|Horse adornments from a nomad burial site|
Therefore, it wasn't surprising that replicas and items relating to horses made up a large section of the display in the Sackler Gallery's recent exhibition entitled Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan.
|A nomad burial site which were called kurgans|
Since the Kazakhstan nomad culture had no writing, little is actually known about life there. However, scholars, working from artifacts discovered in giant burial mounds, have been able to speculate about aspects of nomad life in the centuries before the date attributed to the birth of Christ. The burial mounds, called kurgans, were large, some more than 100 feet in diameter and standing as high as 15 feet tall. They were constructed with sand and stone. Experts estimated that the stones from 1 of the largest discovered kurgans weighed 15 tons. The use of stone allowed cold air to penetrate the graves which were then chilled year-round. The permafrost conditions kept the items buried in the sites well preserved.
The word nomad itself comes from a Greek word meaning "roaming for pasture." And that roaming is exactly what the nomads did, spending cold weather on the plains-like steppes and then moving to the mountain foothills for the warmer season.
That constant movement provided an ideal way to transport goods between disparate cultures. Kazakhstan, which as 4 times the size of Texas is the largest landlocked country in the world, served as natural bridge between Iran (then Persia) and China. During their travels, the nomads would trade furs for textiles, ceramics and metal works, thus setting up a cultural exchange network which provided for cross-pollination of artisan ideas among highly scattered groups of people.
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The Nomads and Networks exhibition is now closed, but you can learn more about this period of Kazakhstan history by accessing the special Smithsonian website on the exhibit. Just click here.