They are called in various ways: “badiz” or “musin”, but the most widespread variant sounds like “balbaltas”. They can be met from the Mongolian sacred Orkhon River to the very Caspian Sea: in Mongolia, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, China and Kazakhstan. The political scientist Yerlan Karin had been researching the warriors for five years and issued his photo album devoted to this research.
We start our journey from Mongolia, the sacred Orkhon river which was the spring of the nomads.
Scientists believe that the local stone warriors bear evidence of the period of steppe kagans’ power, military and political system and traditions of that time.
“Balbals” were made in honor of dead kagans, princes, sultans and baturs. Artistic patterns can tell about the social estate the particular person belonged to.
Influential people, those who were close to kagans, sit with their legs crossed and hold a cup in their right hand.
One of the largest and most famous memorial complexes of Mongolia preserved to our days is devoted to Bilge-kagan. It’s situated 400 km from Ulan-Bator, on the left bank of the Orkhon.
Balbals can be conditionally divided into two groups: ancient Turkic stone sculptures of the VI-VIII centuries and Kipchak sculptures of the IX-XIV centuries.
After the epoch of the Kipchaks the stone sculptures spread in the North Caucasus, in Russia, Ukraine and further to the west up to the Dunai.
They were appearing on new territories and their shape was changing.
Gravestone monuments “kulpytas” spread in the west of Kazakhstan continue the traditions of “balbals”, however being already influenced by Islam.
Golden Cradle of the Turkic peoples – Altai. There are boundaries of four states in Altai’s mountains – Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China, but all four sides are inhabited by Kazakhs.
This is where the first Old Turkic state entities appeared – kaganates, where appeared Turkic writing – Orkhon-Yenisei runic script.
Kosagach is one of the largest Kazakh auls in Russia. In 1993 on its territory there was found embalmed Pazyryk Princess who lived 2500 years ago. This finding made the place world known.
Balbal of Altai.
In the Chinese part of Altai is the richest Old Turkic historical heritage.
Local aksakals respectfully call these big stone warriors as “stone heroes”. Due to the intensive development of industry and agriculture preservation of the stone sculptures is undecided.
Stone sculptures of neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.
Twelve kilometres to the south of the city called Tokmaka is a famous archaeological complex Burana which has about eighty Old Turkic balbals.
Stone statues in the Shyngystau mountains.
There used to be the old period when over graves huge solid stones were put.
Later faces appeared on these stones and they started to be called “balbals”.
Most of northern Kazakh monuments were destroyed in the process of clearing.
One of few places where statues have been preserved – Bayanaulsky district of the Pavlodar region.
Complex Kumai is a precious finding in the Akmola region.
One archaeologist from Astana dug out one balbal in 2009 and sold it to the capital’s museum. Only after the interference of mass media and long examinations it was brought back to the complex.
Balbals found in the Karaganda region.
This statue is one of the most precious. It’s located in the Zhambyl region.
Most of the sculptures in this complex are dated the eighth century.
The style of local statues creation is evidence of active cultural exchange between the Turkic tribes.
Merki-Mynbulaksky complex is located on the west side of the Kyrgyz Alatau, on the terriotry of the Zhambyl region at the upper stream of the Merki river at height of 2700-3600 m.
In the mausoleum near the Merki river there are women’s images next to men’s ones. Out of the 64 sculptures here 31 portray women.
Mangystau is located where nine roads meet. Different Turkic peoples were moving east and west along these roads.
Since very old times locals had been in constant contact with various peoples, and the way they worked with stones could not remain unimpacted.
The stone sculpture found in the complex called Baite is two meters high.
These features resemble Persian or Greek ones, these statues have a lot in common with sculptures of European peoples – it proves that early cultures of West and East were in close contact.
But will these monuments be preserved?
More and more balbals located in steppe are disappearing. They are stolen, destroyed, broken…