On the north shore of the Kapshagai water reservoir, on the territory of the «Altynеmel» National Reserve, below the entrance to the Shalbyr Gorge a unique Besshatyr burial complex is located.
More than 30 burial mounds are found in this area. The largest of them is 104 meters in diameter and 18 meters high. According to ancient beliefs the seize of burial construction regards to the status of deceased and his clan in nomadic society. The more distinguished person was buried, the more people took part in construction of the burial ground. Ассording to social stratification large burial constructions of 50-100 meters in diameter were intended for chiefs of tribes and tribal units, rulers and tsars; 30-40, sometimes 50 meters in diameter – for prominent warriors, clan chieftains and aristocracy. Barrows of 15 -30 meters in circumference were erected over burials of common warriors. Such inequality reflects contemporary's attitude to buried.
Literally «Besshatyr» means «five tents», i.e. barrows. The name was given in not remote past to the central part of necropolis. Actually, they constituted a part of a large burial complex at the entrance to the Shalbyr Gorge. Three of six large-seize kurgans were uncovered at the beginning of 60-s which was stipulated by decision of construction of Kapshagai hydro-electric power station and flooding of the Ile River canyon.
Kurgan №1 was 50 meters in diameter and 7,5 meters high. Sepulchral chamber of Tien-Shan spur was covered with embankment. The structure outlined a log shell, but in reality Sakae craftsmen used horizontally timber lacing with ankles fastened between a pair of poles rooted to the ground. The ceiling was overlapped with timbers and covered with cane mats. The burial chamber was linked with a corridor - dromos. One more room was located in front of the burial vault. When the funeral ceremony was over, the dromos was blocked up with stones and covered with stone and rubble embankment.
Construction features of Besshatyr mounds somewhat differs from others. Thus, interment in the №2 barrow was deepened up to 2 meters below ancient level and connected with a corridor 55 meters length with adjoined lateral passages.
As large 'tsar' burials were plundered in ancient times the necropolis can be attributed by the artifacts found in one of small Besshatyr barrows. Excavations of the mound revealed a pit with a pair of skeletons. Swards and large iron daggers were put to the right of interred persons; quivers, 50 arrows with bronze arrowheads and a sheath were laying to the left from skeletons.
The large and middle-seized kurgans are encircled with stone facings. Of great interest are 150 commemorative fences erected from boulders around the large mound. These fences are of rectangular shape approximately from 3 to 4 meters in seize. Each fence, except totally damaged, is locked from outside with menhirs - installed vertically stone stele 1,5 - 2,5 meters high. The greater part of fences have 4 stele; another -2-3. A number of stele are fallen and cracked.
The largest kurgan has been preserved as historical, cultural and archaeological monument. Commemorative fences, as it is observed from the hilltop, are arranged in spirals which marked a passage way to the barrow. Sherds and coal - traces of funeral feast, were found on their surface. Some images preserved on the stele. The first investigators of Besshatyr have guessed they were clan signs, but they may be fragments of petroglyphs with goat images.
Besshatyr burial ground is a grandiose complex representing greatness and power of ancient nomadic Sakae civilization .
It was exactly in the Iron Age period- the time of settling by Sakae tribes the Ile River valley and Tien-Shan foothills, when largest kurgans with stone facings encircling the mound or on the top, with menhirs and commemorative fences were erected.