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main / roads / The Time of Jolly Missions, or Combining Business and Pleasure



(Kent mountains)

There is an occupation I have long wanted to try myself in archaeology. And I got this opportunity by chance when I met a famous Kazakhstani teacher of history and archaeology. Without hesitation I agreed to spend several weeks at the dig of the Kent ancient settlement. Having known about that my girl-friend, also without hesitation, decided to go with me. And one of my class-mates, Andrey, did not quite think over details and asked to enroll him in the list of the participants of the expedition. Archaeology obviously loves people who act without hesitation, listening to the spirit of adventure living inside them.

Kent Palace
Ruins of Kent Palace

The Kent ancient settlement relates the late Bronze age and represents the famous Begazy-Dandybay culture. It is situated in the river-valley of the ranges of the Kent massif located southeastwards from the Karkaraly mountains. Kent can be called another virginal place in Central Kazakhstan . This is obviously due to lack of big water reservoirs that no rest home was built there. Only a few shallow rivers flow across these places and quite small lakes gladden the eye with their moisture.

Tourists from the neighboring Karkaraly rest homes and sanatoriums usually visit only so-called Kent Palace which did not impress me greatly and struck me, gently speaking, by its non-palacity. They say that even in the fifties of the last century the building had two floors. However, following the command of a very clever local chief, the second floor was disassembled to build a school in the neighboring village. Of course this was a high-minded plan, but followed by the stupid restoration (that fact is noted nowadays by all archaeologists), it has turned the palace or what it used to be (this is a matter of discussion) to a small hovel open to all winds.

Forty Lakes
Forty Lakes

Forty Lakes, a place which is surely the pearl of the Kent mountains, is absolutely unknown to the tourists. Lakes is certainly a pompous name. Frankly speaking I did not count how many of small reservoirs were there in the picturesque labyrinth of rocks, water and trees. Some of them may be easily called puddles, but others occupy the territory of small swimming pools are quite good for bathing in.

Next to Forty Lakes there are remain of a quarry, where various semi-precious stones (chrysoprase, amethyst, morion, quartz and others) were extracted a few decades ago. Huge caves that remained after the quarry (one could still muck stones off its walls or pick them up from the ground) became our shelter from the pouring shower once. The guys did not waste their time in vain and tried to get as many natural souvenirs.

Indeed, what sights do you need else in the Kent mountains, if these are mountains themselves? As for me, the rise of the earth surface is quite a sufficient sight itself.

View from the mountain top
View from the mountain top

Opposite to the ancient settlement was rather a high mountain I wanted to climb to see the vicinity with bird's-eye view. And on the second week of our sojourn at the excavations I succeeded in it. After the work I did not go to the camp to have supper but moved directly towards the top. In half an hour I was observing the two sides of the valley of the Kyzylkenysh river. I saw the road running to the Kent village on which Lena and I walked all day a week later on a day off given to us for being duty on Sunday. I saw a part of our camp, the road leading northwards of the Kent mountains and our excavation, tiny against the background of the wide valley.

This excavated and squared dig deepening with every coming day became our working place a whole three weeks. Next to it a dump was growing where the worked off ground was thrown. Its amount was eloquent about the efforts we made. There were eight hours of fifty minute work and ten minute break a day. There was constant heat during the work and inevitable rain during the break.

The dig
The dig

The days of the archaeological expedition were in general alike for the schedule of the dig supposes certain order, as the timetable of any other working process. Striking the gong in the morning and a person on dutys call, To the dig! this is how each day in the camp started, except for Sundays and those days when the sky was overcast strongly by stormy clouds, thus making excavations quite impossible because of water pouring from the sky.

When a settlement of the Bronze Age is excavated, the first and foremost goal is, of course, to find bronze. Besides, finding the first bronze is a high honor, especially when after two weeks there is still no bronze, and only fragments of ceramics (though they can sometimes be very interesting) and animals bones that bored everyone to death (though they are very ancient) can be found. The first green plate was found by Lena while she was overhauling the ground Stalker and I were throwing out of one of the most prospective squares. A week later a fellow with a nickname Kirpich (Brick) found a bronze arrow-head that became a wonderful decoration of the archaeological collection in Karaganda university, as I suppose.

But Kirpichs find took place long after, almost on his last day in Kent . And before, one day, everyone had to look for Kirpich. It happened during the trip to Forty Lakes that could have had quite dismal consequences.

The beginning of the way from the Forty Lakes
The beginning of the way from the Forty Lakes

One Sunday our group was driven to the region of Forty Lakes. Having promised to the chief of the expedition to return to the camp all together and not to part, we moved toward the quarry where we stayed for a long while trying to pick as many gems as possible; then we had a picnic in a small cave near one of the lakes where we hid from the rain. Then we passed a small mountain range and found out that the intentions of our group members did not coincide. Kirpich and Sasha wanted to come back to the camp that was at rather a small distance from us, somebody wanted to go to Kent Palace ; other ones were going to get to the Kent village. As a result, everyone went his own way.

We visited the Kent village and, having stocked up with wine, returned to the camp. After a while the guys who were planning to watch Kent palace, came back. Only Kirpich and Sasha were absent. But how could it have happened that the two people, who should have been the first to return to the camp, had been at a place far away from us after five-six hours? The answer was obvious: something has happened to them. The group sent for their search were unsuccessful. There was no use to continue the search in the mountains at night. That is why we informed the chief of the expedition of the missing and began waiting for the morning.

During that evening and the following night we thought over a great deal of the ways the events could develop in. Extracting the death stone (i.e. morion), that was strictly forbidden by the head of the expedition to be taken, was also made mention of. At the moments like this, everyone obviously becomes inclined to being superstitious. A huge bonfire was burning in the camp the whole night, which was designed like a landmark for the lost. But even in the dawn the situation did not change.

From early morning two scouting groups set off for the search of the lost guys. I was included into one of them, too. Within four or five hours the shouts Sasha! and Kirpich! were resounding in the neighboring mountains. Having literally lost our voices and failed to find anyone at last, at some time about the noon we moved back to the camp, as we had agreed before. But before we got to the place we ran across a scouting Gazel and a forest-guard who rushed from the Kent village to tell us that the guys spent the night at his brothers on the other side of the mountains. We could only wonder how they could have deflected so much from the settled direction and turn 90 degrees to cover the distance twice longer than that to the camp instead of passing the range and descending to the camp. As it turned out later, the guys finally met a forest-guard who realized it was getting dark and simply forbade their going back to the camp, from which they had already gone very far away. The news of the found archaeologists could be transmitted only the next morning and reached us by the noon . I cannot say that Kirpich and Sashas returning was triumphal, on the contrary, they dropped their eyes down because they could be made to return home as a punishment. However, all turned well, and everyone was safe, which was the most important.

Archaeologists' camp
Archaeologists' camp

The charm of archaeological field work, in my opinion, lies in the fact that they join people far from being ordinary, more precisely, quite extraordinary people. Most of the people I met at the dig deserve to be written at least a story about, if not a book. And it was these people (all participants of archaeological expeditions are usually called excavatologists in the popular language) that various funny events and incidents had been connected with during those several weeks in the Kent mountains. The most interesting things usually took place in the long and jolly evenings that smoothly turned to nights.

The already mentioned Kirpich was a wonderful musician and the soul of the party whose disappearance was a hard time for everyone. Oberon is a poet, musician and a wild dreamer, that is why it was very difficult to separate truth and false in his words. Stalker, a real veteran of excavations, is an archaeologist-practitioner who knows much more about digs than most people having diplomas. Lyokha is a person with a thousand of professions, and the stories about his working places suggested that he is an all-rounder. There was my class-mate Krei, a person-orchestra, who had grown more lyric. There were a lot of other people, and everyone could be remembered thanks to something personal, in his own way. I will just say that I felt quite comfortable among all those people.

Out of the events that had happened during those three weeks in the Kent Mountains (except for search of Kirpich and the company) today I recall best of all three others: the trade union, the reconnaissance and the wedding party. These events are comical to a greater extent, and that is why I will describe them accordingly.

When people work together under the supervision of someone else, there will appear someone who would like to create a trade union. Such a bright intellect was Andrey who decided to take the fate of revolutionary movement in his own hands. However, his activity though it was not even underground, greatly interested the class of exploiters who did not fail to use the words of the working people against them. The idea to have an excursion to see the Kent palace was interpreted as a proof to the fact that vital strength abounds in the working people and can and should therefore be used for productive purposes. On the whole, instead of the excursion to the Kent palace we got an excursion to the logging where all who wanted obviously had to sublime and re-direct the energy that decided to go in a wrong direction. And the joke about the Kent palace had been repeatedly recalled by the workers for a long time.

As they say, a la guerre comme a la guerre. I cannot say that our war with the newly arrived was connected with the previous revolution that had not taken place, as it usually happened in the world history. In my opinion, the folks just had to splash out the accumulated energy, and when an appropriate situation appeared, everyone was glad to profit by it. Moreover, the cause for it was more than respectful, because the newly arrived were graduates of the historical faculty and represented official science but did not consider ordinary excavatologists to be normal people and were quite arrogant and impudent. It was that they were punished for.

The night that followed after their arrival gave the best fit for our idea. It was a quiet June night, and the date changed from the twenty first to the twenty second. It was that night that the coalition of Karaganda-Temirtau excavatologists was going to disturb the aggressors perfidiously and without declaring any war. I cannot say that this decision had been made preliminary, with a sober view of things, but the fact is that Stalker and I were sent to the reconnaissance as if it were real front. Having walked until the front line that began behind our last tent, we decided to crawl to the enemy's camp. The stories about lynxes and wild boars must have done their part, and we were not mistaken to forecast that strange noise and moving shadows would easily alarm the enemy.

Lying in the mineral belt that bounded the camp, Stalker and I stirred up by self-made champagne, heard frightened voices of historians resound close to us. Above our heads dashed rays of lanterns; this all reminded movies about the war and made our task more serious and dangerous in our opinion. Gradually the voices grew louder and the lantern light more distinct. I happened to see that Stalker managed to somersault over the mineral belt at the last moment and was not noticed

It was then that I finally realized that I had been revealed. And a desperate idea came to my head that only psychological attack could rectify the situation. That is why I switched the head lamp that was meant to shine to the enemys eyes, snatched out my pocket knife and a hatchet and rushed towards the hostile group. But what have I found when reaching the enemy? Several people with axes who obviously were serious to face up a fearful beast. Their shock was evidently very strong because they could not remember my face. Instead they asked me if I had tablets for heart.

We were not mistaken about our opponents moral, and the next day they (as we had supposed) complained to the head of the expedition of our frivolous behavior. For that they were given a piece of advice to behave simpler and make friends with those people they would have to live together. Justice triumphed at last, though peoples indignation seemed to overflow into something more serious many a time.

Consecration to archaeologists

But as there was war, there should be peace, and in its brightest colors. After several weeks at the excavation the folks apparently fell into missing high-society festivals. This nostalgia did not fail at last to overflow into organizing a very important festival called wedding party. A groom and a fiancee were chosen by chance, without any implication as if to prove that a wedding party is just a cause to drink. The ceremony was organized in accordance with every canon, with the priest (who validated the matrimony, his tongue faltering), with the festive fight swarms of drunken guests, with songs and with throwing wreath. The next day it turned out that the festival had been organized on the place of some awfully ancient burial ground. Though, it was discovered by the head of the excavations who was far from being glad for our night booze-up. Due to that, we were punished the day after by doing the forced see sight of Kent during the lunch break.

It was how three weeks flew, labor combined with relaxation. And on the last day those who participated in the dig for the first time, got over the ceremony of consecration to archaeologists to leave the Kent mountains in the early morning of the following day, with a great desire to come back there.

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