The ‘Issyk’ barrow was the part of a large burial ground, located on the left bank of the Issyk River, at the northern edge of Issyk Town in Enbekshy-Kazakh District of Alamty Oblast, 50 km east of Almaty.
Diameter of kurgan reached 60 m, height - 6 m. Multilayered embankment consists of alternating layers of pebble, rubble and loess. There were two burials: central and lateral (southern). The central grave was destroyed with building construction. The burial caused interest and archaeologists were invited to held research. In process of archaeological survey it was clarified that the lateral burial remains undisturbed. It was located 15 m south of the central burial and 10-12 m far from southern floor of embankment. Archaeological researches present the world a unique artifact.
It was determined that sepulcher chamber was erected of processed logs of the Tien-Shan fir-tree 1,5 -3 m length and 25-30 sm thickness. Parameters of internal space are 2,9 x 1,5 m, external boarders are 3,3 x 1,9m. The height with a layer -1,3 -1,5 m. The total area is 4,4 and 6,3 sq m. Utensils were found in southern and western parts of the chamber; remains of deceased – in the northern. Due to a large amount of wood dust and iron staples, a wooden cover was put above interred. It was found out that deceased was buried in supine position, with the head oriented west, his left hand was slightly thrown aside and right hand tightly clasped to the body. The hands were placed under hip-bone, feet were moved apart. Full height of the skeleton is 1,65 m.
Above and under the skeleton a large number of sheet gold decorations of a robe, headgear and footwear were found. An armament, toilet accessories and utensils were also found near deceased. Golden plates, plaques and buckles from the headgear, lying west of the skull on the area of 65 x 30 sm remained undisturbed, while the golden figurine of argali crowned the headdress was found 65 sm from the skull. A part of decorative plates removed in process of deformation and destruction of the headdress. 150 items were sewn on the headgear. To the left of the skull an ear-ring with turquoise pendants was found. The golden tubular necklet with tiger’s heads at the edges was lying upon servical vertebras. On the hip-joint were found golden plaques with images of cat’s predator, triangle shaped plaques and clasps – a cloth decoration. The total number of golden plaques is about 3 000 items. Small buckles (they are majority) have bronze base of thin plaques.
Four large cover-plaques from composite belt were lying near loins. Totally there were 16 cover - plaques, three of them are large, massive with elk and deer images and smaller with elk’s head design. From both sides of hip-bones small golden cover-plaques, sewn on the breeches as a border were found. Golden triangle plaques decorated footwear tops were laying upon fibula from knee joint to an ankle. Their form and design are the same as on outwear. Near fibula below knee joint and close to bones of an ankle joint were observed rectangular golden plaques decorated footwear tops of similar form and design as were sewn on breeches. Two massive golden finger-rings with circular plates were found among hand’s phalanxes. One of them is a seal-ring with a man’s face image.
Near the foot bones an iron sword with a hilt incrusted with gold has been found. The sward has a sickle-formed top and rectangular cross-hair broken at an obtuse angle. The sward was fixed in a wooden sheath of brownish - pink color. To the left of left and bones there was found an iron dagger with a hilt and a blade richly decorated with gold incrustation. The dagger has a top of zoomorphic design and a butterfly shaped cross-hair. Only two cover plates for scabbard with zoomorphic images and two plaques - holders for cross belts have been preserved. These plates are decorated with deer and horse images performed in realistic manner.
From the left side of an elbow joint there was found an arrow with a long wooden shaft and triangle gold leaf arrow-head. The upper part of the shaft is made with the same way. Above the arrow remains of a riding crop, wrapped up with a wide strip of gold leaf, were laying. There was a large bronze mirror with a piece of ochre near the skull. The mirror was surrounded by small golden plaques of rectangular form sewn on a handbag. A large number of plaques differ in seizes were fixed out of the skeleton – right of it, between the buried and vessels, among vessels to the west of the skull. Thus, there were about 4 000 golden items in the chamber.
31 vessels were fixed in sepulchral tomb. They are produced of earth, wood and metal. Among them there were silver spoon and wooden scoop. The pottery was placed in certain order. Wooden vessels were placed near southern side of the chamber, while earthen and metal containers (jugs and bowls) – near western side. The jugs were wheel-made of good texture, slipped and burnished. Parameters of vessels: rim - 8,3-9,3 sm, body – 12-14 sm, bottom – 6-8 sm, height -17-20 sm. Six bowls are wheel-made, thin-walled, of oven firing. They are 6-6,5 sm, rim diameter – 14-17 sm, diameter of a body – 13-16 sm.
Wooden vessels of 3 types are made of birch: trays, bowls and a scoop. 4 trays of rectangular shape with a low side, beveled outside produced of a piece of birch-tree. The trays are of the oval shape, large (67,5 x 37,5 sm) and smaller ones (46 x 29 sm). Height of a side is 3 sm. 6 bowls are smashed. These vessels are represented by low containers with flat sides, beveled outside rim and plane bottom. The scoop has a bowl-shaped form with beveled outside rim and flared body transformed to a flate bottom. There is a hole on the body below the rim to fix a handle. The handle (25 sm length) with 11 carved rollers is edged with covered knob. The rim and the body is 9,5 sm in circumference, 5,7 sm high. Three handle fragments of similar type were laying on bowl’s sherds near the scoop.
Metal vessels are presented by silver and bronze articles. A bronze, supposedly, cast bowl was found in fragments which help to reconstruct it’s shape. The bowl has flated rim, plane bottom and was gilded from both sides. There were also found two bowls and silver spoons. One large bowl has wide, horizontally beveled rim transformed to convex body with 8-petalled rosette base and circular foot. On external surface of the rim 32 circles (0,8 sm in diameter) were engraved. There is an ornament of concentric circles engraved inside the middle part of the bowl. The bowl is forged, the base was made separately. The base is fastened to a body with 8 silver rivets. Diameter of the rim is 15,6 sm, foot -4,2 sm, height - 3,8 sm. Another bowl is made of the same technique, with straight rim, smoothly transformed to convex body. An inscription of 26 signs was engraved in two lines inside the bowl on the bottom. Diameter of the second bowl is 7,7 sm, height – 2,2 sm. The forged silver spoon has a long, circular in cross-section looped handle, edged with a sharply beaked bird’s head.
It is difficult to approve chronological relations between the central and lateral burials in the Issyk barrow. It is undoubted that deceased in the left burial does not accompany the buried in the central chamber. The great pomp and fantastically rich garments testify that buried person in southern grave held a high social position. Construction of the grave-tomb was made by the next way. A ditch of rectangular form 4 x 3,5 m and 2,7 m depth, focused with a long axis form west to east, has been dug out on the chosen site. A timber blockhouse was placed to a bottom of the ditch. Sepulchral chamber is also of rectangular form oriented with a long axis from west to east. Construction is rather common; the logs of certain length were put one upon another to form the walls of the chamber.
In the chamber logs were stacked in 5 rows. From above the chamber was overlapped with logs installed on long walls. There layer was formed only of 10 logs. The bottom of the chamber was floored with well-processed and densely driven to each other 10 boards (13-14 sm wide and 3,5-4 sm thick), laid along long walls. Remains of interred and funerary inventory were lying on the floor. Supposedly, a part of the floor intended for buried person was laid with fabric mat, embroidered with small gold plaques, found around the skeleton. Due to burial rite deceased was placed on a back with the head oriented west. The right hand was lying above groin while the left stretched aside. Along the right hip there was an iron sward in a red colored wooden sheath, hanged to a sword-belt, decorated with gold rings and a clasp with sculptured image of a tiger’s head. From the left side of interred was found turned our iron dagger in wooden sheath covered with leather and decorated with two gold plates. An arrow with gold arrow-head was located close to deceased; above it was a riding crop and upper it – a fabric handbag with bronze mirror and red paint.
After the burial rites with interred were finished containers with ritual food and ritual vessels were placed on the floor. Among them was a silver cup bearing inscription and gilded bronze bowl filled with gold plates shaped as bird of prey rostrum and talon. Vessels were placed in a certain order: wooden containers were clustered near southern wall – 4 trunks in a back 2 rows at a wall, before them –bowls and a scoop. Ceramic jugs were densely placed near the back wall, before them there were clay bowls and two silver vessels with a silver spoon. A silver cup was located near head-side. Probably, the entrance to the chamber was located in the east side. When burial rites were executed, the chamber was covered with logs, filled with a soil taken out during the grave digging and embankment was erected.
Findings from the Issyk barrow, number of gold items (4000), high performance technique of decoration, armor and utensils, excellent state of burial preservation which enable to reconstruct the funeral ceremony of a noble Sakae and garment attributes, are really unique. Significant contribution to East epigraphy is made by so-called ‘Issyk’ script. Today we have solid grounds to presume that Sakae – the ancient inhabitants of Kazakhstan – had writing language, though linguistic group of these tribes is unrevealed. The Jssyk finding is an epoch-making discovery. The Issyk barrow attributes to the IV –III cc. BC.