Exhibit shows the real Kazakhstan

WASHINGTON. August 18. KAZINFORM  The first question might be, where is Kazakhstan? The second is, why go see an exhibit about it?

The answer is simple. Kazakhstan is basically unknown to Americans outside of the 2006 movie Borat, and has more to offer, the Miami Herald reports.

Nomads and Networks, which opened last week at the Arthur M. Sackler museum in Washington, D.C., provides a snapshot of this vast country and its ancient history

Found to the south of Russia and the west of Mongolia and China, Kazakhstan is slightly less than four times the size of Texas. One third of it is steppe grasslands, where nomadic tribes tamed horses and were formidable mercenaries in antiquity.

The exhibit concentrates on Iron Age Kazakhstan from about eighth to third centuries B.C. There aren't many written sources of that time outside of Greek historian Herodotus, who "refers a little bit of what is going on there," says archeologist and curator Alexander Nagel. Herodotus wrote in the fifth century

Nomads and Networks give us insight into the nomadic culture that dominated the wide steppes. It starts with two large stones carved with petroglyphs. One glyph has two ibex, a curly-horned mountain goat, obviously an animal very important in this ancient culture since it re-occurs often in the exhibit. The other has some kind of man.

As usual, the dead tell the most about life thousands of years ago. Archeologists are now opening some of the "thousands of kurgans - burial mounds - all over Kazakhstan," says Nagel.

"In the fourth millennium B.C., they drank horse milk, they used horse bones for houses. Horses were very important for this culture."

Out of one kurgan came two coffins, an older woman and younger man, and thirteen sacrificed horses. One was decked out with an elaborate leather mask with ibex-style cedar horns, and a tiger attacking an elk-patterned felted "saddle cover cloth." Nagel says that whether the horses actually wore them during ceremonies "has not been answered yet."

Ornamental horse tack items include a bit for a bridle. Out of a kurgan came a number of tiny "Snow Leopard masks" made of turquoise and gold that could be sewed on clothing. In the mineral-rich area, "Gold was readily available all over the place."

Many of the kurgans were well preserved by permafrost. "As long as they are in the earth, they're safe," Nagel says, but he doesn't know if they have been affected by the global warming.

Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan is on view through Nov. 12 at the Arthur M Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Ave. SW; 202-633-1000; www.asia.si.edu/. Admission is free.

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