Okunev sculptures – the mystery of Khakassia

Imagine yourself in the front of a stone statue reaching a height of 1 to 3.5 meters. There’s a huge mask on the top, as well as ancient animals and strange symbols around. These monuments are in the prairies and meadows of Khakassia. Overlooking the landscape, they are visible from everywhere. The most famous of these are in the museums today—specifically The State Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Minusinsk and Abakan museums. In ancient times they could be seen from the burial mounds and near to lakes.

The history of discovery

In the 18th century members of the expedition of the Russian Academy of Sciences found stone sculptures at Lake Shira. They described the scene of the ancient shamans who performed shamanistic rituals. The scientists suggested that the stele was much older than people who offered worship to it. In the 19th century, stone idols were thoroughly researched. Because of the lack of textual sources, scientists searched for analogies in other cultures. Statue hats were compared with medieval Mongolian caps. Later on the parallels were expanded: masks were compared with petroglyphs of the Amur river. Additionally, relief on the stone was compared with ritual body coloring in Eskimo and Indian cultures. It’s believed that these steles are like a prayer to the god of that location—a god expressed in the figure.

Okunev statue from Ust Abakan region

Okunev statue from Ust Abakan region. 220x50x25 centimeters. Abakan museum.

Is it a sculpture or not?

This is not a sculpture, although it would seem that it is because of the hewn shoulders & neck in the stone. It’s not simply a relief, as the drawing is a part of the stone figure. The scientists have not agreed what exactly is in front of them or what kind of art these stone steles are. They have therefore taken a different approach to analysing this phenomenon. They have chosen a special name: stone steles, or ‘Stone women’.

Space and time

In the 1960s these statues were connected to the independent archaeological culture of Okunevskaya (2 — 1 000 BC). Famous Khakassian archaeologist, Kyzlasov, discovered solar symbols as a significant part of Khakassian ancient art, which has since formed a part of the flag and the emblem of the Khakassian republic.

Okunev statue from Kopensky

Okunev statue from Kopensky mound. Abakan museum.

Each statue is inscribed in space in her own way. Draw a circle around the figure and pay attention to how the pattern changes. It follows a person, some sections & curves disappear, while others appear from a different view. Most likely this technique reflects a special ritual and mythological sense, and says in a special language something that us modern people fail to understand. Harmony and movements, internal and external, Cosmos and human; all merged into stone statues.

What are these statues about?

All sculptures have a common design & composition. But despite this, they are extremely varied.

The general pattern: the mask with transverse stripes, the complex relief in the middle of a statue, and a solar symbol. This represents a demonic creature or a shaman from mythological stories. This pattern was a part of the representation of the ancient people from the model of world in which people used to live.
Stone women: the phenomenon has no analogues anywhere in the world. Until now, scientists have set out different versions of the origin of these monuments, trying to uncover the meaning of the images. They are looking for similar artefacts around the world, but are yet to find any.

Okunev statue of the girl

Okunev statue of the girl from Ust Abakan region. 280x50x35 centimeters. Minusinsk museum.

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