The Alat Settlement of Ancient Metallurgists

20 October 2019

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Kazakh archeologists working at the Alat settlement found new proof that Central Kazakhstan was the birthplace of bronze and iron smelting. A unique archaeological complex, the Alat settlement is the first in Kazakhstan, where, along with the production of copper and bronze, bloomery iron was produced at the end of the 2nd millennium B.C.

The Alat settlement was first discovered in 1980s but full-scale excavation works did not start until 2004. It is located 250 km southeast of Karaganda, in the Karkaraly State National Natural Park on the territory of the Kent Mountain Range. The settlement stretches along the terrace in a narrow strip for almost half a kilometer.

Out of 38 burial grounds at Alat, archeologists identified 16 housing depressions of a rounded shape with diameters of up to 10-15 meters and a depth of up to half a meter. The production site was located to the east of the residential area and it is here that the remains of well-developed metallurgical production were discovered. For the first time the finds included archaeologically complete metallurgical furnaces for smelting copper ore. These furnaces, by their design and grandeur, are unparalleled with other bronze-era furnaces found across Eurasia. According to the results of the radiocarbon analysis carried out by a team of Japanese researchers, the unique artefacts unearthed at Alat date back to the 8th century B.C. This fact makes the appearance of iron smelting in the region three centuries earlier than previously thought.

Other finds such as a chisel for processing stone and metal, a tesla resembling a carpentry ax, an arrowhead for hunting birds and small animals, an awl for leather and even a metal button indicate that the first steelworkers lived and worked here in the Karkaraly region. Scholars believe that entire dynasties of ancient metallurgists mined copper and iron in Karkaraly while selling metal ingots and products far beyond the borders of their native lands.

Noteworthy that further excavation works at Alat uncovered an interesting fact about ancient people of Kazakhstan: they covered the floor of their homes with clay to protect them from groundwater and sandy soil, and also made bone carvings.