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1,500-Year-Old Gold Buckles Depicting Enthroned Ruler Discovered In Kazakhstan


Aug 19, 2003
Picture this: Khagan of theGokturks.

1,500-year-old gold buckles depicting ruler 'majestically sitting on a throne' discovered in Kazakhstan​

By Tom Metcalfe published about 19 hours ago

The ornaments contain the earliest known depiction of a Göktürk "khagan," who probably lived in the sixth century.

We see a circular gold belt buckle that features a ruler sitting on a throne.

Some of the details on the best-preserved plaque have melted, but it shows a Göktürk khagan seated on a throne that represents two horses, flanked by kneeling servants. (Image credit: Z. Samashev)

Archaeologists in Kazakhstan have discovered two gold ornaments in a 1,500-year-old tomb that feature the earliest known depictions of the great khan, or "khagan," of the Göktürks — a nomadic confederation of Turkic-speaking peoples who occupied the region for around three centuries, according to an archaeologist who excavated the site.

The lavish gold plaques portray "the crowned sovereign, majestically sitting on a throne in a saintly pose and surrounded by servants," Zainolla Samashev, an archaeologist at Kazakhstan's Institute of Archaeology who led the excavation, told Live Science in an email. "This clearly depicts the sacred nature of power in ancient Turkic society."

The finds are from the Eleke Sazy site near Kazakhstan's remote eastern borders with China, Mongolia and Russian Siberia, where Samashev and his colleagues have worked since 2016.

The sixth-century Göktürk tomb holds the remains of a nobleman, probably a "tegin" — or "prince" in the Old Turkic language — whose burial site had developed by the seventh century into a "cultic memorial complex" that deified the deceased man, Samashev said.

Samashev thinks the prince may have belonged to the royal Ashina clan of khagans — meaning "sovereign" in Old Turkic, and the origin of the word "khan." The Ashina clan founded two Turkic states in the central Eurasian Steppes between the fifth and eighth centuries and ruled until they were conquered by another Turkic group who became

The two gold plaques were found in the central chamber of the tomb where the prince was cremated; one was badly damaged by the fire of the cremation.

Measuring about 1.5 inches (3.7 centimeters) across, both seem to be a form of belt buckle that would have had two ends of a belt threaded through a hole at its base so they hung down from the waist. Such buckles seem to have been a symbol of power in Turkic society, Samashev said, and may have signified that the wearer was a person of high status.

The khagan is shown in the center of each plaque, wearing an ornate crown and seated on a throne that depicts two horses; he is flanked by two kneeling servants offering food from a plate and a bowl.

These are the earliest verified depictions of a khagan of the Göktürk people, and probably of the great khagan himself, Samashev said.

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