Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008

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The sunken cities of Issyk-Kul

The dog which is not for sale: Taigan, Kyrgyz Borzoi, TajganRecent underwater exactions have revealed a number of exciting finds. Historians have known for some time about "sunken cities" lying beneath the waters of the lake. A little offshore is the sunken village of Chengu (red valley), the capital of the ancient Usun State in the 2nd century B.C. As the waters of the lake recede it is thought that the village will soon emerge from the depths.

On the basis of references by early Russian explorers to the region, diving expeditions were undertaken in 1956. The divers found several baked bricks, fragments of ceramic dishes, a piece of a ceramic pipe (which suggests a high level of civilization), bronze arrowheads, iron knives, and the bones of both people and animals.

The sunken cities of Issyk-KulOffshore, opposite the villages of Korumdy and Temirovka and near the Grigoryevskaya harbor,archaeologists found fragments of ancient pots dating back to the Bronze Age. Unfortunately, only a few such articles are preserved because many were taken by local residents and tourists as souvenirs.

The knife handles are topped with large figures of horses or sheep. The horses look very realistic with the large heads, long tails, and well-developed leg muscles typical of steppe horses.

One of the most interesting finds from the bottom of Issyk-Kul is a sacrificial table of almost square shape. It has four legs shaped like a woman's body, 22 cm high. The figures are well preserved with slanting eyes, wide nose, oval chin, and a short strong neck. Scholars believe these figures are based on the appearance of ancient residents of the Issyk-Kul region.

The sunken cities of Issyk-KulAnother find was a large hemispheric sacrificial pot with two horizontal handles and a relief tamga (the seal of the master) resembling a crescent with the points directed downwards. Such pots were widespread in this region in the second half of the 1st millennium and more than ten such pots have been found at Issyk-Kul but none as large as this. It is thought that such pots were used only on holidays and special occasions.

The size of these pots testifies to the huge feasts of ancient cattle breeders in honour of their gods.

The scholar, Professor Ploskikh published a book about the sunken cities entitled "The Atlantis of Central Asia - the Secret of the Great Silk Road". In it, he outlines some of the references to them that can be found in historical sources…

Arab-Shakh and Mirza Khaidar, Muslim monks of the Middle Ages mentioned old fortresses being flooded by the lake. The island where they stood was located near the northern shore and it is thought that Tamerlaine imprisoned some noblemen there in the late 14th century. A Russian merchant, Isaev, followed caravan routes near Issyk-Kul in 1824-1830. In 1857 he wrote a message to a Russian officer mentioning underwater ruins in Issyk-Kul on the right side of the Tjup River where it flows into the lake: "Buildings seen in the water were made of stone. They say there was a great city there before the flood and no lake".

In that same year, Pyotr Semyonov, (Tienshaksky), came across bricks carried ashore by waves between the estuaries of the Tup and Dzhergalan rivers.

The sunken cities of Issyk-KulIn 1869 Kyrgyz guides showed the Military Governor of Semirechye some underwater ruins near the north-eastern shore not far from the Koi-Sary region, (near the current village of Kursk), and presented hm with large bronze cups which had been found underwater.

In 1950-1960 a Kyrgyz archaeologist found ruins of large constructions made from fired bricks near the northern shore.

Since 1985 archaeologists from Bishkek have continued the underwater search and investigated the partly flooded Sary-Bulun settlement in the south-eastern part of the area near Issyk-Kul whicht is believed to be the site of the Usun capital, the ancient city of Chengdu. Bronzes were found in 2003 underwater near Kara-Oi village.

Discovery Kyrgyzstan #5

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