The first U.S. exhibition devoted entirely to the nomadic culture of ancient Kazakhstan made its Washington, D.C., debut at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery on Saturday, August 11, 2012.
The “Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan” exhibition will remain on display through Nov. 12, and is aimed at dispelling the misplaced notion that nomadic societies were less developed than sedentary ones. More than 150 objects of gold, horn, precious gems and organic materials -- mostly excavated within the past 15 years -- reveal a powerful and highly developed culture with strategic migratory routes and sophisticated networks of communication, trade and exchange.
On this happy occasion, Ambassador of Kazakhstan to the U.S., Erlan Idrissov said, “because of successful cooperation with our partners, we are able to offer our American friends the beauty, elegance and sophistication of the work done by my Kazakh ancestors who made such a great, yet unsung contribution to the development of civilization.”
For more than three millennia, nomadic societies helped to shape the cultural landscape of the Eurasian steppe. In southern and eastern Kazakhstan, carefully determined migratory routes traced paths between lowland pastures, used in the winter, and alpine highlands, occupied during the warmer summer months. “Nomads and Networks” explores a form of Eurasian nomadism centered on an elite culture of horseback warfare.
While not fully developed until the Iron Age, this unique way of life spread quickly across the Eurasian steppe, yielding the magnificent objects on display in the exhibition. On loan from Kazakhstan’s four national museums, the exhibition offers insight into the lives of the people of the Altai and Tian-Shan Mountain regions in the eastern part of the country from roughly the eighth to the first centuries BCE.
“Nomads and Networks” presents spectacular, superbly preserved finds from Berel, an elite burial site of the Pazyryk culture located near the border with Russia, Mongolia and China, where permafrost conditions enabled the natural preservation of rare organic materials. Set amidst vast green grasslands in a visually stunning landscape, the burial mounds -- or “kurgans” -- have yielded hundreds of finds that give archaeologists and laypersons alike unique insight into the long-hidden culture. Each excavated kurgan contained at least one horse, sometimes many more, and the exhibition illuminates the central role of the animal in Pazyryk culture. Through remarkable works of art, visitors encounter a people fascinated by their encounters with nature and animals.