Except for the huge one in front of me.
The facing side was empty and sharp-edged. Someone had chiseled off the 6’ x 8’ surface and the petroglyphs with it. I knew it was an eBay-like situation. The rest of the stone was marked with the hunting dog, deer and hunter images we could see on other boulders across this landscape, but this face was conspicuous in its emptiness. Clearly it was a coffee table somewhere by now.
The local archaeologist quickly pointed out that when Soviets controlled this territory, granite was used as support for power poles. The rock and dry sand that make up the soil in this area is insufficient for planting lasting poles against the wind. Granite posts, one on each side of the wooden poles, added stability. In the field where we stood, was a ready supply of granite. Soviet workers didn’t understand the value of the petroglyphs as they were preparing the poles supports many decades ago. The flat approach from the road to this boulder made it perfect for truck access; the boulder’s great size meant a number of posts would be supported.
As historians, archeologists and preservationists standing in this field in this particular moment, we had trouble believing that the Soviets not ‘see’ the petroglyphs; or furthermore: Why did they not see that they had value and try to exploit it? We didn’t understand the guiding philosophies of the Soviet that were in rule at that time. For the decades of their rule, Soviets actively denied Kyrgyz history. My new colleagues explained that the Soviets even denied the existence of a Kyrgyz language. The schools taught no Kyrgyz history. Under those conditions, the Kyrgyz cultural traditions were publically buried. As a result, the petroglyphs meant nothing to the majority of natives that grew up in this area during Soviet occupation. And as a result of not knowing the history, the workers made the wrong choice for granite posts, and the fate of many of the petroglyphs were sealed, lost forever to the utility of the granite supports lining the utility poles of the surrounding roads we saw from our van driving to the site.
With the Soviets gone, now it’s time for the Kyrgyz to relearn their history. I was in that boulder field because the Kyrgyz who do know their history want to revive the oral traditions and protect the archaeological resources and the structures, and they want to be good stewards of the artifacts and documents. And they want to share that history with their countrymen and the world. Here’s hoping that the people in The Republic of Kyrgyz (until recently known as Kyrgyzstan) will succeed in their work saving their past and sharing it with their countrymen and those of us who have so much to learn about them.
About the Author: As a consultant Sarah works with museums, zoos, aquariums, gardens, and historic sites to make them more sustainable. The work can address sustainability financially through grants development, environmentally through green practice, and socially through mainstreaming activities bringing every nonprofit and its community closer together. She is the author of Is Your Museum Grant-Ready? and co-author of The Green Museum. You can find her on the Web at www.bmuse.net, and on Twitter as @greenmuseum. She lives with her family on the Eastern Shore of Maryland where they have mastered composting, recycling, and living with one car. Shorter showers are still a problem….