Those that tied a knot of iron


“Our land is the motherland of different material culture, their original place,” states the program article of the President Nursultan Nazarbayev on “Seven Facets of the Great Steppe.”

Some of the Eurocentric views of history misinterpreted that “nomads did not have major cities and large industrial premises.” In fact, as it is noted in the President’s “Seven facets of the Great Steppe” article, our land is the place of originof different objects of material culture.”


Among the Turkic peoples, blacksmiths who easily coped the iron and melted steel weretreated with special honor since ancient times. As the well-known Rashid ad-Din’s chronicles tells, when our ancestors were unable to escape from Ergenekon and stalled, they made a giant bellow of Temirshi blacksmith’s seventy bull skins, then kindled coal on iron hillside and melted the mountain, thereby reached their home.

After the first passionary adventure of the Hunic era, it is also significant that the powerful ruler of the Great Steppe was also called Temujin (literal meaning: blacksmith). Similarly, the name of Amir Temir, who started the era of Renaissance in Turkistan, is also the effect of this idolizing. Therefore, considering of blacksmith craft in the new century by the President as a profession of Turkic ancestors–is the revival of tradition.

The Golden Men, found in Esik of Alatau, Berel of Altai, Eleke saz of Tarbagatai, are clear evidence of well-developed Jewelry Art traditions in the vast steppes. Decorated harness and iron stirrup of the horses, first domesticated in the Great Steppes, its bridle, the armor of a warrior are valuable items of blacksmith craft. A picture of a heavily armed Turkicwarrior holding a steel sword, and a long elbow in his hands often appers on the rocks carved by our ancestors. This is the symbol of heroic history of the Turkic dynasty, and a stone evidence of our epic images. The heroes are described in poems as “golden stirrups, golden crupper, and a saddle with golden sides”.

That is why Turkic rulers appreciated iron masters, blacksmiths and gave them a special social status. There was a group of craftsmen in the society, and who was engaged only in their father's profession, and later they became separate tribes. For example, steel (turk. bolat) masters became bolatshy, masters of making arba frames became kangly. The above-mentioned joints have a great deal in the structure of Kazakh ethnogenesis, and their descendants are now among us. Ancient poem “Oghuz-name” preserved the original inventor's name. “There was a good master in the parade of Oghuz Kaghan. His name was Barmaklyk Zhosin Bilik. This master inventedan arba. He put his prey on arba, and harnessed alive prey ahead the arba and just carried it. People saw it, andthey all made a frame of arba,” states the legend. The legend connects invention of arba with this story.


Famous academicians K. Satpayev and A.Margulan state in their researches that Central, North and East Kazakhstan regions werelarge centers of metallurgy production in ancient times. Especially such fields of Central Kazakhstan as "Kyryk Shuryk", "Kalaiy Kazgan", "Myn shunkyr", "Bes Shuryk", "Zhezkazgan", "Kenkazgan", "Usta", "Kara Temir" and "Temirtau" first appeared in Bronze Ages and there is data that some of them were mined until Middle Ages, and even continue today.

Bronze Age residents could process metal, bronze, tin, and other minerals from the fields in this region and use for own needs. The process of exploitation of metal in the Great Steppe and the use in human life rapidly developed in the Saka era. For example, the Greek writings tell that Saks, Sarmat, massagete people had a lot of copper and gold, and that they were well aware of metal production.

Herodotus and Strabo's texts say: “Asian Scythians have so much gold that they wear rich garments of gold jewelry from heads to feet, and even their saddles are decorated with gold.” There is not only one proof of these texts, a few golden people were found in the territory of Kazakhstan, which showed the glory of the Turkic civilization to the whole world.

A.Margulan said that Scythian people rich in gold and copper, mentioned by Herodotus,“coincides with today's Central and Northeastern regions of Kazakhstan, Altai and Tarbagatay regions.”Various types of metal are mined in the Altai territory since Bronze Ages, and Saka times. Famous archeologist S.I. Rudenko conducted research work in the Altai region and said that this region was one of the largest centers of metallurgy, and there were largest reserves of gold. Much golden jewelry was found in Arzhan, Berel and Shiliky mounds ofAltai region belonging to Saka era. In his article, the President payed more attention on Altai as it was large metallurgical center and golden cradleof all Turks. The poet Isa, who understood rich potential of Altai earlier than any geologists did, described Altai with great sympathy: “Beauty of Altai, air of Altai, and the earth full of goldand silver”.

Famous Turkologist N.Y. Bichurin said, “Altai mountains are noted in Chinese texts as Jing Shan, meaning Golden Mountains.” (“Altan” in Turkic-Mongolian means “golden”). Therefore, it is obvious that the concept of "Altai is full of gold" is preserved among people since ancient times.


In subsequent epochs, the traditional craft of metalworking developed even more. In particular, in the states of Wusun and Kangly. Weapons and household items were made of bronze and iron. The smelting of iron, lead and gold actively developed in the era of the Turkic Kaghanate. When Turks took the historical scene, their knowledge about metallurgy increased.

For example, the Chinese chronicles state that Ashina Turks, who migrated to the mountains of Altai, were originally subordinate to the Rouran (Ju-Juan) Empire and paid taxes with iron products. According to historical documents, Rouran ruler Anahuan called Turks "my iron masters."

This confirms that metallurgy was one of the main traditional crafts of Turks. Lev Gumilyov has a thesis that “nomads have long been familiar with iron, but only among Turks its use became widespread.” This is just evidence that, among our ancestors, processing of iron became a national craft.

As a result of archaeological research conducted in Altai, Khakassia and Tyva, a number of mines and remnants of iron-smelting furnaces have been discovered. They belong to the ancient Turkic era. Among archaeological finds are iron weapons: lances, arrows, bows, maces and sabers. Turks not only mastered the art of iron processing, but also reached the highest level of art in the production of weapons and military armor.

Turks, as a result, “conquered all four directions of the world,” as it is glorified in the Orkhon monuments. When the territory of the Turkic Kaghanate expanded, and it became a powerful state, the Great Silk Road came under the control of Turks. The main artery of the Great Steppe had a significant impact on the development of trade, the economy as a whole, as well as political diplomacy among Turks.

The Great Steppe became the golden bridge between the West and the East, gave the opportunity to various ethnic groups to live in peace and harmony. Written sources also mention that various iron products were transported along the Silk Road routes, which were highly valued as a valuable commodity. For this reason, the Silk Road was sometimes called the “Steel Way”. So, for example, the Byzantine sources have information according to which Turks were selling iron products of the Eastern Roman Empire. And the Byzantine ambassador Zemarh reported that the Turks who met him sold him iron, and also showed him samples of iron ore and various metals in order to demonstrate the level of their political power. During his travels, Zemarh was received by the West-Turkic Kaghan Dizabul. Later on, he described the excellent Khan's residence: “... We met the kaghan where he hunted and where his residence was located. Khan led us to his tent, covered with beautiful silk.

Inside the tent was his golden throne, there were so many golden dishes, silverware, golden animal sculptures, and other precious objects. After that, he led us to another tent, the threshold of which was also gilded, and inside there were many objects of gold and silver, so that the eyes would run. That is the gilded residence of the Turkic ruler.” If we take into account that the Western Turkic kaghan Dizabul was in fact the famous Istemi Kaghan, who owned the lands between Karatau (at that time called Yekitau) and Alatau, it becomes clear that the gorges of ancient Alatau were rich deposits of ore since ancient times.  


The well-known scientist L.N. Gumilyov relied on such data, when he asserted that “on the historical scene, Turks were one of those peoples who first mastered the industrial production of iron in Central Asia.” In the period of the Kazakh Khanate, the development of ore deposits continued. At the same time, khans and sultans had their own mines. For example, in the records of the scout of the Siberian branch F. Nazarov, who visited the Kazakh steppe with a secret assignment, it is reported that Ualikhan (grandfather of famous Shokan) owned his own ore mines in the Kokshetau region, where lead was produced. In his report, F. Nazarov points out that Khan Ualihan, not wanting to show his personal field “Myn shunkyr” (Thousand Pits) to Russian researchers, deliberately sent Shangin's expedition in the other direction.

He, under penalty of punishment, forbade showing the Khan's mines to Russian researchers. Alkei Margulan’s studies reported about private mines that existed at the time of Tauke Khan and Abylai Khan. The deposits of gold or other valuable ore could belong only to the Khan dynasty. This tradition has long been preserved in the Kazakh society. The Khan's personal guard guarded such mines from robbers and from all strangers. Historical legends about such “zhigits guarding gold” are spread from Tarbagatay and Altai to Kokshetau. These interesting sources resemble the legend from Herodotus' records on griffons (Samruks) guarding the gold of the Saka kings. In Saka mounds of Altai (Berel, Pazyryk) sculptures of griffins confirming these legends were found.

The ancient Turkic tradition of metalworking and blacksmith's craft later found its continuation among some Turkic peoples. For example, Shor people living on the other side of Altai Mountains, in ancient times, made smithing their main profession. Shors produced various metal products, which they paid to submit to the Dzungars. The mountain region, where Shors live, today is called the Smithing Alatau. And the name of the city of Novokuznetsk also bears the memory of the Shor blacksmith masters. These facts may well be considered as a vivid example of historical continuity of the ancient Turkic metallurgical tradition.    


The existence of such geographical names as “Temir kapyk” (“Iron Gate”), “Bakyrlyk Tau” (“Copper Mountain”), “Bakyrshak” (“Medyanka”), “Temir Tau” (“Iron Mountain”), “Kumіs tobe” (“Silver hill”), preserved to this day, should be separately noted. Among such names is also the name of the Temirshi Mountain (Blacksmith) in the Karkaraly region, where one of the largest ore deposits is located. It may be a toponym left over from ancient times, what is a living testimony of the ancient Turkic tradition. Geologist G.D. Romanovsky, who visited Temirshi Mountain at the end of the 19th century, reported that he had discovered iron ore deposits in this place. Subsequently, the Central Kazakhstan region, where Temirshi Mountain is located, turned into a major center of metallurgy, and the famous Temirtau Iron and Steel Plant was built there.

Today the city of Temirtau has a special meaning for us. After all, there was raised a whole generation of Kazakh metallurgists, who have done a lot for their country. From the history of Kazakh ethnography it is known that at one time there were many skilled craftsmen who melted iron and made weapons, horse equipment, beautiful utensils of gold and silver. It is obvious that many terms such as “Temir” (iron), “temirshi” (blacksmith), “darkan” (hereditary great master), “zerger” (jeweler), “usta” (Master), “korіk” (blacksmith bellow), “duken” (blacksmith shop), “tos” (anvil), as well as thousands of other similar names appeared in ancient times and later entered the vocabulary of Kazakh language. And in our days, the memory of ancient craftsmanship is preserved in the nation’s memory as a continuous tradition.

It should be noted that a particularly respectful attitude to the blacksmith shop, the blacksmith's bellow, the hammer and the anvil - to everything related to the blacksmith's profession, has long existed among people. Moreover, in folklore there was a perception of the prophet David as the patron of blacksmith’s craft, to whom such poetic addresses were devoted: Taking coal from the air, Brewing iron, Without starting a fire! The blacksmith's bellow makes a noise, The hammer hitting an anvil, Saint David (By the will of Allah) help us! It is nice that our brothers on the other side of Altai Mountains are reviving this blacksmith tradition today.

But the question arises involuntarily: do modern Kazakhs, whose ancestors, according to the proverb, “tied knots of iron,” consider their native craft to be blacksmithing, forging and mining ore? During our childhood, there was a hammer with an anvil and a grinding machine in every house next to a horse harness. I think it would be nice if this beautiful tradition continue, so that the harness and the hammer with the anvil would reappear in every home. And even if they are not used in everyday life, their presence would symbolize the holiness of home. And it would also help young people to perceive metallurgy as the craft of their ancestors and the precious heritage of our people.


Doctor of Historical Sciences, Corresponding Member of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Kazakhstan.


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