It’s the summer of 2018, and Dr. Zainolla S. Samashev is back in the remote mountains of eastern Kazakhstan. Since 1998 the archaeologist has been excavating kurgans – heaps of stone and soil associated with burials dating back more than 2,500 years. But while Samashev and his team have made some stunning discoveries over the years, what they find this summer is utterly astonishing.
It was a people known as the Saka who had created the elaborate kurgans. The Saka were Iranian nomads who lived throughout eastern Eurasia from around the 8th to the 2nd century B.C. And although their precise history remains murky, it is believed that the Saka were closely connected with another ancient people: the Scythians.
Both the Scythians’ and the Sakas’ origins can be traced back to earlier peoples called the Karasuk and the Andronovo. The Karasuks’ time was some 3,500 years in the past, and they lived in Eurasia. The Andronovo, meanwhile, inhabited central Eurasia during the Bronze Age from around 4,000 years ago. And like the Saka, both the Karasuk and the Andronovo peoples buried their dead in kurgans.