Forgotten Past

A look on ancient History, Language and Architecture


Stone Ancestors

Doç. Dr. Haluk BERKMEN

  The stone statues in human form were highly respected by the Turkic tribes. They were erected on top of kurgans and were representations of the shamanic belief that an offering to the gods was necessary. It has already been mentioned in Chapter 24 Horses for eternity that many horses were sacrificed and buried next to the burial chamber of a leader. Similarly, statues above the ground were reminders to the remaining people that an offering to the soul of the dead person or to the deity would be appropriate. This belief had its origin in the cult of ancestor worshiping.

  Archeological studies of kurgans reveal that food and drink were left within the burial chamber, indicating that offerings to the gods or ancestors were made before the grave was closed. Guillaume de Rubrouck (1215 – 1295), a Franciscan priest traveling to Central Asia for converting people to Christianity informs the following about the burial habits of the Asiatic people (1):

 They put into the grave some kimiz (fermented mare milk) to drink and some meat to eat…

  This habit is a clear indication that offerings in the form of food and drink were an important tradition among the ancient Turkic societies. The human statues holding cups or containers were therefore reminding the passer-by that an offering, physical or spiritual, would be appropriate to the soul of the person buried under that location. The cup or container held close to the body was therefore a symbolic request for an offering. Some examples are shown in the pictures below.

  1. Stone statue standing above a burial site in Central Asia. 2. A statue presently standing in the garden of the Bishkek museum, Kyrgyzstan. 3. Scythian statue holding a cylindrical vessel from Kiev, Ukraine. 4. Statue from the Autonomous Republic of Tuva, Russia. 5. From the city of Taraz - Jambul Oblast of Kazakhstan (2).

  All of them have a similar appearance and are obviously the work of a common culture. We find similar statues in remote places wherever the Turkic tribes migrated. Below we can see the similarity among some exemplars from different and seemingly unrelated cultures.

  1. Presently in the museum of Novocherkassk, Rostov Oblast, Russia. Novocherkassk was the capital of the Don Cossacks. 2. Statue from Sarkel, the ancient capital of the Khazars. 3. A wall relief from the Osk culture, Italy (see Chapter 8, The Double-Edged Ax). 4. A warrior holding a drinking vessel, from Hakkari, Turkey (see Chapter 18,Towards Sumer and Elam). 5. Female statues holding cups from the Odessa Archeological Museum, Ukraine. 6. A statue from Corsica, France. The statue is several thousand years old and the details are no more recognizable.

  From the picture 5 above we see that statues were erected not only for male leaders, but also for important females. Most probably, these were shaman women respected by their society. Even today some Turkic tribes still hold them sacred and call them “tashnine” (stone grandmother) and “tashbaba” (stone father) (3).

  The fact that these statues are requesting some offering is attested by a wandering minstrel whose name is Nizami. He tells the following (4):
  Stone statues were erected on the steppes of the Kipchaks as talismans. All of these talismans are still standing there. Whenever a Kipchak comes closer to one of them, he worships him and puts an arrow in his quiver. If it is a shepherd who comes close to him, he sacrifices a sheep for him.

  Wilhelm Radloff (1837 – 1918) quotes in his book entitled “Aus Siberien” (5):
  The female statue named as “Kurtuyak Tash” is made of gray sandstone and erected crookedly. The pinch of hair dropping from its backhead is hardly seen since it is eroded. Today women of the Kamliks and the Kumans wear the same dresses. The by-passing Tatars living in the Is-Beltir area pay much respect to her. Everybody turns three tours around her and offer some of their food.

  People knew that the food they offered was eaten by birds and foxes, but their offering was for paying respect to her saintly memory.


(1)   Voyage Dans l'Empire Mongol, Guillaume de Rubrouck, Payot, 1985.
   These pictures are from Türk Dil Kurumu Yayınları, No : 736 and No : 798, Ismail Dogan, 2000, Ankara, Turkey.
   Kırgızistan’da Taş Balbal ve Insan Biçimli Heykeller, Oktay Belli, Arkeoloji ve Sanat Yayınları, page 133, 2003, Istanbul-Turkey.
   and (5) Idem, page 134.

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