Evaluating CORONA: A Case Study in the Altai Republic (South Siberia)

By Gheyle, Wouter; Trommelmans, Raf et al. | Antiquity, June 2004 | Go to article overview

Evaluating CORONA: A Case Study in the Altai Republic (South Siberia)


Gheyle, Wouter, Trommelmans, Raf, Bourgeois, Jean, Goossens, Rudi, Bourgeois, Ignace, De Wulf, Alain, Willems, Tom, Antiquity


Introduction

The Altai Republic, part of the Russian Federation, is situated in Central Asia at the meeting point of four countries: Mongolia, China, Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation itself (see Figure 1). Inspired by the rich collections of Tsar Peter the Great (1672-1725), and after the discovery of the frozen burials at Pazyryk in the middle of the last century, and the recent finds of Ukok and Berel (see Rudenko 1970; Rolle 1980; Schiltz 1994; Derevianko & Molodin 2000; Samashev et al. 2000), the Altai region became archaeologically quite famous. All of these finds were dated to the so-called Scytho-Siberian period (Yablonsky 2000: 4; Jacobson 2002: 173), between the eighth and second century BC.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

The history of Belgian archaeological research in the Altai Mountains is rather recent. It started with the exhibition "The Gold of the Scythians" organised in 1991 at the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels (Cahen-Dclhaye 1991). Immediately after this, a co-operation with archaeologists from the Hermitage Museum, and later from the Academy of Sciences of Siberia, was set up. Initial research focused on the excavation of Scytho-Siberian burial mounds, the so-called kurgans, in the southern part of the Altai Republic. This resulted in excavation campaigns during the summers of 1992, 1993, 1995 and 1996. From 1996 onwards, a fruitful co-operation with the Department of History of the Gorno-Altaisk State University began. Two summer campaigns allowed the gathering of much information about the archaeological features in several valleys in the eastern and southern part of the Chuya depression. In 1996, however, attention was paid especially to the research in the Sebystei valley. Excavating two Scytho-Siberian kurgans and making an initial inventory of the archaeological structures took up the largest part of this research. Similar work was executed in the valley of the Kalanegir River: a systematic survey resulted in a complete inventory of all archaeological monuments, described in detail and localised with a Global Positioning System (GPS) (see Bourgeois et al. 2000). Having completed surveys during two summers in the high mountains area where modern human impact is negligible, we decided to change the focus towards lower lying areas where human impact is clearer. In 1999 the left bank of the Ujmonski steppe was the subject of some new research. Most sites were exclusively made up of Scytho-Siberian kurgans, damaged largely by human activities (agriculture but also construction works). Because of these problems, some sites that had been found in 1991 by a Russian colleague were now very hard to locate; a meticulous localisation of the archaeological monuments seemed, therefore, necessary, using adequate maps and modern precise measurement equipment and techniques. The campaign in 2000 focused on the study of the Maima area. Maima is situated along the right bank of the Katun river, to the North of Gorno-Altaisk, the capital of the Republic. A small excavation of a Scytho-Siberian settlement yielded no traces of archaeological structures, but a large amount of early Scytho-Siberian pottery shards and some wooden and metal objects were unearthed. Adjoining this excavation, the opportunity was seized to locate the different sites in the area by means of a GPS (Bourgeois & Bourgeois in press). This way the research increasingly focused on surveying and inventorying all archaeological monuments, for purposes of analysis, preservation and protection.

As a result of the above, a subsequent interdisciplinary research started in 2001 (see Gheyle & Trommelmans 2002). Within the framework of internal research, the use of CORONA satellite photography for archaeological survey methods was examined. Starting from fieldwork in the Sebystei valley (1996-1997), three neighbouring valleys in the Kosh-Agash region of the Altai Mountains were selected as research areas: Sebystei itself, Ielangash and Irbistu.

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