I have written before about the fact that Thomas Atkinson often described the ancient archaeological remains, especially the kurgans (tumuli), he came across during his travels. Both of his books are full of descriptions of remarkable examples, particularly those he came across in the Zhetysu region, although he also noted similar examples along the Yenissei River in what is now Khakassia in southern Siberia and elsewhere. He even wrote a paper for the Geological Society of London about some ancient remains he had found buried in Siberia.
He also describes visiting the ancient site of Koilyk on the Lepsy River and mentions a copper knife given to him by Cossacks in what is now northern Kazakhstan.
Until now I had always thought that these writings had had little impact. Thus is was a pleasant surprise to find recently that they have not been entirely ignored. In 1897 the American author Barnard Shipp published Indian and Antiquities of America (Sherman & Co, Philadelphia, 1897). Shipp, who studied at Yale and was an authority on the early Spanish explorations of America, travelled widely in Europe and became interested in the ancient buildings of antiquity.
Although mostly about America, his fascinating book contains eight pages of direct quotes from Thomas Atkinson’s books and also includes two of Thomas’ woodcuts showing kurgans located outside the town of Kopal where the Atkinsons lives for nine months in 1848-9.
Many of the kurgans drawn by Atkinson are still standing just outside the town of Kapal (as it is now called), although the standing stones that once adorned them have long since disappeared, many of them used as gravestones in the local cemetery. I found some of these on a previous trip to the area.
As you can see, the stones are unusual as far as Russian Orthodox grave markers are concerned. The Cossacks used them because no other cut stone was available in the nineteenth century when these two were first erected.
In just over a month I will be setting out on horseback through Eastern Kazakhstan on the second of three journeys tracing the route taken by Thomas and Lucy Atkinson in the spring of 1849 as they headed from the small Cossack outpost of Kapal back north to the southern Siberian city of Barnaul.
The 2019 Zhetysu Expedition, organised in collaboration with the Kazakh Geographic Society, will follow a route that starts at Lake Zhassyl Kol, close to the small town of Sarcand and ends up at Lake Ala Kol, about 100 miles away. This year’s expedition is the second in a series of three.
The first took place last year, when we organised a horseback expedition through the Djungar Alatau Mountains, following almost exactly the same route taken by the Atkinsons on their return journey north to the Altai Mountains in the summer of 1849. You can read about that expedition here. Atkinson’s intention was to visit the valleys of all the rivers that flow from the Djungar Alatau mountains towards Lake Balkhash. In 2018 we visited the valleys of the AcSou, the Bean, the Sarcand and the Lepsu. We also made a separate visit to the archaeological site of the ancient city of Koilyk. This journey ended at Lake Zhassyl Kol.
This year our party will consist of around 10 people, including guides from the Djungar Alatau National Park. The areas we will be traversing are very remote and seldom visited by anyone. Part of the time we will be travelling along river valleys, before ascending the mountains and riding along the ridges. Our endpoint is on the shores of Lake Ala Kol. It promises to be a very exciting trip.
Next year, if all goes to plan, we will ride the third part of this amazing journey, travelling through the Tarbagatai Mountains north of Lake Ala Kol to the former Cossack town of Ayaguz. What this space for further details.