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THESE PROTEAN IMAGES OF SIBERIA

Дата публикации: 20 ноября 2021
Автор(ы): Edouard KIRGINEKOV
Публикатор: Научная библиотека Порталус
Рубрика: ТУРИЗМ И ПУТЕШЕСТВИЯ
Источник: (c) Science in Russia, №4, 2014, C.62-68
Номер публикации: №1637424049


Edouard KIRGINEKOV, (c)

by Edouard KIRGINEKOV, senior research fellow, Khakass Local History Museum (Abakan, Khakass Republic); Sergei NARYLKOV, science observer

 

The fleeting time has seen many an empire and state come and go, and many a tribe going out existence. This scenario is true of Eurasia by and large. Yet the mountainous land of Khakassia shielded by impassable woods and rivers has kept whole her ancient civilization, unique in many ways.

 

AN ARCHEOLOGICAL "MECCA" OF SIBERIA

 

The Khakass-Minusinsk hollow in the middle reaches of the Yenisei is a remarkable phenomenon, both historically and geographically. Being part and parcel of the Great Steppe*, this land was not cut off from human progress. And yet it was a secluded region--so much so

 

* Great Steppe--the coverall name given to the plains in the central part of Eurasia.--Ed.

 

as not to be acted upon by alien influences; thus, it could fend for itself. Khakassia is considered an archeological "mecca" of Siberia, its "open-air museum", since the many burial mounds and tall stone walls are home to the local landscape.

 

New crafts and industries appeared in Khakassia at the beginning of the Common Era (A.D.), and there came great changes in her life modes and in religion.

 
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Such sweeping changes, it seemed, could have sparked conflicts and wars; but this did not happen: in fact, according to various bits of evidence, the 1st-4th centuries A.D. witnessed a melding of different cultural traditions, a trend that gave birth to what is now known as the "Tashtyk Archeological Culture".

 

Chinese chronicles record evidence on that faraway and rich land to the north. Archeological monuments attest to a high level of arts, crafts and trade there; religious beliefs had reached an advanced stage, too. The population was multilingual, it spoke a babel of tongues, such as the Samodian, Ugric and perhaps Ket dialects; yet the Turkic language held sway, and it engendered the present Khakass language. In their turn, anthropologists say that the ethnic Khakass type started taking body and form from the multiethnic population in the early centuries A.D. As Chinese annalists noted, the people of that distant northern country had "red hair, ruddy faces and blue eyes", but there were also dark brown-eyed individuals amongst them. Dr. Georgi Dubetz (1905-1969), an eminent Russian anthropologist of the Ethnography Institute in Moscow, said that "... by and large the Tashtyk countenances are a mix of Caucasoid and Mongoloid features much closer to the Shortsi and Khakasses. But there must be more of the Mongolian component among the Khakass." And in our days Professor Vyacheslav Mordkovich of Novosibirsk Teaching University notes in his ethno-ecological essays (Siberia at a Crossroads of Centuries, Lands and Peoples, 2007) calls attention to a rather interesting fact: "They (the Khakasses) still give birth now and then to white-skinned, blue-eyed and even red offspring."

 

An intriguing question: What did the Tashtyk people look like? Only few world civilizations have left images of their forefathers coming down to us. But this is not the Khakass case. Thanks to the efforts of archeologists

 
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and historians as well as works of ancient artists and sculptors, we are in the know today. Old burial (funeral) masks are still there to tell us about the Tashtyk people.

 

Archeologists have recovered funeral masks in Egyptian pyramids, in Mycaenean* tombs, in stepped crypts of Mexico and Peru, in Chinese burial places, and in the mounds of southern Russian plains north of the Black Sea. Such masks were made of gold and nephrite, or of terra cotta (porous brownish-orange earthenware), or of gypsum, wax and clay, wood and cloth. But what about the Tashtyk masks?

 

TASHTYK MASKS

 

This is what Lidia Yevtyukhova (1903-1974), an eminent archeologist who studied historical monuments of

 

* With reference to Mycenare, an ancient Greek city in the northeastern Peloponessus (Argolis), the hub of the Mycenaean civilization which existed in Greece, Crete, Asia Minor, etc. from 1500 to 1100 B.C.; now in ruins.--Ed., Tr.

 

Siberia and Central Asia, had to say about the Khakass funeral masks (1954): "The State Museum of History in Moscow as well as the Minusinsk and Abakan museums in southern Siberia hold precious "portrait galleries" of the ancestors of the present-day denizens of the Minusinsk hollow." Ancient Khakass people espoused a philosophy and religion of their own concerning the human soul, human life and death. Their world outlook was based on the "hero cult" and the "cult of fire" as an intermediary between the gods of the upper and nether worlds, for fire was regarded as a great purifier. The Tashtyk folk honored their dead by gypsum urns rendered in the shape of the faces or busts of the deceased. Modern historians call such urns "Tashtyk masks", even though the word "mask" is not quite exact.

 

The Tashtyk people incinerated their dead, they did it in bonfires of piled wood--together with the smoke the human soul was thought to assend to Heaven. The cremains were collected in little bags and placed with-

 
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in life-size dummy dolls. Such effigies were made of grass-filled clothes and committed to the earth either in regular graves or within crypts (coffins) of wood buried deep in a kurgan mound fenced off with a stone paling. The dummies were laid on cots deep under, their faces bedecked with masks, and funeral objects placed at their side.

 

A comment from Dr. Leonid Kyzlasov (1924-2007), a Russian archeologist and orientalist: "Funeral masks were made of white gypsum-like terra cotta, a mix of kaolin clays found down the river Abakan and on the left bank of the Enisei. Their makes varied depending on the time and designation... Obviously, such masks could in no way be made from molds." Painted white or red, the masks were ornamented, too. The white masks were bedight with red spirals on the forehead, temples and nose, while the cheeks and lips were touched with red. As to the red masks, they carried horizontal black lines on a backdrop of red, dark, blue and green. On top such masks were bedizend with a color rim; the nose and ears were likewise color-accentuated, with the hair and locks traced just in rough outline. Many sculptures were also furnished with slits for switches, or false braids. Other burial masks had the top of the forehead truncated in hint of a headgear. Earrings were supplied now and then, and so were necklaces, either painted or modeled. Afterwards the coffin and dummy were burned again, which meant the end of the burial ritual. Most of the funeral masks were damaged thereby; but some fragments have survived to our days thanks to baking, a positive side to incineration.

 

Only few intact funeral masks have been recovered. Although most of the Tashtyk masks in museums are just in fragments, their workmanship is amazing--we can visualize an integral human image in these bits and pieces! The lips, the nose, the chin on such masks--all that goes to show the features of a living Tashtyk in the flesh.

 
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But such burial masks are found only in the Khakass-Minusinsk hollow, and not elsewhere in Siberia. Why? Had they been part of the Scythian tradition, they might have been detected in the plains all the way from Lake Baikal in the east to the Black Sea in the west. If of the Hun origin, their propagation area would have been even wider, both east and west. In our opinion, the Huns trekking from the East mixed with indigenous tribes who had inherited Southern Siberia's archeological culture of the Taghars (the Huns first appeared on the banks of the Enisei at the beginning of the Common Era); this is one of the possible keys to the riddle. Synthetic cultures beget new customs and traditions, and this is also true of burial ceremonies like double cremations spaced apart (first, the primary incineration, and then the follow-up burning of coffins with masked effigies inside). Tashtyk burial vaults were ancestral tombs containing the remains of dead kinsfolks, and once filled up, the crypts were burned up to make room for the newly dead. But according to another expert opinion, it could also be the case of a deferred funeral: the repeat cremation of the remains was timed to a definite date several years after; this was done usually in summertime, for it was a job of work to raise kurgan mounds in winter, in snow-drived Siberia. Meanwhile the kinsfolk of the deceased had a chance to inspect the image of their near and dear one as depicted on the funeral mask.

 

TASHTYK MASKS AS WORKS OF ART

 

So, the making of facial burial masks was part of the Tashtyk funeral ceremony. Consequently, there should be a caste of priests, artists and sculptors to attend to such rituals. This is what a Chinese chronicle says about the customs of the Enisei Kyrgyzes of the 6th-10th centuries A.D.: "The brave men tattoo both hands, and women tattoo their necks upon marriage." And a word from Lidia Yevtyukhova, the archeologist, "As wonderful evidence on the population formative process, the

 
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Tashtyk funeral masks are also works of art. Tashtyk sculptors were quite proficient as sculptors. Most masks were molded from facial death masks, though some molds were cast from hands. The tattoos were also put on the overpaint... The Altai area close by had a custom of body tattoos studied by Sergei Rudenko*, an arche-ologist, in the remains found in permafrost in a mound there." Leonid Kyzlasov says the ornamented tattoos pictured the dead people's facial features.

 

The data on Tashtyk body tattoos were confirmed but recently, quite by chance.

 

Dr. Svetlana Pankova, of the St. Petersburg Hermitage Museum, spotted a faded drawing traced just in bare outline when studying in 2002 Khakassian mummies**. Infrared photography showed the tattoos invisible with the naked eye. These Tashtyk mummies were discovered by Leonid Kyzlasov back in 1969 in the Oglakhty mountain range. Patches of holdover skin were preserved on faces under the masks. Did the other mummies carry tattoos on their faces? Experts, however, would rather not take chances by removing the masks for fear of damaging both the masks and the faces.

 

Following Svetlana Pankova's surprising discovery, Hermitage research scientists, using IR photography, detected many new tattoos on the famous mummies from the Great Pazyryk kurgans of Altai.*** Most expressive tattoos were found on the shoulders, back, legs and hands--even on wrists! But no tattoos on the mummies' faces!

 

TASHTYK MASKS IN MUSEUMS

 

At this point let us look into two modern approaches to the restoration of human appearance as practiced in Russia and elsewhere.

 

First, the Gerassimov method. In 2007 we marked the birth centennial of Mikhail Gerassimov (1907-1970), a great Russian anthropologist, archeologist and sculptor, who invented the method of portrait re-

 

* Sergei Rudenko (1885-1969), a Russian archeologist, anthropologist and ethnologist, member of the Russian Geographic and Paris Anthropological Societies.--Ed.

 

** In a Tashtyk burial mound on the left bank of the Enisei; raised in I cent. B.C.-1 cent. A.D.--Ed.

 

*** With reference of five big ("kingly") kurgan mounds near the village of Balyktuyul in the Pazyryk isolated terrain, Altai.--Ed.

 

construction from the human skull and skeletal fragments. This is the acknowledged Gerassimov method. My portraits, he said, are not works of art, they are works of science. Timed to the Gerassimov jubilee were exhibitions held in Moscow and St. Petersburg, namely in the St. Petersburg Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, in the Moscow-based Timiryazev Museum of Biology and in the Darwinian Museum. Dozens of works were featured reviving the look of man all the way from France to China, from the New Stone Age (Neolithic) to the Early Iron Age) 7th cent. B.C.-3rd cent. A.D.).

 

Meanwhile in 2005 the United States came up with a FBI-sponsored identification project for crime investigators--a computer-aided program of reconstructing facial features from the skull or its fragments. Used for this purpose was a tomography database on heads of people of different races, sexes and ages. The universal algorithm excluded a researcher's tampering with the identikit. Tests showed a full identity of real people with their computer images.

 

Yet the record of Tashtyk masks is worlds apart from the present-day restoration methods: those masks were made by artists contemporary to people they pictured, they saw their heroes live, and thus could portray the individual features of man living in Siberia early in the Common Era.

 
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Tashtyk masks are displayed in the Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg, in the Moscow State Museum of History, in the Moscow Museum of Oriental Arts as well as in the Minusinsk Regional Museum of Local History, in the Khakass National Museum of Local History (named after Kyzlasov), and in the museum of Khakass State University in Abakan. The authors of the present article have used the available photofits for a roving photo exhibition of Southern Siberia's people ("Visages of Ancient Khakassia") that has been to many museums and galleries of Russia, Finland, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan and Kirghizia.

 

The photos were shot in the "light brush" or "light drawing" technique. Translated from the Greek, the word "photography" means "drawing by light". But the light brush method imparts the verbal meaning to the word. This is a special technique of photography when an object is traced by light from different angles and sides with the aid of little torches. This method is widely used in artistic and pictorial photography, particularly, in still life imaging. In our case it allowed to make these pictures three-dimensional and accentuate the characteristic anthropological features of Tashtyks. Thereupon the pictures were computer-moderated by the High Dynamic Range (HDR) method for light enhancement so as to remove the soot and dirt of many centuries and make the images stand out clear and distinct. The HDR technique makes it possible to bring out the original color palette and amplify it. So the ornaments of the masks get to be more distinct than on regular still photos. We can see the masks the way they used to be.

 

Consequently, the displayed pictures of Tashtyk masks are artistic photographs of applied and decorative art as practiced in oldtime Siberia. Conventional still photographs in the literature are rather dull documental illustrations hazing the top workmanship of archeological finds.

 

The pictorial photographs of Tashtyk masks are in no way cut and dried figures but, rather, colorful illustrations shedding light on the dramatic life of people who lived two thousand years ago. Looking at them, we can see the serene face of a wizard; or the face of a stern warrior; or that of a princess full of dignity; or the image of an arrogant and power-hungry ruler. Many masks are strikingly similar to the faces of present-day denizens of Altai--the Khakasses, Tuvinians, Shortsi, Altaians. Such pictorial images take us back in time, two thousand years away.

 

The people portrayed on Tashtyk masks lived in the epoch of nascent Christianity far to the west.

 

Illustrations supplied by the authors Photographer, B. Dolinin

Опубликовано на Порталусе 20 ноября 2021 года

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