There’s a “Golden Man” standing in Muzium Negara, Kuala Lumpur, and with him are treasures from a land far away. If he could speak, he might tell stories of the rise and fall of empires, and of what life was like in the Eurasian Steppe where he once lived.
The Golden Man – Altyn Adam in Kazakh – is the pride of Kazakhstan. He was discovered by Kazakh archaeologist Kemal Akishev in 1969 during an excavation in the south of the country, at a site called the Issyk burial mound some 60km from the former capital Almaty.
Believed to have been a warrior or nobleman who died in battle when he was a teenager, he was buried in a suit of gold armour, complete with footwear and a headpiece 70cm high, along a sizeable hoard of gold – hence his moniker.
Visitors to Malaysia’s National Museum can now see him at The Great Steppe: History And Culture – The Procession Of The Golden Man To The World Museums exhibition, which runs until Oct 31, 2019.
“There’s a long and rich history embedded in the clothing and other artefacts found buried with our ancestors,” says Arystanbek Mukhamediuly, director of the National Museum of Kazakhstan.
“The Scythians produced gold, were skilled craftsmen, and many gold objects have been found buried with them. For instance, the Golden Man’s garment is adorned with gold pieces, many of them finely worked with animal motifs, with each one carrying its own philosophical meaning.
“We like to say that we’re able to feel the entire history of the nomadic steppe culture encapsulated in this golden warrior,” Mukhamediuly adds.
Though the Golden Man has been found to be genetically unrelated to modern Kazakhs, he – or as some experts suggest, she – is a symbol of Kazakhstan. heritage. Often referred to as the “Tutankhamun of Kazakhstan”, it’s considered one of the country’s most significant archaeological discoveries.
Inspired by the find, a Golden Warrior Monument was erected at the Republic Square in Almaty, and replicas of the Golden Man can be found in museums all over the country. Replicas also tour the world in The Great Steppe, giving other nations a glimpse into the country’s past and its rich culture.
The exhibition also features a “Golden Woman”, an ancient Scythian princess who was buried in the Terekty district of western Kazakhstan, alongside gold and silver vessels, jewellery, a horse bridle and household items.
The exhibition features around 200 objects, including weapons, kitchenware and horse trappings. Many objects were crafted in the Scythian-Siberian “animal style”, so expect to see intricate animal carvings on the exhibits.
Also on display are traditional women’s clothing from 600 BC to 500 BC, found in 2012 in western Kazakhstan. And don’t miss the reconstruction of a yurt’s interior, a traditional Kazakhs dwelling with its richly-ornamented furniture, storage solutions and equipment.
Malaysia is the only South-East Asian stop for The Great Steppe tour. Other countries have included Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, France, Japan, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Turkey and Uzbekistan.
“Through this exhibition, we want to introduce the world to the culture of the Scythians. We want to show how they were such an innovative people. They used techniques and technology that we are still trying to figure out how to recreate,” says Mukhamediuly, who was in KL for its launch this month.
The nomads of the Eurasian Steppe were a horse-riding, bow-wielding people who, by most accounts, were portrayed as fierce and brutal fighters. When engaged in war, most of the adults – including women – would partake in the battle.
Archaeological findings and research also indicate they were culturally very advanced, and had mastered metal casting and finishing techniques. Gold seemed to be the dominant funerary and burial staple.
The Golden Man, whose grave contained thousands of gold treasures, had been well preserved in the permafrost, is an insight into those ancient times.
The discovery of burial sites with female warriors on the Eurasian Steppe also suggest that Scythian women might have inspired the Greek mythology of the Amazons. They were part of the nomadic tribe that domesticated horses and were often buried with them – sometimes by the hundreds.
The nomads were among the earliest people to master horsemanship, pioneered sophisticated saddles, and were revered and feared on the battlefield. It is believed they could have inspired another Greek legend, that of the centaur (a half-human, half-horse creature).
A selection of equestrian equipment and accessories are also on display at the museum.
The Great Steppe: History And Culture – The Procession Of The Golden Man To The World Museums is on display at Muzium Negara, Kuala Lumpur, until Oct 31, 2019; 9am-6pm daily. For details, go to www.muziumnegara.gov.my.