In the first part of our multivolume work we present materials to give a detailed characteristic of the Chemurchek cultural phenomenon – the complex of West European megalithic traditions spreaded over the foothills of the Mongol Altai (from the Russian Altai region to Trans-Altai Gobi) in 3rd – early 2nd millenium BC (Ковалев 2011, 2012б; Kovalev 2011).
In 1998-2000 the International Central-Asian Archaeological Expedition organized by A. Kovalev in cooperation with the Institute of Archaeology of Kazakhstan undertook excavations of twelve rectangular stone enclosures of the Early Bronze Age in the Alkabek River basin (Eastern-Kazakhstan region) near the Chinese border.
Since 2003 our expedition with support of State Museum of Roerichs in collaboration with the Institute of History of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences and the Ulaanbaatar University excavated eleven barrows in Bulgan sum of Khovd aimag and four rectangular burial enclosures in Ulankhus sum of Bayan-Olgii aimag too. One barrow (Kurgak-Govi 2) had been coupled with the barrow Kurgak-Govi 1 of Afanasievo culture at a separate burial place.
Barrows excavated in the Alkabek River basin consisted of rectangular enclosures made of stone slabs; an “entrance” made of huge slabs was placed in the middle of the eastern side of the enclosure. A dry-stone corridor (passage) made of small flat slabs led to the burial pit. The walls of these corridors surrounded the burial pit. In all barrows, without exceptions, burial pits were situated 2-5 meters eastwards from the center towards the “entrances”. These constructions with passages, built using dry walling, mostly resembled late “pseudo-gallery” megalithic burials of Provence and Languedoc dated from the end of 4th - the beginning of 3rd millennium B.C.
Ritual places excavated by our expedition in Bayan-Olgii looked like rectangular stone enclosures, oriented along their longer sides in a west-east direction (Kulala-Ula – north-south), with primary ritual pits and secondary burials. Stone pillars were erected by the front sides of the three of four abovementioned mounds. Rectangular stone enclosures, accompanied by stelae erected by the front side find their analogies among the monuments of Western France, dated from the 4th millennium B.C.
The burial places of Bulgan look like huge stone boxes, oriented east-westwards and constructed of massive stone slabs which are situated on the ancient surface or inserted into the soil, and used as a crypt for many burials (up to 10 persons). Stone boxes were reinforced from the outside (not covered) by surrounding stone or soil cairns which overlapped one another and were supplied with “facades” of slabs or light boulders. Near the eastern sides of the barrow Yagshiin Khodoo 3 and Khukh Uzuuriin Dugui I-1 statues were erected. Similar megalithic sepulchers with facades, overlapping each other like “onion skin” originated in Brittany and Normandy in the first half of the 5th millennium B.C., they dominated within the Western France, partly in Ireland and England, and were spread within Languedoc at the end of 4th – the beginning of 3rd millennium B.C.
Numerous 14C dates, obtained from the samples from excavated mounds, gave us an evidence that these monuments were synchronous in general and belonged to the period from the middle of the 3rd to the beginning of the 2nd millennium B.C. Artifacts discovered by us were similar with findings from “Ke’ermuqi burial site” and from other analogous sites of Xinjiang, which belonged to the same period. Also similarities have been revealed in the architecture of sepulchers, in the burial rite, in the style of ochre drawings and stone sculptures. That is why all these sites should be considered as belonged to a single cultural area. These burial monuments suddenly appeared in the foothills of Mongol Altai from Zaisan Lake to the Tien Shan not later than in the middle of the 3rd millennium B.C. and showing a number of specific features which distinguish them from all the other known monuments of the Early Bronze Age of Asia and Eastern Europe. This cultural complex have been called “The Chemurchek Cultural Phenomenon”.
All specific features are not represented in every mound, but they are spread over separate regions, resulting in the origin of peculiar types of burial constructions. The independent, but simultaneous, appearance of several original innovations of burial construction in one and the same region appears quite impossible. We can suppose that firstly there was one source of all these innovations, but later people of a single culture spread over the Altai and preserved separate and different combinations of features of the burial rite traditions. It emerges that this situation is found in Western and Southern France. Besides the abovementioned analogies in the construction of burial mounds, we can find in this distant region similarity in the form and ornamentation of vessels, in red ochre paintings and in the decoration of stone sculptures (Kovalev 2011). Unique ceramic/stone vessels tradition is characterized by spheroid, ellipsoid jars, and also flat bottom pots, slightly narrowing to the mouth and base; vessels do not have any emphasized neck or flared mouth, the mouths of all vessels being slightly contracted. The most usual type of decoration looks like a horizontal line with triangular scallops stretched under a vessel’s rim. Pottery of such shapes, almost without decoration, is characteristic of the Late and Final Neolithic in the West, South and East France, in Western Switzerland and also in Spain. Stone statues chiseled by “Chemurchek people” are an absolutely peculiar phenomenon in the territory of Asian steppes in the 3rd millennium BCE. Only some statues-menhirs from Southern France in the same way are characterized by the protruding contour of the perimeter of a face, connected with a straight nose, with the eyes shown by protruding circles or disks, the shoulder-blades marked by two curls, and one or several girdles decorating the neck. In Chemurchek burials we discovered drawings made with red ochre looking like rows of triangular scallops, which can be compared with ochre drawings and gravures in Spain, France, Switzerland and North Italy.
All the analogies from Western Europe were dated from the period preceding the appearance of Chemurchek monuments in the Altai. Nothing like those kinds of burial construction and pottery has been ever found among the monuments of the 3rd millennium BCE at the territory between France and Altai. This is why some suppose that part of the population of South-Western Europe migrated to the Altai at the beginning of the 3rd millennium BCE.