Diving, measuring, plotting: we’ve been at Issyk Kul for more than a month and it’s time to get out of camp! You’ll never understand a phenomenon like this magnificent high-altitude lake on the Silk Road by staying in just one place for the whole time, so we packed our bags and headed out on a four-day tour around the tenth-largest lake in the world to see sites that stretched from the Stone Age to the 21st century.
Our first stop was the eastern town of Kuturga, where we stayed at a small house on the lake close to the settlement of Chigu, the ancient royal court of the nomadic and powerful Wusun. We planned to dive Chigu, but the steady stream of thunderstorms over the course of two days put a knot in our plans.
The most important aspect of our trip around the lake was to get a better understanding of what was happening at our site. For instance, we happened upon a modern “brick factory” where residents were extracting clay and mixing it with straw to fashion the sun-baked bricks that are familiar to any archaeologist working in Central Asia.
We also visited the site of an ancient Nestorian Christian monastery along the Silk Road believed to be the burial site of St. Matthew, who died along the shore of the lake on his way to India.
Unlike the verdant landscape of the north coast of Issyk Kul, the southern side of the lake is arid and, in some parts, amazingly reminiscent of the American Southwest. Submerged sites along the southern coast include a city allegedly built by soldiers of Alexander the Great.
We were also incredibly fortunate to be joined by Maxim Menshikov, an archaeologist who often works with Vassily and is currently excavating sites ahead of the 2014 winter Olympic Games in Sochi in the Russian Caucasus Mountains. He has great experience in excavating settlements in the region and is helping us understand the building construction we’re encountering under water. In addition, Viktor Lyagushkin, a leading underwater photographer for National Geographic Russia, and his partner Bogdana Vashchenko met up with us to go diving around the lake.
Following several days of bad weather we were ready for a dive, so we stopped by the submerged settlement of Toru Aigir (ancient Sikul) and were introduced to its remarkable 2000+-year-old underwater remains by Anatoly Kolesnikov, who has been studying the site for 10 years.
It was a fascinating, whirlwind trip that involved everything from trekking high Alpine meadows to diving millennia-old sites, but now it’s time to get back to work at our own site. Maxim and Anatoly have dove in (pun intended) with both feet, and are busy helping to measure and map the enormous amount of construction features that we’re finding.
We’ll be posting another update soon, but in the meantime have you watched our recent Google+ Hangout?