Pazyryk People of the Past and the Homeless of Today

In modern day society, the homeless are too often looked down upon as the lowest class.  We treat a settled down lifestyle as the ultimate goal — the American dream of a house with a white picket fence.  But as urban nomads, the homeless are not inherently down on their luck.  In fact, the nomadic lifestyle has a long and complex historical significance – like, for instance the Pazyryk people.

The construction of a Pazyryk kurgan.

The Pazyryk people were nomadic horsemen who inhabited the Altai mountain region from the 6th century B.C. to the 4th century B.C. (  The Pazyryk people combat the idea the nomadic peoples are, “less developed than many sedentary ones”  (, or that nomadic people of their region were simply “rude barbarians” (  In Pazyryk burial mounds known as kurgans, artifacts like carved pieces of wood, goods formed from precious metals, and mechanically-complex carts have been found.  Foreign goods have also been found, but they have been transformed by the Pazyryk people’s craft — becoming even more fantastic.

Princess designs

An artist’s rendition of the tattoos covering the mummy known as Princess Ukok.

Even more interesting than the artifacts found inside of kurgans are the mummies buried with them.  Upon their bodies were intricate tattoos of animals both real and mythical.  It is believed that these tattoos symbolized place in society, names, or even pre-writing ( “The Stunning Ancient Tattoos of the Pazyryk Nomads”).  This has been supported by the discovery of the mummy Princess Ukok, a young female who was found in an elaborate burial chamber.

The Pazyryk people have even been found to have performed complex surgery.  Two individuals were found to have undergone cranial surgery, and survived — evidenced by bone growth over the incisions ( “Ancient Pazyryk nomads carried out highly advanced cranial surgery in Siberia”).  Interestingly, there is evidence that the surgeries performed are in line with ancient Greek medical texts suggesting the Pazyryk had an extensive range and communication with other cultures of their time period ( “Ancient Pazyryk nomads carried out highly advanced cranial surgery in Siberia”).

The urban nomads of today are not unlike the Pazyryk.  Though some are not homeless  by choice, many do make the choice to be “home-free”.  Those of us with sedentary lives should not look down upon urban nomads.  We should work to coexist and stop trying to fix their way of living through assimilation into our lifestyle.  Nomadic people have an equally rich culture and history — especially if wealth is not measured in terms of material items.



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How the Incas Defied their Environment


The environment can reveal a lot about a culture. If the environment is favorable for agriculture, people take up a sedentary lifestyle. If it is the opposite, or people have access to additional resources, agriculture is less likely to be a focus. Yet this general rule is challenged by the Inca Empire, and their persistence to pursue agriculture in a region unfavorable to crops.

The basic process of creating terraces.

Mountain climates do not inherently support agriculture. Little precipitation falls in the Andes. Steep slopes also prevent growth of plants as what little precipitation that does fall erodes soil and thus washes plants away. Mountain temperatures fluctuate, often becoming much colder at night and shortening the growing season.
However, the Incas found a way around these problems, with terrace agriculture. By cutting flat planes into the mountain, the Incas were able to create areas of suitable farmland. Bounded by stone walls, these areas are able to withstand the problems associated with Mountain climates. Along with domesticated species of plants suited to harsh conditions, the Incas were able to farm.
Yet why would the Incas put in the tremendous amount of work to make an area unsuitable for sedentary life, suitable? The answer lies within the environment. Cultures that struggle with agriculture often have earlier examples of rock art (signs of praying to the Gods). As religion is spurred by a harsh environment, it becomes even more central to the culture.
In the case of the Incas, religion played a huge role in their culture, likely due to the environment. As to why they would have stayed, or even continued higher; (major areas like Machu Picchu and Cuzco are over 7,000 ft. above sea level) this is likely due to being closer to heaven (the Inca highly revered their sun God, Inti). As religion led to the Incas moving up in altitude, the environment only became tougher for a sedentary lifestyle. Yet the practice of terrace farming shows the Incas dedication to their lifestyle, and persistence as a people.

A ruin of an Inca temple in Pisac, Peru.

Though harsh in terms of climate, the Andes region is bountiful concerning precious medals. The existence of the precious metals gold and silver would have confirmed that they were in a holy area of the world, and that their connection to their Gods would only be improved as they increased in altitude. The use of these metals in Inca throne rooms and temples shows the influence the environment had upon their lives.
Through just the knowledge of the environment, a lot can be seen about a culture. What environmental challenges are presented determine what kind of lifestyle inhabitants will lead. In the case of the Incas, their harsh conditions resulted in creativity and adaptation against the natural environment, so as to pursue their religious lifestyle. Understanding how environmental conditions pressure and shape a human life is imperative to understanding a culture.


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