Archaeology team uncovers new evidence of ancient Christianity in Kazakhstan
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following report is by the Tandy Institute for Archaeology’s Tom Davis, professor of archaeology and biblical backgrounds at Southwestern Seminary as well as chair of its archaeology department.
A joint international team from the Tandy Institute for Archaeology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (under the field direction of Tom Davis) and Archaeological Expertise LLC based in Almaty, Kazakhstan (led by Dimitri Voyakin), has undertaken a second season of archaeological investigation at the site of Ilyn Balik, a medieval city, first excavated by the joint team in 2016, within the boundaries of the village of Usharal. Last year, the team discovered seven inscribed gravestones clustered on the surface outside of the main area of settlement of the site. The suspected grave markers all have inscribed Nestorian-style crosses, and two of them have fragmentary inscriptions.
This year’s investigations targeted the location of these markers and sought to identify any associated graves. Although no graves were identified by the 2017 field team, seven additional inscribed stones were recovered.
One of the newly found stones has an inscription in old Turkic written in Syriac script, which has been preliminarily deciphered. The stone commemorates an individual with a Turkic name who is identified as a Christian priest.
The new discoveries provide context for the previously discovered stones and identify an associated Christian community. This discovery is the first archaeological evidence for an indigenous Christian community during the medieval period within the borders of the Republic of Kazakhstan. This discovery supports the understanding of medieval Kazakhstan as a multi-cultural community.
The Kazakhstan government, cognizant of their multi-cultural history, has created the Center for Cultural Rapprochement under Karl Baipakov, Kazakhstan’s leading archaeologist and a world-renowned specialist on the Silk Road. Under Baipokov’s leadership, the center has encouraged archaeological work focused on illuminating the varied cultural strains in Kazakhstan’s history and actively supports the joint teams’ efforts.
The joint team presented their new discoveries at a recent international conference sponsored by the center on “Religions of Kazakhstan and Central Asia on the Great Silk Road” held in Almaty on June 12, 2017.