The Issyk kurgan, in south-eastern Kazakhstan, less than 20 km east from the Talgar alluvial fan, near Issyk, is a burial mound discovered in 1969. It has a height of six meters and a circumference of sixty meters. It is dated to the 4th or 3rd century BC (Hall 1997). A notable item is a silver cup bearing an inscription. The finds are on display in Astana.
Situated in eastern Scythia just north of Sogdiana, the kurgan contained a skeleton, warrior's equipment, and assorted funerary goods, including 4,000 gold ornaments. Although the sex of the skeleton is uncertain, it may have been an 18-year-old Saka (Scythian) prince or princess.
The richness of the burial items led the skeleton to be dubbed the "golden man" or "golden princess", with the "golden man" subsequently being adopted as one of the symbols of modern Kazakhstan. A likeness crowns the Independence Monument on the central square of Almaty. Its depiction may also be found on the Presidential Standard of Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The Issyk inscription
The Issyk inscription is not yet certainly deciphered, and is probably in a Scythian dialect, constituting one of very few autochthonous epigraphic traces of that language. Harmatta (1999), using the Kharoṣṭhī script, identifies the language as Khotanese Saka dialect spoken by the Kushans, tentatively translating:
|“||za(ṃ)-ri ko-la(ṃ) mi(ṃ)-vaṃ vaṃ-va pa-zaṃ pa-na de-ka mi(ṃ)-ri-to // ña-ka mi pa-zaṃ vaṃ-va va-za(ṃ)-na vaṃ.||”|
|“||The vessel should hold wine of grapes, added cooked food, so much, to the mortal, then added cooked fresh butter on.||”|
Photos of the inscription
Golden treasures in the kurgan
- Ahmet Kanlidere, in: M. Ocak, H. C. Güzel, C. Oğuz, O. Karatay: The Turks: Early ages. Yeni Türkiye 2002, p.417:
- "Harmatta [Harmatta 1999, p.411-412] appears as he has accomplished to solve the mystery of this "unknown language and alphabet" which covers a wide are from Alma-Ata to Merv, to Dest-i Navur and to Ay Hanum. According to Harmatta and Fussman, the alphabet can be traced back to the Karoshti alphabet; and the language written with this alphabet could have been a Saka dialect spoken by the Kushans. Harmatta who remarks on the resemblance of the letters to those in Orkhon-Yenisey states that due to some letters [...]. [...]. Fussman states that this Inscription is based on syllables, and notes its similarity to the Kharosthi alphabet, but he could not read it. Livsits asks whether this alphabet he calls as the "third official alphabet of the Kushan State" is the Saka alphabet or not. [...]. Livsits, on the other hand says that, further to the Issyk-kol alphabet, this alphabet is related not with the Kharosthi alphabet, but rather with the Aramaic alphabet [...]."
- Hall, Mark E. Towards an absolute chronology for the Iron Age of Inner Asia. Antiquity 71 (1997): 863-874.
- Harmatta, Janos. History of Civilization of Central Asia. Volume 2, Motilal Banarsidass (1999), ISBN 81-208-1408-8, p. 421