art on the banks of the Enisey
Neither Indian tales, nor Scandinavian sagas, nor bandersnatches
of Finish imagination but a lonely creater of stone treasures opens the door of
art to us. The great error is to consider the master of stones a savage. He is
N. K. Roerich
Aincient art and especially the cave art
is one of the most enigmatic phenomena in the history of humankind. It is naive
to think that our ancestors brainwork was primitiv, deprived of the intellect
and fantasy, an aesthetic sensitivity of reality and assosiation imagery.
In the Enisey region on the wast territory
from Tyva to Evenkia one can meet numerous monuments of cave art that not only
vary in form but also in purport. Xoanons of Khakassko-Minusinsky basin and
compositions of many figures on the Enisey, Angara, Tuba and Mana bluffs, the
murals on cave undercrofts and the carvings on gravestones, leger stones and
orarian boulders — all this is a unique layer of ancient
culture that is named petrogliphs.
Drawings were made on the stones by
embossing engraving facetting with stone or metal tools. Images smeared on the
stone plates with different natural colourants can be also met. Ancient
painters used ochre, the natural mineral colourant, most often. Combined use of
different technics for realizing the idea of an ancient author can be also
fixed. As a rule an ancient artist gouged originally scrabbled esquisse.
He could then facet and smear the chatter
marks of the gouging with ochre. Small details of the image were often
complemented by graved lines. The inner space of the contour could have been
fully or partly faceted, gouged, smeared with ochre or filled with hatchwork.
The variety of techniques, which the ancestors of modern graphic artists,
painters and sculptors possessed, was quite large even in the Stone Age.
The first Russian settlers in Siberia termed the rocks with the petrogliphs
"limned stones" and the petrogliphs themselves —
In Russian transcription it sounds as
"pisanets" or "pisanitsa". The letter has been permanently
used as a term in
scientific works devoted to the ancient art of Siberia.
Since they are open and approachable enough, outcroppings and separate stones
had been used for making petrogliphs for quite a long time. Images belonging to
creativity of quite different times and peoples can be often seen on the same
stone flat. The most ancient pictures can be easily identified — they are
naturally situated on the most convenient central part of the stone
"canvas" and they are large. The petrogliphs that were made later are
less as they were made on the small blocks on the sides of stone flats. When
the whole flat had been filled with the pictures, an ancient author had to
realize his ideas over the previous compositions. These cases of overlaying
some images by others are called palimpsest (the term loaned from the practice
of Medieval monks who scraped down an old text from the parchment to write a
Our contemporary may be surprised by the
choice of the stone flats themselves. What were the reasons for the ancient
artist to avoid picturesque cliffs with convenient wide stone flats preferring
sometimes unpresentable outcroppings? Why are the stones in some area fully
covered with the pictures with the signs of intensive palimpsest, but others
(not less attractive) have completely clean flats?
Let us try and address to the pictorial
material itself. Analysing plots of petrogliphs denotes that most of the
depictured scenes and separate simulacrums are hieratic. They are connected
with primitive cults and express ancients' notions of nature, the human and his
place in the universe. In the compositions there presented images of dreamlike
creatures, heavenly bodies, cults, scenes of shamans' ritual actions, symbols.
Considering that immolations and feast rites were hold beneath the flats with
petrogliphs, it is possible to avouch that most of such flats are not only open
art galleries but also a part of ancient delubrums, a kind of temples under the
open sky with their alter and "iconostasis". It is interesting to
mention that both an orthodox papa and a local shaman, primitive fetish-man and
Buddhistic lama divided
by centuries and thousends of years showed perfect
solidarity in choosing concrete sacred places.
A kind of Mecca for nations of antiquity that peopled
the Enisey catchment area was the tract of the bank at the water mouth of the
river Tuba in the South of Krasnoyarsk region. Many of ancient sanctuaries with
petrogliphs are concentrated there. The massifs situated along the both banks
of the Enisey and the Tuba are honeycombed with petrogliphs. Drawings belonging
to a vast interval from the Stone Age to the nineteenth century are found on
the mountains Oglahty, Tepsey, Moiseiha, Suhaniha and others. The whole grave
fields — ancient burial grounds with entombments of different epochs and tribes — are situated at
the skirts of these mountains.
The drawings with the figures of the dead,
scenes of their life, images of banshees, who help to communicate with the
formers, can be found on the angle stones of sepulchral walls.
Besides the large petrogliph complexes,
separate rocks with a large number of drawings, are known. They are
Shalabolinskaya pisanitsa on the river Tuba, Sydinskaya pisanitsa on the
mountain Bychiha in Krasnoturansk district, pisanitsa "Lenkova gora"
on the river Oe near the small town Shushenskoe, Kundusuksky mural in the Highlands of the eastern Sayans, Sulekskaya pisanitsa in
the Tchulym headstream and others.
Like any other art petrogliphs, having
upsprung in the Stone Age and having existed up to the ethnography
contemporaneity, knew repeated changes of art schools: realistic images of the
epoch of stone and schematic simulacra of the Bronze age; dreamlike images of
the New Stone Age and geometrical absractions of later times; complex
mythological representations of Scythian times and neat symbolization of the
Such contrasts do not only connected with
inner laws of art development. A few thousand years ago population succession
took place continually at the territory
of Middle Siberia. Some
peoples came, others went away or interfused with the incomers, some vanished
endlessly. Every people had its own culture, its own traditions in art and
New Stone Age
The most ancient petrogliphs on the territory of Middle Siberia were made in the New
Stone Age (7 to 5 thousand years ago). At that time climate animal and vegetal
life were nearly the same as nowadays.
The population were occupied with
hunting, fishing, berrying, mushrooming and gathering edible vegetables. Nearly
all great Pleistocene animals such as mammoth, bison, great deer, rhinoceros
had become extinct by that time. Another representative of animal kingdom —
the elk became vital for the human. Elk hunting provided people with meet for
food, fell for making clothes and covering an adobe. That is why
representations of elks can be seen among the Neolithic petrogliphs more often
than any others. According to many Siberian tribes' beliefs the elk personified
the universe. Elk was often depicted under the signs of the Sun and the sphere.
There exists a Siberian legend about the elk. He is running along the sphere
during a day carrying the Sun on his horns and at night he plunges into the
heavenly taiga to appear again in the morning.
But forester hunting was not an easy
occupation and did not always finish successfully. Hard-won meet rarely went
round even for a small group of people. That is why the human had to search for
other guaranteed sources of viand. Necessity made him pay attention to the
poorly known water habitat. Rivers with shoals of fish, where the water
"boiled" during the spawning, attracted people's attention.
Perfecting fishing gear from a simple partition entwisted of twigs to a knitted
net, the human learned to make considerable reserves of spelding and
smoke-cured fish providing himself not carefree but rather a bearable life for
a period of winter famine.
The river having become a vital source
of viand for the human took the main place in ancient Siberians' outlook. The
headstream was associated with the birth, sunrise, warmth, light and the
estuary was assosiated with the death, coldness, the last day.
According to the beliefs of ancient
Siberians, the soul of a person repaired down the river current to the afterworld after his or
her death. That is why images of boats with people appeared on the cliffs in the New Stone Age. Strange
leglessness of the "passengers" can be explained by the fact that
souls of the dead but not alive people were reproduced. A big human simulacrum
wearing cornuted headdress and holding an oar outstands in every boat.
Who is that? Mythic ferryman —
kind of Charon that ferried dead in his boat along the rivers of the
afterworld? It is quite possible.
It is as possible as the fact that the
dead were not interred thereat but sent along the river current
in the boats. That is why archeologists
rarely find Neolithic interments in the South of Middle Siberia.
Besides the images of animals and boats
images of dreamlike creatures remaining human faces —
guises — appear in the cave drawings in the New Stone Age. They were drawn as a
rule on the lower assises of orarian bluffs and boulders just at the water
edge. It is possible that the ancients fancied water-sprites, masters of the
waters, like this. Those unrealistic images were born by the darkness of
subaqueous world and affluence of primeval imagination.
Welfare, success in fishing, safety at
crossing river lines depended on water-sprites. Monstrous guise of
water-sprites can be explained by the fear of the subaqueous world that the
ancients identified with the subterranean one. It was banned to rescue those
drowning as it was, according to many beliefs, resistance to the will of a
water-sprite. A tribesman survived by a miracle was not admitted to the
camp-cite and was doomed to perpetual exile. Representations of people are not
practically met in cave drawings of Neolithic. Anthropomorphous subjects of
worshipping appear in petrogliphs much later in the epoch of metal. In the
epoch of stone the human still strongly depended on forces of nature which he
idolized. Only at the time, that he himself began changing enviroment,
cultivating fields, breeding domestic animals he felt a creator and theroid
idols gave place to humanoid ones.
During the interjacent period from the
Stone Age to the epoch of metal (about four thousand years ago) large bodies of
new population, representatives of so-called Afanasievskaya culture, intruded into the territory of southern Siberia.
Unlike local hunters and fishermen, representatives of Mongoloid race, the
incomers were stalwart people of xanthocroid type. They bred cattle used
wheeled transport and were aware of metals. Under the influence of the incomers
the Enisey basin inhabitants harnessed animal husbandry. Images of bulls
appeared in petrogliphs together with the images of forest animals — elks and red deer. Many notions of
the universe and the mechanism of nature became connected with the image of the
bull at that time.
In mythology of many stock-raising peoples
of the world the sacred bull personified the spheres, symbolized male impregnating
birth (the Bull simbolising the Sky impregnated the Mother Earth giving birth
to life by rains). Heavenly nature of the animals was emphasised by the large
bodies and the symbols of the Sun in the area of horns and tail. Thereat the
contours of animals' bodies were often added by thwart lines — ribs. So-called
"skeletal" or "X-ray" style notated the clearness of the
image. Transparency, according to a lot of peoples' notions, underlined the
animal's holiness and cultic importance. It is interesting that drawings of
ribs on the apron of shaman's garb attested symbolic death of a common person
and his regeneration into a shaman — a chosen of spooks. It
is possible that "skeletal style" is founded on the tradition of
smearing the contours of the animals' figures with blood (later with ochre) to
"enliven" them. Additional cross canals were drawn to enforce blood
circulation. They had to provide more stamina of the image, its higher
potential role while spelling sorcery aimed to the welfare of a clan or tribe.
It can not be excepted that one of the reasons for drawing the ribs was
observation of sacrificial blood or pigment on the scars during the
conjuration. One could help the current of life move, direct it into the
necessary outlet connecting the lines of stamina and stomach of the animal with
applicable grooves. That practice led to appearing and spreading the images
thickly hatched with cross lines. With the passage of time the original idea
was forgotten but the cultic importance of the images made in this style had
remained for a very long time gaining new import.
Besides petrogliphs, high (six metres and
more) stone pillars — statues with bas-relief images of
dreamlike creatures and animals appeared in the steppe on the both banks of the
Enisey. These stone images have been known to the scientists since the times of
the first academic expeditions sent to Siberia
by Peter the First in 1721. They were called then "stone bints" or
"Enisey idols". But in the scientific world there are not still a
solid agreement about the import of the images and the reason for appearing the
statues. Even their age still arises controversy. Most researches connect the
idols with the representatives of Okunevskaya culture (3500 — 4000 years ago).
Some archeologists reckon that the idols are representations of a fabulous
woman-progenitor visualized as half-human half-animal, others see there
simulacrums of ancient shamans or their fabulous ancestors and so on...
According to the authors each statue is a
unique model of the mechanism of the world. Images are usually ranged in three
stages symbolizing upright structure of the outworld. The symbols of the Sun
are placed on the side flanks marking the circuition of the Sun, sequence of
day and night, summer and winter. At the top of the image, where the Sun
"moving" reaches the culmination, the sun-god abounds. A theroid
monster of the lower underground world devouring the Sun is on the lower stage.
On the middle stage there is a god connected with a real earthbound life of the
Separate images of each stage can be met
among the cave drawings. The central stage which can be seen more often than
the others is very interesting. It reminds guises of the previous epoch — the New Stone
Age. It can be inferred that old images had remained in local tribes culture
traditionally for a long time. The intruding peoples' beliefs and new ways of
husbandry caused appearing new details in traditional images (ox-horns, big
hare ears, the third all-seeing eye and others). They not only completed and
changed the original import of an image but also characterized extranatural
attributes of a numen.
"Enisey Idols" with their
intricate and mysterious images indicate high level of immaterial culture of the ancient population of Siberia.
Enisey statues are unique themselves and can be brought into the line with
masterpieces of other ancient civilisations such as stone sculptures of Easter
Island and Central America.
Epoch of metal
During the Bronze Age dreamlike images
of the Neolithic and Eneolithic change to depictive compositions of a different
kind: meshy chases with circles and triangles on the stone walls of the graves,
geometrical carving in the form of zigzags and sun crosses on the stoneware and
so on... The changes are connected with the arrival of new population of
xanthocroid type — so called Andronovts (the 12th —
11th centuries B. C.) — into the territory of Middle Siberia from the West. As the
Andronovts did not practically make petrogliphs, let us pay attention to the
petrogliphs of the succeeding Karasuksky culture of the Bronze Age (11th —
8th centuries B. C.)
This period is connected with
development of nomadic animal husbandry on the Enisey. That is why the most
popular subject in petrogliphs became horses and chariots. Myths about the Sun
chariots were created then. Thereat the conseptualization of the movement of
the Sun, current of time, cycles of processes in the nature and human life was
connected with the image of the wheel.
Having extruded the Andronovts, the
Karasuks did not avoid the influence of the predecessors: the figures of the
animals in the petrogliphs were made schematically, in the "linear"
style, without emphasising characteristic features. That is why it is difficult
sometimes to distinguish what is depicted: a horse or a dog, a goat or a ram.
The next one, genetically related with
the Karasuksk, was Tagarsk culture (the 7th —
2nd centuries B. C.), which arose during pioneering days of ancient cultures
similar in the type of economy, armament and art and occupying the wide zone of
Eurasian steppes from the Danube to the Pacific. Scientists gave the name of
Scythian-Siberian world to that aggregation of different tribes of cultural and
"Animal" style dominants in
Scythian-Siberian art. It can be clearly seen in cave art as well as in arts and crafts — bronze figure-casting.
Representations of animals, sometimes with chimeric features, are
characteristic for "animal" style. One could see beamed deer
galloping with their heads tossed back, feliform predators coiled themselves
into ball, mythical griffins in aggressive poses, winged animals and so on. Animals — deer, jaal-goats, horses — are often depicted in
the pose of a sudden halt. The contours of the figures were often filled with
characteristic decor of symbolic import: scrollwork, volutes, meanders.
Collective images of chimerical animals
appear in petrogliphs at the late phases of Tagarskaya culture (the 3rd — 2nd centuries B.
C.). The image of an animal with eagle's wings, deer's body, gallinazo's beak
and panther's or snake's tail can be seen. Some scientists consider these
images representations of different numena or gods endued with animal
The nomadic type of animal husbandry led
necessarily to armed conflicts. More brushes effected the plots of petrogliphs:
representations of armed horsemen and battle-pieces achieve wide popularity.
Those who used to make pilgrimages to
Khakasia steppes saw burial mounds in the surface of which flags are bedded.
The same flags can be seen near the mounds. Under those mounds there are
deep-sixes of Tagarskaya culture. Images of people can be seen on the flags
that wall the graves. Some researchers consider those images the
representations of the buried. The flags themselves were connected with the
At the beginning of the second century B.
C. tribe units of the Tagarts were derouted by the military of gerent Maodun
that came from Central Asia. Battailous
Hunnish tribes not only captured the whole Sayano-Altai plateau but also the
whole steppes beyond lake
Baikal. Having merged
with the local Tagarsky population a part of the Hunns did not move further to
the West but settled in the basin of the Enisey.
The next contexture of the cultures
generated new styles and plots in cave art. "Animal" style was traditionally kept in petrogliphs for a
long time but
it was extruded gradually by the dynamic representations of fighting nomand
The cult of the horse, allegiant companion of the warrior,
developed. The tradition
of accomplishing carefully the details of
the horse harness: emphasizing clip, tasselled necks, cantles, aigrettes and other appanages is connected
with the cult of the horse. The valour and stand of arms were especially
esteemed, overkings were divinified. Military ideology pervading into all
spheres of life defined plots of petrogliphs for a long time.
Cave art continued existing during the
Middle Ages and later. But images gradually lost their cultic significance.
Household topics, scenes telling about some ordinary event from the life of the
author of the drawings or his surroundings' life could be met more often. The
drawings were made carelessly often with an unskilled hand. This fact can be
explained by emerging Runic character, which was a new way of transmitting
information. Not only cliffs but also separate stone piles — menhirs were
covered with ancient runes. The translated texts tell about significant
historical events and military campaigns. Many of them are devoted to the
The masterpiece of the figurative art of
the Middle Ages is picturesque glyptic found near the village Kopyovo
(Sulekskaya pisanitsa in Khakasia). Hunting and stock-raising subjects, scenes
of animal fighting scenes and battle scenes are represented. Dynamic and
figurable images of horsemen and animals — horses, camels,
roedeer, snow leopards, argalis, wolves — impress.
Clan symbols named tamgas appeared among
petrogliphs as geometrical figures during the Middle Ages. Sometimes clan
symbols in the form of a horse, a bow with arrows, a quiver, a sabre, a spear,
a bird could be seen. Their appearing on the cliffs is connected with
worshipping spirits of the mountains. Magical rites were followed by fetes.
Immolations were made at the foot of mountains. Clan symbols like
"visiting cards" were left on the cliffs so that "the master of
the mountain" wouldn't make a mistake fulfilling somebody's request. In
such cases old cliffs with ancient petrogliphs received much
attention. In daily life tamgas were used for marking caravan tracks, routes
for transhumance, hunting grounds and grasslands.
Despite the chronological contiguity of
the late petrogliphs to the contemporaneity the questions connected with their
interpretation and ethnic and cultural affiliation are still the subject of
scientific discussions. Further research of petrogliphs will not only allow to
elicit the import of a lot of images but will also help to solve, to a certain
degree, complex problems of racial ethnogenesis of the peoples of Siberia.
in History A.L. Zaika