One day, while I was visiting our Altai partner Svetlana Katynova, she took me into the forest a stone's throw from her house. She showed me a small marker in a clearing and explained that this place -- Ulalinsky Camp on the bank of the Ulala River -- is an ancient archeological site. It contains evidence of human occupation and use in the form of stone tools very similar to those used by the African Olduvai culture.
Discovered by Okladnikov in the 1960s, the site has been dated to the Lower Paleolithic era (approx 690,000-1.5 million years old). The site is included in the list of cultural and historical sites of the Russian Federation, but has never been fully excavated -- nor protected. For decades, Svetlana has been lobbying various governmental bodies in the Altai Republic to protect this site. On the attached map of Gorno-Altaisk, it is the forest patch on the lower right. The Ulala River is the green squiggle and the center of Gorno-Altaisk is on the left. Ulalinsky Camp is about a mile from the city center.
Archeological work in Altai Republic has always been a source of contention between the indigenous Altai people and the Russian mainstream, especially since the discovery, excavation, and removal of two perfectly preserved 2,500-year-old mummies from permafrost on the Ukok Plateau in 1993. Altai people consider their lands to be sacred, and that disturbance of their archeological sites called "kurgans" disrupts the stability of the Earth. Research has shown that these sites are indeed electromagnetically active. Only after long and strident protests did the Altai people finally succeed in having the "Ukok Princess" mummy returned to Altai just last year. But she is not yet re-interred, as they have demanded, but a moratorium is in place preventing further excavation of kurgans.
This month, Gorno-Altaisk Mayor Victor Oblogin met with the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, to begin planning of the Ulalinskaya Camp Museum Complex.In the past twenty years, the study of archeology has shifted globally to be more respectful of the heritage rights of local peoples. Ulalinsky Camp predates the kurgans by hundreds of thousands of years however, and Altai National Museum is being consulted regarding this site, so hopefully excavations will be carried out in a culturally sensitive way that is agreeable to the indigenous Altai peoples. 100% of your support of Altai Mir University goes toward Svetlana's efforts to protect cultural heritages like this. Thank you for your continuing donations.
The epic hero Shunu rescued the Altai people from a dungeon by playing the 7-stringed dyadagan---a musical instrument out legends. Remnants of the instrument, unearthed from a kurgan in 1939, were recently rediscovered at the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. A local Altai artisan of traditional instruments attempted a reconstruction of the 2500-year-old instrument, but the sound quality falls short.
As part of Altai Mir University's ongoing efforts to revive the venerable Altai culture, our Altai project leader Svetlana Katynova is organizing a research project to analyze the fragments, in hopes of reconstruction an instrument worthy of the legends. The dyadagan was hollowed out from a piece of solid wood, was wrapped with a thin piece of skin.
A legend tells of a Khan of Altai who had seven sons. When an invasion wiped out all of his people, he made his seven sons into a musical instrument and hid it in the cleft of the mountains. The instrument absorbed all the sounds of nature and could play by itself, emitting marvelous melodies. There are many related legends from Altai oral history, including one about a constellation of seven "men of power." Recently, I was sent a video shot next door to Altai in Mongolia where the music is in the same tradition. The video is in Dutch, but the music is fabulous, showing the richness and the international impact of the musical renaissance we are fostering in the Altai Mountains. The link is attached.
Thank you for your continuing support for such valuable projects.
After the children stranded in Gorno-Altaisk because of washed-out roads were able to get home, project leader Svetlana Katynova made the grueling two-day trip to Tyungur Village at the base of Mount Belukha. With your donations for materials, she had built a free children's camp there over the past several years, to immerse local children in their native culture and to teach them their language and heritage.
The camp was completely destroyed by the flooded Katun River, which rose in June to thirty feet above normal spring highs. What remained is a tangle of tree trunks and brush. Svetlana made the best of it: "At least we won't lack for firewood this winter."
However, because Tyungur Village was completely flooded and the villagers are essentially on their own, the kids' camp was needed more than ever -- if only to free the adults to rebuild their homes. Svetlana arranged for the camp to be moved to the Ust Kan district, which was not affected by the flooding. She sends her deepest gratitude for your donations that enabled the camp to continue.
Then she and her husband Sasha -- both senior citizens now -- returned to Tyungur to help with the clean-up. The villagers may have plenty of wood, but their subsistence gardens were all washed away. So your autumn donations will help provide for winter food, which is essential for cultural sustainability. Thank you for your interest and support.
Altai Republic is under water and bridges have been swept away. Because the villages are all on riverbanks, most of the housing for 200,000 people has been flooded. Help is needed. Here is the letter from Svetlana Katynova, who implements all our humanitarian projects there.
Both the immediate and longer-term problems are food, water, shelter, and water-borne disease. Any help you can give at this time will be used for these most basic needs.
An ongoing problem in Altai Republic is the disrespecting of sites that are sacred to the Altai people. This takes many forms, but the garbage left on sacred Mount Belukha by tourists and climbers has been particularly egregious. The mountain is both a Russian national park and and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
However, our Altai partner Svetlana Katynova knows how to "make lemonaid from the lemons." She's using the 100th anniversary of the first ascent of Mount Belukha (altitude 14,783 feet) as impetus for the first-ever major clean-up of the complex of trails around the mountain. In 2006, an Altai Mir University expedition did a clean-up at the base of the mountain, but this project is much more ambitious.
The clean-up is co-organized with Igor Saylankin (Director of National Nature Park “Belukha”) and supported by the Altai Republic Ministry of Tourism, Ust Koksa District Administration, owners of local tourist facilities, and local individuals involved in tourism. 100 kilometers of trails will be divided into sections for which groups from different cities are being invited to take responsibility.
Svetlana and I -- and the Altai people -- thank you for your ongoing support, which makes projects like this possible.
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