The University of Arizona

Radiocarbon and Tree-Ring Dates of the Bes-Shatyr #3 Saka Kurgan in the Semirechiye, Kazakhstan

Irina Panyushkina, Fedor Grigoriev, Todd Lange, Nursan Alimbay


This study employs tree-ring crossdating and radiocarbon measurements to determine the precise calendar age of the Bes-Shatyr Saka necropolis (43°47'N, 81°21'E) built for wealthy tribe leaders in the Ili River Valley (Semirechiye), southern Kazakhstan. We developed a 218-yr tree-ring chronology and a highly resolved sequence of 14C from timbers of Bes-Shatyr kurgan #3. A 4-decadal-point 14C wiggle dates the Bes-Shatyr necropolis to 600 cal BC. A 47-yr range of cutting dates adjusted the kurgan date to ~550 BC. This is the first result of high-resolution 14C dating produced for the Saka burials in the Semirechiye. The collective dating of Bes-Shatyr indicates the early appearance of the Saka necropolis in the Semirechiye eastern margins of the Saka dispersal. However, the date is a couple of centuries younger than previously suggested by single 14C dates. It is likely that the Shilbiyr sanctuary (location of the Bes-Shatyr) became a strategic and sacral place for the Saka leadership in the Semirechiye long before 550 BC. Another prominent feature of the Semirechiye burial landscape, the Issyk necropolis enclosing the Golden Warrior tomb, appeared a few centuries later according to 14C dating reported by other investigators. This study contributes to the Iron Age chronology of Inner Asia, demonstrating successful results of 14C calibration within the Hallstatt Plateau of the 14C calibration curve. It appears that the wide range of calibrated dates for the Saka occurrences in Kazakhstan (from 800 BC to AD 350) is the result of the calibration curve constraints around the middle of the 1st millennium BC.

DOI: 10.2458/azu_js_rc.55.16199


Radiocarbon wiggle; Nomads; Iron Age; Inner Asia; Archaeology of Eurasian Steppe; Central Asia; Ili River

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