. Certainly, ancient sculptors did not work diligently on stone for the purpose of gathering their fellow tribesmen for the presentation of a sculpture while receive admiring responses and the approving reviews of art critics. In those days the creation of works of art had been closely connected with magic and ritual. Okunev stelae were erected in the steppe approximately for the same reasons that temples, even now, have been built. The cultic character of the stelae is reliably proved due to the excavations of several ancient sanctuaries on which all of them were once located. True, the stelae that have remained in their original locations are few. The majority of them were reused as a building material for the construction of kurgans and funerary objects of later periods.
Studies of Okunev sanctuaries carried out from 1970 to 1972 under the direction of L. R. Kyzlasov in an expedition of Moscow State University, named after M. V. Lomonosov, revealed the existence of a strictly regulated ritual of their installation and use. (23) All stelae were originally oriented with their fronts facing the direction of the rising sun. Before the installation of a stela, parts of sacrificial animals were place on the bottom of a pit prepared for the sacrifice. Usually, this was the pelt and head of a young lamb, sometimes other parts of the same animal, and also the bones of a horse, elk or bear. The stela foundation was strengthened with stones. Every stela was accompanied by an altar on the south and included another pit filled densely with stones. Bones of sacrificed animals have also been found under and between the stones. According to the age of sacrificed lambs, N. V. Leontev managed to establish a construction time for the sanctuaries. (24) Usually the animals were three to six months in age. Therefore, taking into account that lambing season for the traditional cattle breeding economy was from the end of March to the first half of April, the creation of sanctuaries falls on the most significant dates of the ancient calendar which mark the seasonal and annual phases of change — the days of the summer solstice and autumn equinox. Judging by the orientation of the stelae, they were erected in the morning soon after sunrise.
By raising stelae, the winter solstice and spring equinox were also correspondingly observed. Due to the frozen soil, carrying out excavations during these times of the year could be complicated, so perhaps in preparation for these observed days, the Okunev created stelae, which did not require digging. Deities’ faces were pecked out on the broad side of a slab, and would occupy almost the entire height of a slab. The stelae were made to carry out a singular calendar ritual, after which they, like orally performed prayers and spells, lost their meaning. After a ceremony, the stelae could be used for new pictures or were broken and utilized as building material for burials. The fundamental and initial image on stelae were created for large collective seasonal ceremonies. Sometimes, the same stone could be reused after a while to display images intended for a ceremony involving the entire community. Secondary drawings, however, can be distinguished often by their small scale and less intensive execution. They could be part of the appeals to gods for less prominent matters such as healing. Some images could have been made particularly for funerary ceremonies.
The cultic value of summer as opposed to winter stela, might have lasted longer, although it would have been limited by calendrical terms. Additional calendrical dates having a new significance could enact the creation and installation of new stelae. The most complex form of stelae, usually compiled of pillar forms with a three-layer composition, could have symbolized the renewed world, glorifying its main principles and major gods, magically connected with the continuity of ritual that favored a strengthening of the sacred world order and well-being of community. The world egg image inscribed on such stelae reveals in general that the Okunev identified the start of each new calendrical cycle and all of its periods with the origin of time. A new cycle would renew the origin of the world and its events.
Okunev Art in Eurasian History
The variety, complexity and expressiveness of Okunev art creates a most indelible impression and appears to be an exclusive phenomenon. Embodied in stone, its extraordinary rise embodied in stone has no previous or subsequent analogues in the history of the Sayan-Altai region. In many respects, the special role attributed to artistic petroglyphic monuments was exclusive to Okunev society. Functionally, Okunev stelae are similar to religious hymns and prayers since their graphic text was not addressed to the people but to the gods and other superhuman forces. They were oriented on venerating mythological personages, and in order to get a response, collective effort was required.
The function of images influenced directly the content and visual techniques of stelae. Among those of the later period, a major role was played by metaphorical identifications in polysemantic images. This creative method consisted in using the image of one object instead of another and under different rules that gave it a new quality. Identification of parts of the body, sense organs, details of the clothing of a deity with objects and natural phenomena (for example, an eye as a sun, a high headdress as a mountain) were most widely used. At times, one visual detail or attribute could be identified with several objects simultaneously, and clarifying all levels of meaning would represent a challenge. The same graphic metaphors are frequently repeated on different stelae and reflect parallel traditions which in folklore are stable formulas describing certain deities, including whole sets of epithets glorifying them. Probably, in Okunev traditions, the enumeration (or representation) of a deity’s epithets and attributes was an important part of ritual veneration and was of significant practical value.
Typologically, images on Okunev stelae can be compared with Vedic hymns, which are related chronologically. Vedic hymns also focus on eulogies for deities and list a deity’s significance by means of metaphors and epithets in an already poetic character. The major features of Vedic hymns are the multiple interpretations for one image, the existence of hidden meanings, and a playing with meanings.
According to the notions held by the creators of the Vedic hymns, the more skillful and polysemantic a hymn, the more able it is to draw the attention of a deity and win its favor. This generated the aspiration for constant perfection and for a formal complexity that could convey the canonical plots. Analogous notions and aspirations could have become, apparently, one of the main reasons for the remarkable variety and individuality of Okunev images. Such an explanation correlates also to the general direction in which Okunev images developed: from the relatively simple images of the early stage, to the extreme complexity of the classical stage and the unrealistic representation of the late stage.
Besides their related periods, functional affinities, and similar construction, the typological parallels between Okunev images and Vedic hymns also arise from another basis in the economic affinities and lifestyles of their creators. There is nothing surprising about this, since, after all, Okunev culture did not exist in isolation. Related cultures existed in the Altai mountains, Tuva and Mongolia. Rock art that appears related to the images of Okunev deities extend into the northwest areas of China and into the upper courses of the Indus river. Hence, the ritual-mythological notions of the Okunev were a part of wider phenomenon on the scale of Central Asia and even of Eurasia.
Unfortunately, there is a scarcity of sources by which it is possible to judge the lives of the cattle breeding cultures of Eurasia in that distant period. The basic primary texts are the Rig Veda (1700‑1100 BC ) and Avesta (1000‑330 BC ) left by the peoples of northern Hindustan and the Iranian plateau. These sources depended on an oral and written method for passing information which had its positive points, but also had its drawbacks. For instance, the method does not allow for clarification on the images of deities, their attributes and subjects, and does not describe the features of material culture.
In these respects, the cultural-historical value of Okunev stelae are absolutely exclusive. Firstly, they reflect fully and systematically the ritual-mythological conceptions of the early cattlemen of the eastern Eurasian steppe. Secondly, as visual monuments, they are distinct from the literary works of the Rig Veda of the Indo-Aryans and Avesta of the ancient Iranians and are independent sources in themselves. They allow, most importantly, a view into the culture from an essential different perspective and allow one to understand, and, in a literal sense, to see its aspects. Thirdly, Okunev monuments embodied the culture of their time more authentically and objectively than comparable Indian and Iranian literary texts since then had not been modernized and altered which is inevitable when information is transferred from generation to generation in an oral tradition.
Fourthly, studying visual metaphors allows one to reconstruct poetic metaphors, while the epithets used in parallel oral texts have not yet come down to us. In the long term, recovering such metaphors will allow us to conduct comparative-historical studies and to come nearer to solving the problem of the Okunev language group. All of this helps us to realize that the Khakassian stone stelae are not only masterpieces, but also an all-important source of history and culture for the ancient, prehistoric people of Khakassia and Central Asia.
Okunev art and its ritual-mythological representations had a great influence on the visual traditions and cultures of other people. For instance, there is a distinct link between Okunev art and the art of a later period stemming from the powerful Eurasian cultural phenomenon of the Scytho- Siberians. (25) This attests to Okunev heritage or the general roots of this tradition, and, probably, an ancestral relationship between the Okunev with the Eurasian Scythian world. Mysterious analogies exist between the internal composition of the Okunev facial images and the posthumous portraits of colored plaster sculptures of the Hunno- Sarmatian culture recovered from the Minusinsk basin. (26)
Additionally, there are numerous parallels with ritual-mythological representations and the vestments of Siberian shamans. Some researchers consider that the details from images on Okunev stelae can be read as elements of the ancient shamanic costume. Such a costume included a high conical cap with ribbons and horns, a chest plate of animal teeth, pendants in the shape of serpents, and face painting or mask in the form of an animal, bird or other beast. (27) All of this makes one to look at the Okunev stelae drawings from a viewpoint of the prehistory of Siberian shamanism. Simultaneously such visual details are comparable to the costumes and appearance of Buddhist deities, particularly the vestments of participants in the Lamaist Tsam ceremonies. (28) Thus, Okunev art appears at a crossroads of the various primary problems of Eurasian ancient history and culture. Perhaps it is exactly in Okunev art that the answers to many currently unresolved questions can be found.
Eternal Stones. The first of the scholars, who found, examined and sketched several Okunev stelae and recorded legends connected with them, was the scientist and explorer Daniel Gottlieb Messerschmidt. At the beginning of the eighteenth century and by order of Peter the Great, Messerschmidt arrived in Khakassia to carry out a comprehensive study of the extensive steppe region, which had recently become a part of Russia. Even then, he paid attention to the fact that the local population worshipped these stone idols, and was fully aware of their idols’ ancient origin. Particular respect was paid to those stelae resembling female figures.
In last time many Okunev stelae have been transported to museums to ensure their preservation. The largest collections are held by the Khakassia National Regional Museum named after L. R. Kyzlasov, the Minusinsk Museum named after N. M. Martyanov, and the State Hermitage Museum. But in 2003, one of the most esteemed Okunev sculptures, Ulug Khurtuyakh Tas («the big old stone woman»), was reinstalled in its former location on the Sagai steppe from Abakan in fulfillment of a request by the people of the republic. In order to protect the stelae from the destructive elements of winds and an atmospheric precipitation, a glass yurt had been constructed around it. As travelers of the eighteenth century and later scholars have noted, the old stone woman was considered the ruler of the souls of both people and animals: men appealed to it to receive good luck for hunting, and women asked it about the birth of children.
A reference to the stone described a veneration ceremony in the middle of the nineteenth century: «Leaving via animal transport or passing nearby, foreigners approached the old stone woman with bows, pouring it milk and arak (wine derived from milk), and they slathered sour cream and fat with such passion on the protruding, rough face of the idol with an opening for the mouth, that the mouth turned black from the greasy layer». (29) A rumor about the special power of the stone continues even now. Previously women suffering from barrenness would address the stela. In the past, it was considered necessary to go to the old stone woman to feed her rich sour cream and bring her a gift, and inquire sincerely about the birth of a child. Presently, many believe that the stela helps people.
The local residents of the Askiz region attribute their growing birth rate of the last few years to the return of Khurtuyakh Tas. Visitation to the stela has become a tradition among newly married couples. Today, Okunev art is experiencing a unique revival. Thanks to the work of several generations of researchers, a significant layer of ancient culture returns to life and has became a part of modern culture. New data and materials of this visual tradition are accessible now to a wide circle of the most diverse people. The imagery of Okunev art appears in use as a symbol of the rich history and culture of Khakassia, constantly used in various albums and booklets, presentations, mass communication and souvenir production.
But with what can such great interest toward the heritage of a distant and past period be connected? Most likely there is some kind of enormous mystery in these unique steppe stelae. The mystery had issued from its own roots in the depth of the centuries and is connected with the experience of comprehending the world through many generations from the dawn of human history. The desire to understand the stelae, or at least to touch them, will always attract our attention. Thanks to the mystery, we can peer steadily again and again into the ancient images vaguely sensing our ancestral connection with them, and can preserve a remarkable country in the soul — the Khakassian steppe, inhabited by ancient gods.
Esin Yu. N. Mystery of the Ancient Steppe Gods
1.A.V. Gromov, “Antropologicheskie osobennosti naseleniya okunevskoi kultury,” Problemy izucheniya okunevskoi kultury (Saint Petersburg: 1995), 70-74.
2.G.A. Maksimenkov, “Okunevskaya kultura v Yuzhnoi Sibirii,” Novoe v sovetskoi arkheologii (Moscow: 1965), 168-174. G.A. Maksimenkov, “Mogilnik Chernovaya VIII – etalonnyi pamyatnik okunevskoi kultury,” E.B. Vadetskaya, N.V. Leontev, G.A. Maksimenkov, Pamyatniki okunevskoi kultury (Leningrad: 1980), 3-26. E.B. Vadetskaya, Arkheologicheskiye pamyatniki v stepyakh Srednego Eniseya (Leningrad: 1986), 27-40.
3.E.B. Vadetskaya, “Izvayaniya okunevskoi kultury,” E.B. Vadetskaya, et al, Pamyatniki okunevskoi kultury, 49-56.
4.Yu.D. Bonevolskaya, A.V. Gromov, “Morfologiya zatylochno-temennoi oblasti cherepov okunevskoi kultury,” Okunevskii sbornik (Saint Petersburg: 1997), 288-293.
5.A. Nagler, G. Partsinger, “Novie pamyatniki okunevskoi kultury v tsentralnoi chasti Minusinskoi kotloviny,” Okunevskii sbornik 2: kultura i ee okruzhenie (Saint
Petersburg: 2006), 118.
6.N.V. Leontev, “K voprosu o zemledelii u plemen okunevskoi kultury i ego otrazhenii v iskusstve,” Voprosy drevnei istorii Yuzhnoi Sibirii (Abakan: 1984), 29-32. A.
Nagler, “K voprosu o tipe khozyaistva nositelei okunevskoi kultury,” Pervobytnaya arkheologiya. Chelovek i iskusstvo (Novosibirsk: 2002), 151-155.
7.N.V. Leontev, V.F. Kapelko, Yu.N. Esin, Izvayaniya i stely okunevskoi kultury (Abakan: 2006), 14.
8.L.R. Kyzlasov, I.L. Kyzlasov, “Raboty v severnoi Khakasii,” Arkheologicheskie otkrytiya 1984 goda (Moscow: 1986), 186-187. I.L. Kyzlasov, “Voploshcheniya vselennoi,” Istoriko-astronomicheskie issledovaniya, no. 21 (Moscow: 1989), 193-212.
9.A.I. Gotlib, “Gornoe poselenie Chebaki,” Sve – gorniye sooruzheniya Minusinskoi kotloviny (Saint Petersburg: 2008), 38-87.
10.N.V. Leontev, et al., Izvanaiya i stely, 14.
11.N.V. Leontev, “Antropomorfniye izobrazheniya okunevskoi kultury (problemy khronologii i semantiki),” Sibir, Tsentralnaya i Vostochnaya Aziya v drevnosti: Neolit i epokha metalla (Novosibirsk: 1978), 88-97.
12.Yu.N. Esin, “Ob afanasevskom komponente v okunevskom naskalnom iskusstve Minusinskoi kotloviny,” Trudy II (XVIII) Vserossiiskogo arkheologicheskogo sezda v Suzdale (Moscow: 2008), 21-24.
13.M.L. Podolskii, “O mirovozzrencheskikh osobennostyakh sibirskogo izobrazitelnogo iskusstva epokhi bronzy (okunevskie lichiny),” Mirovozzrenie narodov Zapadnoi Sibiri po arkheologicheskim i etnograficheskim dannym (Tomsk: 1985), 111-114. I.L. Kyzlasov, “Lik Vselennoi (k semantike drevneishikh izvayanii Eniseya),” Religiozniye predstavleniya v pervobytnom obshchestve (Moscow: 1987), 127-130.
14.I.T. Savenkov, Raznye baby. Kurganny kamen s simvolicheskoy golovoy (Minusinsk: 1910).
15. S.L. Neveleva Mifologia drevneindiyskogo eposa (panteon)(Мoskow: 1975), 89; RV, I, 50: 8; X, 37: 9; X, 139: 1.
16.Yu.I. Ozheredov, “Sakralnye strely yuzhnyh selkupov,” Priobje glazami arheologov i etnografov (Tomsk: 1999), 87–89; RV, I, 168: 5; Ramayana, VI, 102.
17.RV, X, 158: 1; X, 170: 1–2.
18.Yu.N. Esin, “Solntsegolovye’ izobrazheniya v ranneokunevskom iskusstve Minusinskoi kotloviny,” Trudy Sibirskoi assotsiatsii issledovatelei pervobytnogo iskusstva, Vypusk IV: Tropoyu tysyacheletii: k yubileyu M.A. Devlet (Kemerovo: 2008), 81-98.
19.R.N. Dandekar, Ot ved k induizmu: Evolyutzioniruyuschaya mifologiya (Мoskow: 2002), 113-114; V.N. Toporov, “Vedijskoe Rt`a-: k sootnosheniyu smyslovoy struktury i etimologii,” Etimologiya 1979 (Мoskow: 1981), 139-156.
20.R.N. Dandekar, Ot ved k induizmu: Evolyutzioniruyuschaya mifologiya (Мoskow: 2002), 114; Keyper F.B.Ya., Trudy po vediyskoy mifologii (Мoskow: 1986), 32-33.
21.RV, VI, 51: 1.
22.N.V. Lenotev, “Sakralnye kalendarnye motivy v okunevskom iskusstve,” Mezhdunarodnaya konferentsiya po pervobytnomy isskustvu. Trudy. T. 2 (Kemerovo: 2000), 143-149.
23.L.R. Kyzlasov, Drevneishaya Khakaiya (Moscow: 1986), 85-135 and 190.
24.N.V. Leontev, et al., Izvayaniya i stely, 14-15.
25.See, for example, Ya.A. Sher “O vozmozhnykh istokakh skifo-sibirskogo zverninogo stilya,” Voprosy arkheologii Kazakhstana (Alamaty and Moscow: 1998), 225 and 227.
26.N.Yu. Kuzmin, “Okunevskii kod v semantike tesinsko-tashtykskoi raskraski masok,” Okunevskii sbornik 2: kultura i ee okruzhenie (Saint Petersburg: 2006), 343- 351.
27.E.B. Vadetskaya, “Izvayaniya okunevskoi kultury,” E.B. Vadetskaya, et al., Pamyatniki okunevskoi kultury, 74-76. N.V. Leontev, “Antropomorfnie izobrazheniya okunevskoi kultury (problemy khronologii i semantiki),” 107-118.
28.The similarity between the faces of Lamaist gods and the anthropomorphic faces of the Okunev area in the territory of Tuva has been pointed out. See, for example, M.A. Devlet, Pamyatniki na dne Sayanskogo morya (gora Aldy-Mozaga) (Moscow: 1998): 256-263. E.G. Devlet, M.A. Devlet, Mify v kamnye: mir naskalnogo iskusstva Rossii (Moscow: 2005), 367-382. In large measure, similar parallels effect Okunev imagery of the Minusinsk basin.
29.N.A. Kostrov, “Spisok kamennym izvayaniyam, nakhodyashchimsya v Minsusinskom okruge Eniseiskoi gubernii,” Vestnik imperatorskogo russkovo geograficheskovo obshchestva (Saint Petersburg: 1854), ch. 10, 73.
Есин Ю. Н. Тайна богов древней степи. — Красноярск: Поликор, 2009
Степи в южной части бассейна р. Енисей — древняя и удивительная земля. Одной из ее загадок являются каменные стелы мегалиты с разнообразными высокохудожественными изображениями, возраст которых около 4000 лет. Время сгладило линии рисунков, отдельные детали навсегда утрачены, но стоит взглянуть на них при косых лучах света, особенно на рассвете или закате, и вашему ошеломленному взору предстанут подлинные древние шедевры — загадочные, наделенные фантастическими чертами лица богов уже не существующего мира…
Notes of S.Bayraktar: Esin Yu. N. never mentioned the Turks, Turkic people! Turks are also a Caucasian race and Indo-European theory is made up!
Hakasya - Dr.Kürşat Yıldırım
"Okunev Culture is Proto-Turk Culture"
İf it didn't belong to the Turkish people, why would they write on the stones?
"Found: grave of Siberian noblewoman up to 4,500 years old - with links to native Americans"
The Siberian Times reporter19 August 2016
The Siberian Times reporter19 August 2016
Tuvaian (an other Turkish tribe) scholars have proved that the First Nations came from Asia to America.