December 7, 2017

Alternate Spellings:

Terekty-Auliye, Terekty-Aulie, Теректы-Аулие (Cyrillic)

Introduction and Geographic Location:

Coordinates: 48°12’44’’ N and 68°36’37’’ E

Elevation: 498 m

Terekty Aulie is an archaeological site in Central Kazakhstan featuring 3 granite hills with petroglyphs and multiple burial areas dating to the Bronze Age (2nd century BCE), the Early Iron Age and the 18th/19th centuries. The site is located in the district of Ulytau (Ulutau) in the Qaraghandy (Karaganda) region (Lymer 2015: 96). Terekty Aulie is ~90km northeast of the city Jezqazghan (Zhezkazgan) and ~20km north of Terekty Station (Lymer 2015:96, Rogozhinskiy 2011: 31). Using GoogleEarth, I measured the main area of the granite hills to be approximately 17,439 square meters. While the region is located in the heart of the desert steppe, this site is located in the mountainous area of the Terekty Hills, which are within the larger mountain Range known as the Ulytau (Ulutau) Mountains (Lymer 2015: 96). Jezqazghan (Zhezkazgan) is known for its abundance of oxidic copper, which was a prime resource for mining and creation of goods during the Bronze Age (Lymer 2015: 97).

Research on the site has mainly focused on the petroglyphs, which have been attributed to the pastoral nomads living in the area during the Bronze Age. Today, the site is an important religious location because of the petroglyphs and their connection to Islam (Lymer 2014).

The site was first recorded in the 1940s by Kazakh archaeologist, A. Kh. Margulan (Samashev et al 2000: 4). Between the years of 1946 and 1950, Margulan led many field expeditions throughout the Ulytau area and which was when he first explored and noted Terekty Aulie (Tursinbaeva et al 2016: 172). Unfortunately, not much of this information was published and the original documents are difficult to find online.

In 1996, a program was started to continue research at the site by the A. Kh Margulan Institute of Archaeology led by Zainolla Samashev. (Samashev et al 2000: 4).


Findings and Interpretations:

As mentioned, Terekty Aulie encompasses 3 granite hills, which are engraved with mostly zoomorphic figures. The petroglyphs are mainly carved on the flatter surfaces of the hills, but also occasionally on the more vertical wall-like slopes (Samashev et al 2000:5). Typically rock art from this time period and region is found on sandstone because it is a much softer stone to carve into and makes it easier to create detailed images. Terekty Aulie is a unique example because it was created on granite using a technique of deep pecking and smoothing over, leaving us with the polished final product we see today (Lymer 2015: 96, Samashev et al 2000: 5). As with many petroglyph sites, it is difficult to determine exactly what the site represented or was used for. The site has more recently been adopted as an area for Islamic pilgrimage, which will be discussed below, but it is impossible to say what its exact purpose was at the time of its creation based on the information available.

Images of horses make up approximately 90% of the petroglyphs, but other images include lines, chariots, dots, bulls, Bactrian camels, goats, feline-like creatures, snakes and deer (Lymer 2015: 96-97, Rogozhinskiy 2011: 31). Horse imagery is common in Central Asia because of the important role these animals played in pastoral nomadism. Pastoral nomadism was a dominant lifestyle in Central Asia beginning around the Bronze Age that relied on mobility and herding of animals. Horses provided means of transportation as well as a resource for meat and secondary products (i.e. milk), which made them a prominent aspect of the nomadic lifestyle (Cunliffe 2015). It seems likely that the individuals who created the petroglyphs at Terekty Aulie lived a nomadic lifestyle because of the emphasis on horses in their art (Tursinbaeva et al 2016: 171).

The petroglyphs found at Terekty Aulie have been connected to the Seima Turbino phenomenon based on the similarities in horse image style to other zoomorphic designs in Central Asia. The “solid bodies, curved necks and prominent manes,” on the horses, which make up the majority of petroglyphs at Terekty Aulie, are comparable to images of horses found on daggers from Seima Turbino sites (Samashev et al 2000:5). This phenomenon is attributed to the rise of pastoral nomadism, which influenced the flow of ideas, materials and people on the Central Asian landscape.

Figure 1: Horse petroglyphs at Terekty Aulie

Lymer 2015


Non-horse images, specifically the deer and feline animals, are more similar in style to petroglyphs found in the Altai Mountains, which are considered to be from an early Scythian culture (Samashev et al 2000: 5). Images of humans are uncommon at Terekty Aulie, but the few instances of anthropomorphic figures have generated many varying interpretations. For example, the image below, known as “the antenna”, has a circular design with animals drawn inside the circle and a human with a twisted leg standing beneath it. Some believe that this image is of the sun or another astrological figure, which could be related to a type of “solar symbolism” while others imagine that it represents a human on a shamanistic journey (Samashev et al 2000: 6, Lymer 2015: 99, Tursinbaeva et al 2016: 171). Personally, the shape of the petroglyph reminds me of the desert kites found in Eastern Central Asia and the Middle East which were are dated to the Iron Age. These kites are hypothesized to be hunting traps used to efficiently herd ungulates to a pit humans could easily kill them (Zeder et al 2013: 110, 114). Below is the petroglyph at Terekty Aulie in comparison with petroglyphs of desert kites in Syria (Figure 2, Figure 3).

Figure 2: Image of “the antenna” at Terekty Aulie, possibly depicting a desert kite

Samashev et al 2000

Figure 3: Image of petroglyphs in Syria possibly depicting desert kites

Zeder et al 2013


To the southeast of Terekty Aulie, there is a small cemetery that has been dated to the Bronze Age. The cemetery includes 20 burials that have been attributed to the Alakul culture or the Begazy-Dandybai culture, which are both regional variations within the larger Andronovo culture describing pastoral nomads living in Kazakhstan and Southern Siberia (Lymer 2015: 97, Lymer 2010, Frachetti 2008). The site also includes scattered Neolithic tools, Early Iron Age burials in the style of kurgans and a more recent, 18th/19th century mausoleums (Samashev et al 2000: 4).


In the present day, Terekty Aulie serves as a sacred Islamic shrine because some of the images have been interpreted as being Islamic figures. Currently, a wooden post sits at the top of one of the engrave granite hills, which replaced a stone shrine shown in Figure 4 that had been there until 2001 (Lymer 2014: 3).

Figure 4: Shrine at Terekty Aulie (before 2001), replaced by wood post in 2001

Lymer 2014


Terekty Aulie is a place of pilgrimage because it is believed to hold healing properties that can help situations of sickness or infertility (Lymer 2010). This belief comes from the story of Khazrat ‘Ali, the son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad, visiting Terekty Aulie with his horse, Dudul. Khazrat ‘Ali was wounded when he arrived to the site and fell asleep on the rocky hills expecting to die. Instead, when he awoke he found that at all his wounds had been healed (Tursinbaeva et al 2016: 171). In the rock art are images of human footprints and horse hoof prints, which are thought to belong to Khazrat ‘Ali and his horse (Figure 5, Figure 6) (Lymer 2014: 4).


Figure 6: Image of human foot print petrogylphs at Terekty Aulie

Lymer 2004

Figure 7:  Image of horse hoof print petroglyph at Terekty Aulie

Lymer 2004


At the base of one of the hills are 18th/19th century mausoleums, which have more recently been fenced in and expanded with the addition of modern mausoleums. Individuals make the pilgrimage to Terekty Aulie, not only for its healing properties and connection to Islam, but also to pay homage to the people buried in the mausoleums. Individuals often hold ritual meals near the base of the hill, which are rooted in prayer, specific meal preparation and memorial offerings (Lymer 2010, Lymer 2014: 4).



The site has been dated to the Bronze Age (approximately during the 2nd century BCE) using contextual clues. Since the petroglyphs are carved into rocks, they are impossible to date using typical scientific measures such as carbon dating or electron spin resonance dating. The archaeologists researching this site instead used methods of comparison and inference to come up with an approximate date but these are not scientifically proven dates.

The cemetery southeast of Terekty Aulie was dated to the Bronze Age based on its materials. However, there is no conclusive link between the cemetery and the petroglyphs to prove that these two sites were created at the same time or by the same group of people (Lymer 2015: 97). Unfortunately, there is little information published about this cemetery and the materials recovered from it. The knowledge that Jezqazghan was a city known for copper resources during the Bronze Age makes it more likely that Terekty Aulie was used during the same period, but again it is impossible to make definite conclusions about when the petroglyphs were created (Lymer 2015: 97).

A secondary method of dating used at the site was a comparison technique to examine the similarities and differences between this site and other sites in the area with more certain dates. As mentioned previously, the style of the horse petroglyphs are similar to designs from Seima Turbino sites, which are dated between 2200–1700 BCE (Lymer 2015: 97).



While the petroglyphs at Terekty Aulie produce archaeological difficulties with regards to dating and deciphering the original purpose of the site, the site also provides an amazing opportunity to understand how the area has changed over time. The remains from multiple time periods, the unique material of rock and the connection to Islam continues to attract a variety of people. From tourists to researchers to individuals on religious journeys, Terekty Aulie is an important site to many.

To check out a 3D interactive model of the site created by Kenneth Lymer, please see the link below!



Works Cited

Cunliffe, Barry. “Horses and Copper.” Steppe, Desert and Ocean. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. 71-109.

Frachetti, Michael D. “An archaeology of Bronze Age Eurasia.” Pastoralist Landscapes and Social Interaction in Bronze Age Eurasia. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2008. 31-71.

Lymer, Kenneth. “Rock Art and Folk Islamic Practices in Central Asia.” Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures. Springer Science & Business Media, 2014.

Lymer, Kenneth. “Rock Art and Religion: The Percolation of Landscapes and Permeability of Boundaries at Petroglyph Sites in Kazahkstan.” DISKUS. 11 (2010).

Lymer, Kenneth. “The Petroglyphs of Terekty Aulie in Central Kazakhstan.” Expression. 8 (2015).

Rogozhinskiy, Alexey E. “Rock Art Sites in Kazakhstan.” Rock Art in Central Asia. Ed. Jean Clottes. Paris: International Council on Monuments and Sites, 2011. 9-43.

Samashev, Zainolla, et al. “The Petroglyphs of Terekty Aulie, Central Kazahkstan.” International Newsletter on Rock Art. 5 (2000).

Tursinbaeva, K. S., et al. “Petroglyphs Terekty-Aulie in Central Kazahkstan.” Eurasian Journal of Ecology. 38.2 (2016).

Zeder, Melinda A., et al. “New perspectives on the use of kites in mass-kills of Levantine gazelle: A view from northeastern Syria.” Quarternary Internation. 297 (2013).

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