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Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan

Monday 6 February 2012, by Catherine BISSON-SERIAN

Objects from every important museum in Kazakhstan are part of the first U.S. exhibition to present a comprehensive overview of the ancient nomadic culture of Kazakhstan – roughly the sixth through first centuries BCE, in the Altai and Tianshan regions of eastern Kazakhstan.

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Cauldron Protome of Winged Ibexes
Probably Scythian. Bronze, Almaty Region, 5th-3rd century BCE. Central State Museum, Almaty.
(Photo: Courtesy Central State Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Almaty).

The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University (ISAW) presents the first U.S. exhibition to provide a comprehensive overview of the fascinating nomadic culture of ancient Kazakhstan. On view from March 7 through June 3, 2012, Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan focuses on the peoples of the Altai and Tianshan regions, which are located in the eastern part of the country, from roughly the eighth to first centuries BC. With nearly 250 objects on loan from Kazakhstan’s four national museums, the exhibition provides a compelling portrait of nomadic culture, challenging the traditional view of these societies as less developed than sedentary ones.

Artefacts on view in the exhibition range from bronze openwork offering-stands, superbly decorated with animal and human figures; to petroglyphs marking important places in the landscape; to dazzling gold adornments that marked the social status of those who wore them. A highlight is recently excavated, never-displayed material from a fourth-third century cemetery near the Russian-Chinese border, where permafrost conditions enabled the preservation of organic materials. Included here are such objects as saddles and expertly carved horse trappings that display fascinating hybrid mythical animals, among a variety of other artefacts.

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Diadem, Gold, Turquoise, Carnelian, Coral
Scyhian, 2nd century BCE-1st century CE. Central State Museum, Almaty.
(Photo: Courtesy Central State Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Almaty)

The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University was established in 2006 by the Leon Levy Foundation. It is an independent centre for advanced scholarly research, graduate education, and exhibitions, with a mission of cultivating connective investigations of the ancient world. It therefore encourages approaches that are geographically inclusive – encompassing cultures from the western Mediterranean to China – and that cross the traditional boundaries between academic disciplines. In addition to its doctoral and postdoctoral programs, it engages the larger scholarly community and the public with an ongoing program of exhibitions, lectures, and publications.

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