You are here

Home » Eastern Kazakhstan region monuments. Guided tours for individuals Kazakhstan.

Ritual construction Berel barrow.

Hiking season in Middle Asia.

“…When you have crossed the stream that bounds the two continents, toward the flaming east, where the sun walks,...
Beware of the sharp-beaked hounds of Zeus that do not bark, the gryphons, and the one-eyed Arimaspian folk, mounted on horses, who dwell about the flood of Pluto's stream that flows with gold. Do not approach them…

Aeschylus Prometheus Bound. Third episode, 850 – 873.

Make a walk along the beach promenade on Ulba river.

Because of the large size of the barrow we attributed it to a grave of a person who had a high social status, probably, representative of the highest nomadic aristocracy. The barrow became the object of our main research in 1998 - 1999 (diameter is more than 30 metres, initial height was more than 2 metres).
The barrow itself represents a complex architectural structure where each element had a strictly determined function. The huge eminence of the barrow is not simply a chaotic bulk of stones. It consists of several layers of the specially picked plates, boulders and pebbles of various sizes.
Erection of the surface part of the burial structure was a rather labour-consuming process. Its size was supposed to match the social status of the buried individual and it allows for indirect judgement of the number of fellow-tribesman and population under control.
The structure of the elite barrows provides the evidence of strict hierarchy and high social organisation of the group. What a titanic labour was used to at least deliver the necessary amount of stones to the burial place.
They had to go far down the steep bank to the river and than go up to the nearest rock outlets located on abrupt slopes. A platform made of massive plates was fixed at the foot of the ground eminence together with a fence of vertically set stone plates.
Besides the practical function they also carried a special semantic significance. The barrow embodied the universal model of the environment, the Space. Inside the barrow, in a grave blocked with poles there was a larch frame constructed in three rings from thick wooden blocks.
Crossing blocks were inserted into the grooves of longitudinal blocks. It was covered with other weighty blocks and large panels of birch bark with a layer of Kuril tea branches. The grave chamber represented a rather spacious premise with the size of 3,43 x 1,85 x 1,26 m.
Dendrochronologists have found out that some of the logs of the chamber were prepared beforehand and, possibly, were used in a residential premise long before the burial. Inside the chamber, there was a barrel installed at the bottom of the grave tiled with green alevrolite.
The barrel was made of an unbroken trunk of a century-old larch, its surface carefully smoothed and processed, probably, with special substances preserving the wood from rotting. The barrel had lugs at its four sides, which were used to dip the barrel into the burying chamber.
The barrel was topped with a cover with four bronze gilded massive figures of birds at its corners, some kind of angels that were believed to protect the dead. There were remnants of a man in the barrel, presumably 35 - 40 years old, with a woman buried nearby some time later.
According to preliminary conclusion of anthropologists, she was a little elder than the man. Heads of the dead rested on a wooden pillow. A complex and high hairdo of the chief had two plaits. At life the man bore a beard and a moustache.
There was a breach in the parietal part of his skull inflicted in a battle, presumably with a cudgel. Probably, there was an attempt to render medical aid to the warrior to remove bone splinters and clots of blood from the wound, as the traces of uncompleted trepanation witness.
Most likely, his courage and self-sacrifice made him the leader of the Altay tribes' confederation. Numerous knitted fractures of ribs and backbone received in different periods of his life speak of his battle feats. As was already mentioned, the burial practice of ancient nomads implied a complex ritual that included preservation of corpse in an unchanged condition until it is buried.
It was determined by religious and mythological views. In order to achieve this purpose the bodies of specially respected individuals were embalmed with the help of special grasses and aromatic substances. The buried ones were dressed in magnificent clothes intricately sewn in amazing compositions of turquoise beads and applications of very thin gold foil.
Richness and luxury of clothes emphasise the high social status of the buried individuals, which was preserved after death. There was food and drinks on the table-dish and in two ceramic and horn vessels that were placed near the head of the barrel.

Ritual construction Berel barrow. In museum history in Astana.Berel barrows and environs.Ritual construction Berel barrow. In museum history in Astana.Ritual construction Berel barrow. In museum history in Astana.Berel barrows and environs.Berel barrows and environs.Ritual construction Berel barrow. In museum history in Astana.Berel barrows and environs.Ritual construction Berel barrow. In museum history in Astana.

Book “Berek. ”Zeinolla Samashev, Gulnara Zhumabekova, Galia Bazarbaeva, Sagyntai Sungatai.

Photos by
Alexnder Petrov.