The Atasu I Settlement

22 October 2019

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The Atasu I Settlement is located some 300 km north-east of the town of Zhezkazgan in Karaganda region. Surrounded by mountains on three sides, the settlement was erected on an elevated site on the left bank of River Mynbasai, the Atasu’s right tributary. The total area of the settlement is more than 15,000 square meters.

Excavation works at Atasu started in early 1970s and over the years, archeologists unearthed 25 copper-smelting complexes which contained furnaces with flue ducts and various additional structures used in metallurgic processes, from roasting to smelting and founding. Research teams uncovered hundred-meter-long open-casts suggesting that mining there had continued for several centuries.

The Atasu settlement became the first site in Kazakhstan where monuments of the full metallurgic cycles and chaîne opératoire of the ancient smelting process were uncovered: from furnace design, tools used, charging, to smelting and founding and other operations.

Excavations showed that casting and further refinement of finished products had been carried out within the settlements, as evidenced by the numerous finds of foundry molds, crucibles, and smelting ladles. Main items were cast in single-leaf or double-leaf forms.

The copper-smelting furnaces discovered at Atasu differ from those found in other areas across Eurasia in design, size and functional use. The Atasu furnace is a conical structure of the so-called shaft type with its main and working sections on the continental ground. They were made from local material using fireclay and marble slabs. Researchers also found traces of inner coating and air blast pipes. Furnaces were of single use and that is why needed application of inner coating before each smelting. Atasu furnaces must have operated with powerful artificial air blast: air blast pipes, at times 10 or more meters long, produced draft and helped to dry vessels faster.

Finds at the settlement show that Atasu foundry craftsmen had excellent knowledge of the performance of alloys and ligatures, product functions and alloy compositions, which implies not only their professional skills, but also specialization.

Copper-smelting complexes and tools found in the Atasu multilayer settlements testify that mining and metallurgy in Central Kazakhstan were the region’s permanent feature. The total amount of ore mined in the ancient mines of Central Kazakhstan is still unknown. However, the most conservative calculation of geologists says that only in ancient Dzhezkazgan no less than 1 million tons were mined. These colossal amounts of mined ore and smelted copper indeed make Central Kazakhstan one of the world centers of ancient metallurgy, with Atasu being its very heart.