Bronze Age Teenager's Grave with 180 Sheep Ankle Bones Found in Kazakhstan
Archaeologists have unearthed a burial site from the Bronze Age, containing the remains of a teenage girl and numerous artifacts in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan's premier English news source, The Astana Times, reported that the grave contained 180 sheep ankle bones, a bronze disc with a frog engraving, a mirror, along with metal sword pommels, a bronze vessel, and various other objects. Researchers suggest these probably held ceremonial significance.
From 2017, the archaeological team has been delving into this ancient burial ground situated in Ainabulak, a village in the east of Kazakhstan. Over 100 mound tombs have been identified so far which trace to the Bronze Age (3200 – 1000 BC). The newly discovered grave was found during an exploration of one of these burial mounds.
Even though her identity remains unknown, the plethora of objects in her burial offers insights into her significance in her Bronze Age community.
Bronze disc with frog engraving found in the grave. Credit: Kazakh Ministry of Science and Higher Education.
Ancient Burial and the Significance of Animal Bones
The precise age of this burial hasn't been ascertained, but other tombs and relics in this burial site trace back to roughly 2500 BC to 1800 BC.
Live Science reported that Carbon-14 testing indicated the girl was in her early teens at her time of death, between 12 and 15 years. She was interred on her side, with delicate wire earrings in both ears and beaded jewelry around her neck. Furthermore, the burial revealed she was laid to rest with 180 ankle bones, probably from sheep or bovines, and additionally three shoulder blades from cows.
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The overwhelming amount of animal bone pieces in her tomb fascinated the researchers. While animal remnants in graves aren't uncommon on the Eurasian plains, especially in the graves of younger individuals, the vast number accompanying this girl was notably extravagant. While some experts believe that this practice of burying ankle bones might have religious undertones and the bones were instrumental in rituals, others perceive these bones as emblematic tokens of prosperity and blessings, symbolizing hopes for a smooth passage between realms.
The sheep ankle bones, or assky, have historical ties to traditional Kazakh games, with roots potentially reaching back to the Bronze Age. These bones, after being polished and sometimes intricately designed, turn into beloved possessions. In the traditional Assyk game, players aim their assyks at a designated bone, trying to achieve the highest score by striking it in a specific manner.
A burial mound in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Source: MehmetOZB / Adobe Stock.
A Unique Bronze Age Pyramid
In addition to this burial, archaeologists recently made a significant discovery of a pyramid structure with a hexagonal foundation. Ulan Umitkaliyev, who heads the Archaeology and Ethnology Department at the Eurasian National University, elaborated in an announcement, ““The steppe pyramid is built with great precision, it is hexagonal,” explained Ulan Umitkaliyev, Head of Eurasian National University’s Archaeology and Ethnology Department, in a press release. “There are thirteen meters and eight rows of stones between each face. It is a very sophisticated complex structure with several circles in the middle. The exterior walls of the structure of this complex are dominated by images of various animals, especially horses.”
This monumental steppe pyramid in Kazakhstan, believed to be from the 2nd millennium BC, had remained hidden for centuries. Given its uniqueness in the Central Asian plains, its unearthing is particularly significant.
Top image: Burial of teenage girl found with 180 sheep ankle bones. Credit: Kazakh Ministry of Science and Higher Education.