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THE HISTORY OF THE KARACHAI-BALKARIAN PEOPLE

CHAPTER III

EARLY ANCESTORS OF BALKARIANS AND THEIR TERRITORY

The origin of the traditional culture of Turk tribes

Ethnographic science widely employs the so-called retrospection method to study the roots of traditional culture. Indeed, the observation of the historical past through the specific features of modern culture may give important historical information.


Applying this method to the investigation of the possible origin traditional Turk culture, we discover, that the material and spiritual culture of many of them manifests the following characteristic features:
• burying their dead in barrows, wooden frames and logs;
• accompanying the dead with the sacrificial horses;
• using horseflesh, koumiss, airan etc. for food;
• living in felt tents (yurts), manufacturing things of felt (clothes, household articles, furniture etc.);
• mobile (nomadic) way of life, with cultivating mainly small cattle, horses etc.

Searching for the chronological and geographical sources of these peculiarities, one can soon discover that Altai, which is usually considered as the motherland of Turks, does not seem to reveal any archeological or other indications for them. The summation of all scientific data available leads to the conclusion, that the ancient roots of Turk peoples and their culture must be sought for in some other places. This original territory appears to lie between Volga and Ural (Itil and Jaik, or Yaik). Here, on the boundary of IV–III millenniums BC, the so-called barrow or pit culture had formed, combining all the typical habits of Turks listed above. It should be noted, that these features do not appear in the culture of any Indo-European people, neither in antiquity nor today. This fact is of ultimate scientific importance for studying the culture-historical heritage of Turk peoples, including Karachai-Balkarians.

Original territory and contacts of pra-Turk tribes

In the beginning of III millennium BC, the pit culture, with the habit of barrow burial, originally formed between Volga and Ural gradually spread to the adjacent territories. In its movement to the North, it comes to contact with the culture of the Ugro-Finnish group, the ancestors of Mari, Mordvinians etc. In the West direction, this culture got mixed with the culture of the earliest pra-Slavic tribes on the banks of Dnieper, Dniester, Danube and their tributaries.

Powerful migration of the barrow (pit) culture occurred in the East and South-East directions to the center of Middle Asia, Kazakhstan, Altai upland and Southern Turkmenistan. In these areas, the ethnogenetically uniform Afanasiev culture was formed, taking the name from the mountain Afanasievo near Minusinsk hollow. In their movement to the East, the ancient Europeoid “pitters” gradually got mixed and acquired a Mongoloid outlook, though relatively “pure” Europeoids could be met in Altai highlands until VIII century BC The deeper in Asia, the more Mongoloid features appeared in the formerly Europeoid “pitters”. Across Aral steppes and South Turkmenistan, ancient pra-Turk “pitters” penetrated the adjacent areas of Iran and Afghanistan. There they mixed and entered ethnocultural contacts with Iranian-language tribes and peoples (Fig. 2).

In the migration process, ancient “pitters” entered, along with cultural, linguistic contacts with many tribes, speaking ancient Indian, Iranian, Ugro-Finnish, pra-Slavic and Caucasian languages. This circumstance explains the presence of many Turkisms in those languages, as well as the appearance of many words ascending to them in Turk dialects.
All the available scientific data from archeology, ethnography, ethnotoponymics and other facts tell that Altai upland was the secondary original land for a number of Turk tribes, whence they began, in the historical times, periodic aggressive and peaceful migrations back to the West, to the former regions of their origin near the Ural and in the steppes of Southern Russia.

Caucasus and ancient pra-Turks. Maikop culture

The earliest pra-Turks, representing the pit (barrow) culture, intensively migrated in the Caucasus direction too. Here, they encountered and entered ethnocultural and linguistic contacts with the ancient Caucasian tribes, which did not have the habit of mound-burials before. Barrows discovered in Caucasus and then in Fore-Asia and Asia Minor were brought there by ancient “pitters”, the ancestors of modern Turk peoples (Fig. 3).

The most old archeological indication of the presence of pra-Turk tribes in Northern Caucasus is the so-called “Nalchik tumulus” dated by the end of IV millennium BC This tumulus was located on the territory of Zatishie region, the present city of Nalchik. The findings from Nalchik tumulus reveal very close interrelations and contacts between the Caucasian tribes and the most ancient “pitters”. These contacts and relations grew stronger with time. The relics of ancient “pitters” were also found at stanitsa Mekenskaya in Checheno-Ingush republic, at villages Akbash and Kishpek in Kabarda, at village Billim in Balkaria, in many regions of Krasnodar region and Karachai-Cherkess autonomy (stanitsa Kelermesskaya, Novolabinskaya, khutor Zubovsky, near the town Ust-Jegut and other places). The number of archeological complexes attributed to ancient “pitters” amounts to more than 35 in Northern Caucasus.

All available historical, archeological and ethnocultural data tell that the earliest ancestors of Turk peoples already lived in Northern Caucasus more than 5000 years ago. Later, in the middle of III millennium BC, there formed the so-called Maikop culture, called so after a barrow excavated in present Maikop. It should be stressed that Maikop culture definitely belongs to the barrow type, which was not inherent in Caucasus, but was the ethnocultural characteristic of steppes, where the barrow culture came from. On the early stages of development, Maikop culture retained the steppe forms and the burial in large pits in the ground, with wooden walls and the bedding of bark, organic substances, or just yellow clay; no stone constructions have been found in such barrows and pit burials. It is only later, in the end of III millennium BC, specifically in its last third, that Maikop culture began to clearly manifest the local peculiarities of the burial rite, such as various stone insertions in the foundations of barrows, stone bedding in the burial chambers, little stone barrows immediately above the grave, inside the earth mound and so on. Still, the very barrow form and the burial rite were always preserved. The influence of “barrowers” was so strong, that even such typically Caucasian burial elements like stone boxes and even of huge sizes stone dolmens built of heavy boulders were put under the mound, which is especially demonstrative in the monuments found near stanitsa Novoslobodnenskaya.

Barrow culture, with its specific ethnocultural features, began to penetrate the territory of present Turkey (in Anatolia) in the end of IV millennium BC Unknown in these lands before, the newly appearing manifestations of this culture have been found in valleys along the river Amuk in the North-West of Syria, at the foothills of Amanus mountains, in the Turkish province Khatai, in the regions Norsun-tцpe, Tцpesik, Koruku-tцpe and other areas of Turkey and Syria. The carriers of this culture brought here their own traditions, cattle-breeding way of life, skills horse rearing etc.

Pra-Turk migration to Transcaucasus and Fore-Asia

In the last third of III millennium BC, barrows began to penetrate Southern Caucasus from Northern Caucasus through Derbent passage (Daghestan) and the territory of the present Krasnodar region. These migration ways can be easily traced by the barrows near stanitsa Novotitarevskaya and village Utamish in Daghestan. Transcaucasian archeologists are unanimous in that the barrow culture appeared here in a sudden manner, being absolutely alien for the local tribes. The traces of barrow culture are known in many regions of Transcaucasus, the earliest ones being those located near village Bedeni in Georgia, as well as the barrows of Uch-tцpe in Azerbaijan and others.

From there, the barrow culture moved on to the South, reaching the shores of lake Urmia in Fore-Asia.
In Transcaucasus, Fore-Asia and Asia Minor, the ancient sheep-breeding “pitters” encounter settled agricultural tribes for the first time. The symbiosis of the two cultures was a natural result, with different ethnocultural lines getting mixed. Finally, this symbiosis gave life to a settled agricultural and cattle-breeding ethnic community, combining the both kinds of economic structure.
This symbiosis gave a strong impulse to the formation of the civilization world-wide known as Shumer (Somar, Suvar) on the territory of ancient Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). The carriers of Maikop culture from Northern Caucasus and ancient Shumerians established most firm culture-economic links, which can be said by the discoveries of similar characteristic elements of arms, ornaments etc. both in the cities of Shumer and Maikop barrows. It must be noted that such similar articles can be found in the relics of Shumer and North-Caucasian Maikop barrows, but almost never in the antiquities of the intermediate territories, neither in Transcaucasus not in the other regions of Northern Caucasus. The contacts between “Maikopers” and Shumerians had the character of relations between a long isolated part of the ancient pra-Turk tribes with their original motherland in Northern Caucasus and adjacent Eurasian steppes. There may be the impression of the transitory character of these relations, which could probably be explained by the similarity of their traditions and culture.


There are numerous indications that ancient Shumerians were a part of pra-Turk tribes separated from the rest of them since long ago. This could explain the presence of that many Turk words in their language, stressed by many scientists of the previous century and today.

Shumer-Karachai-Balkarian lexical parallels

The analysis of ancient Shumerian cuneiform texts carried out by many scientists shows that the major part of Shumerian words exactly repeat common Turk (and Karachai-Balkarian) words, and occasionally whole phrases. For instance, in the Song of Hilgamesh (Bilgamesh), there is Balkarian phrase “Soьn Eteiik”, that is, “Let us make an immolation (sacrifice)”. Another example is an inscription addressed to the deity Hudei (which surprisingly resembles Kazakh “Kudai”, god) on a monument of XXIV century devoted to it. One can discern a Karachai-Balkarian word “zanimdaginnan”, i. e. “From him, who is near”. There are many such remarkable coincidences. Let us look at just a few lexical parallels:

Shumerian words

Karachai—Balkarian words

Az few

Az few

Abame elder

Appa grandfather, abagrandmother

Baba ancestor

Baba ancestor

Gaba breast

Gabara jacket, brassiere

Daim constantly

Daiim constantly

Me I

Men I

Mu he

Bu that, he

Ne what

Ne what

Ru slaughter

Ur slaughter

Er warrior

Er man

Tu give birth

Tuu give birth

Tud was born

Tuudu was born

Ed get out

Цt move on

Char circle

Charh wheel

Guruvashservant

Karauash maid, bondwoman

Gag to thrust

Kak to thrust

Sig a blow

Sok to beat

Ush three

Ьch three

Ud fire

Ot fire

Uzuk long

Uzun long

Tush sit down

Tьsh sit down

Yeshik door

Eshik door

Ahur weight

Ahuur weight

Zhau enemy

Zhau enemy

Zher place, ground

Zher place, ground

Yegech sister

Egech sister

Or reap

Or reap

Kal stay

Kal stay

Kiz girl

Kiz girl

Kush bird

Kish bird

Uat break

Uat break

Zharik it’s light

Zharik it’s light

Zhaz write

Zhaz write

Zhьn wool

Zhьn wool

Zhol road

Zhol road

Zhir song

Zhir song

Zharim half

Zharim half

Cholpan star

Cholpan star (Venus)

Chibin a fly

Chibin a fly

Irik valukh

Irik valukh

Kur create

Kur construct

Kьre to row

Kьre to row

Koru to guard

Koru to guard

Kadau lock

Kadau lock

Kan blood

Kan blood

San number

San number; sana to count

Ikki two

Eki two

Buz break

Buz break

Ьz to tear

Ьz to tear

Sьz to filter

Sьz to filter

Yez himself

Цz himself

Alti six

Alti six

Yel death

Цl die

Ul kin

Ul son, offspring

Sen you

Sen you


There are great many such coincidences, more than four hundred. This is quite enough, to conclude about the kinship of Shumerian and Karachai-Balkarian languages.


The available scientific data tell that the migration of ancient pra-Turk “pitters” was a manifestation of the decay of an early Turk community originally represented by Afanasiev pit-culture group. This decay chronologically coincided with the decay of the ancient Indo-European community. Mutual collisions resulting from these processes were the cause of intensive lexical assimilation of Turk and Indo-European languages, as detected today. We are inclined to consider this historical phase as the first stage of the history of the formation of the Karachai-Balkarian people, which took place on territory of Northern Caucasus more than 5000 years ago.

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