The Watch

Necropolises of Nomads in Mangystau

Mangystau Province, Kazakhstan

2012 World Monuments Watch

The tradition of ancestor worship was practiced by nomadic tribes in Central Asia for over a millennium. In Kazakhstan, the custom was strongest in the Mangystau region, where Islamic teaching mixed with the nomadic culture, and necropolises were built as sacred burial grounds. The oldest surviving necropolises date from the eleventh century A.D., and the tradition was practiced until the early twentieth century when Soviet rule nationalized land, settled tribes, and discouraged the creation of mausoleums. The necropolises were of varying architectural design and often constructed from local limestone, and included stone stelae, carvings, and painted decorations. Spread throughout the region in both small numbers and large clusters, the funerary structures are part of an important cultural landscape and are highly valued by local communities. Necropolises, such as those in the Mangystau region, constitute the most significant material evidence from Central Asian nomadic tribes and provide insight into their migration patterns and spiritual practices. The ancient necropolises show the evolution of art and architecture in Mangystau as the culture adopted Islamic religious practices. These stone burial structures have been exposed to the elements for centuries, and many are in a state of decay with little maintenance or preventive conservation measures. The decorated surfaces are the most vulnerable elements, and prompt action is required to prevent permanent loss. Education and training in traditional materials and techniques would be an important first step in preserving this vernacular heritage for future generations.

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