The Petroglyphic Complexes of the Mongolian Altai
Visiting the Petroglyphic Complexes of the Mongolian Altai (what a mouthful!) was highly recommended by everyone I spoke to about my trip, and has long been on my ‘bucket list’ of places to visit as soon as I had the time the opportunity. I spent hours admiring the petroglyphs which document an amazing 12,000 years of Mongolian culture. This is the best preserved and oldest collection of rocks in North Asia and the earliest of the images date from about 10,000 BC which is mind blowing. The visitor center at the UNESCO World Heritage Site was excellent and there were informative signs and guidebooks explaining the importance of the complexes. The petroglyphs show a landscape where the valleys surrounding it were perfect for big-game hunting which is how the Mongolians survived and thrived.
Whilst there, I particularly enjoyed learning about the following Scythian and Turkic periods which depicts the transition to a herding culture and then towards the nomadic lifestyle using horses that Mongolia is predominantly known for. It’s incredible to have the chance to get up close to this rock art which is so many thousands of years old, and imagine the lives that the artists led. The pictures give an amazing insight into what the world was like, showing images of rhinos, mammoths and ostriches and then elk and ibex in the later periods.
On the following days, I visited the other two sites (there are three in total where you can view the petroglyphic carvings). I really enjoyed taking in the surrounding scenery too; this is something I love about visiting ancient archaeological sites – they always seem to be in some of the most stunning locations. These sites are actually in mountain valleys which were carved out naturally by glaciers in the Pleistocene age, and as well as the petroglyphs, there’s also a huge array of ritual and funerary monuments which help to map the cultural changes throughout the ages. Once I fully exhausted the history, I took in some air with a trek which took me across the rivers and ridges of the Altai Mountains, joining a small guided tour group for part of the way, because due to its remote location and inaccessibility, tourists are advised not to wander off alone! I finished this leg of my journey pleasantly rested from the fresh air and solitude, and with an even greater appreciation of the stories that the ancient Mongolians left for us so many years ago.