Saka artefacts from Kazakhstan to go in display in Cambridge

Golden artefacts unearthed from ancient burial mounds built by Saka warrior people in Kazakhstan are to go on display at Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum.

Many mounds, where elites were buried with their horses and treasures, have been looted but archaeologists found that the burial display of a teenage archer was intact.

Rockfall had apparently shielded the boy, who was no older than 18 when he died, from view for 2,500 years and Kazakh archaeologists discovered artefacts there in the last three years.

It was only the second intact Saka burial to be discovered in Kazakhstan, according to the Fitzwilliam Museum.

The remains of the first so-called “golden man” were found in the south of Kazakhstan in 1969, at the Issyk burial mound.

The second was discovered at Eleke Sazy burial mounds in the east of the country.

The artefacts recovered from Eleke Sazy, including jewellery and horse harness ornaments, will be exhibited in Cambridge and are being studied by researchers using non-invasive technology.

More than 300 artefacts will be displayed, some of which are made up of thousands of tiny parts.

The Saka culture of central Asia, which flourished from around the 8th century BC to the 3rd century BC, is largely unknown outside of Kazakhstan, according to the Fitzwilliam.

Known as fierce warriors and skilled craftspeople, the Saka were nomadic people of Iranian origin.

The exhibition will display finds from three burial complexes in eastern Kazakhstan: Berel, Shilikti and Eleke Sazy.

It will include a reconstruction of the burial of the teenage archer, showing the golden symbols of power and how they were laid alongside him.

Luke Syson, director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, described the loaned artefacts as “incredibly important”.

Golden artefacts discovered at Saka burial mounds in Kazakhstan will go on display at Cambridge's Fitzwilliam Museum. (Yevgeniy Domashev/ PA)
Golden artefacts discovered at Saka burial mounds in Kazakhstan will go on display at Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum (Yevgeniy Domashev/PA)

“We look forward to bringing the extraordinary culture of the Saka people to life for our audiences and are grateful to our partnership with East Kazakhstan without which enlightening exhibitions such as these would simply not be possible,” he said.

Danial Akhmetov, governor of the East Kazakhstan region of the Republic of Kazakhstan, said: “This exhibition will present Kazakhstan’s most outstanding archaeological discovery of recent years, the ‘golden man’ found in one of the mounds of the Eleke Sazy cemetery, which dates back to the 8th century BC.

“This man was named ‘golden’ not because of the more than 15,000 individual gold items that were found there – such finds come from other elite, but heavily looted and destroyed mounds – but because his was only the second undisturbed Saka burial in Kazakhstan, the first being the Issyk mound in Zhetysu.”

He said the “exceptional state of preservation” gave new opportunities for scientists to study the “religion, world view and funeral rites of the early Saka people”.

“It has been proven that the Saka created truly unique jewellery masterpieces, using technological processes that were advanced for their time, constructed grandiose and exceptionally complex religious, funerary and memorial monuments,” he said.

“We are confident that the exhibition, and the research carried out around it, will open to the public new pages in the history of both the East Kazakhstan region, and all humankind.”

The free exhibition, called Gold of the Great Steppe, runs from September 28 at Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum.