Skip to main content

What did the author of “Sannikov Land” find in the Kazakh steppes

эоловые камни
© Форпост Северо-Запад/ Горный музей

The Dzungarian Gate is a corridor, 50 kilometers long and 10 kilometers wide, between the mountain systems of the Altai and Tien Shan, the most important section of the main branch of the Great Silk Road. Here is the continental pole of the planet - the point of greatest distance from the world ocean.

Today through this "portal" passes the shortest railroad route from Europe to Asia. About the saturated energy of the place does not let you forget the constant strong wind - nature has created here a natural wind tunnel.

The "coast", where the sand of Kazakh steppes meets the mountains, is dotted with pebbles. But not ordinary - Aeolian. It is processed not by water, but by the wind. To be more exact, it is made of sharp grains of sand, which "bombard" the stones with a great speed. Unlike water, the air flow acts directionally, so the aeolian pebbles have a ribbed surface. It is possible to draw a conclusion about the wind in this area.

© Форпост Северо-Запад/ Горный музей

Not far from the Dzungarian Gate, the Russian writer and geologist Vladimir Obruchev discovered a work of natural architecture in 1907. The weathering created a semblance of a large city on several dozens of square kilometers. At the land pole of the world, the power of Aeolus, lord of the winds, was not any weaker than on the islands of the same name, glorified by Homer.

An excerpt from the Odyssey about the reception of travelers by Aeolus in his ancestral fiefdom:

"Soon we came to the island of Aeolia; there dwells
Hippo's son, Aeolus the noble, beloved by the gods. <...>

The fur on my large ship he had tied with silver thread...
and he tied it tight, so that there could not be a slight breeze...
of the winds; Zephyr only gave the command to breathe with a passing breath
to see us off in our ships upon the waters."

фреска Возвращение Одиссея
© Возвращение Одиссея, фреска Пинтуриккио, 1508-1509 год

The mountains have tightened the valley in the area of the Dzungarian Gate no worse than an aeolian thread. The result of the strictly directed work of the air element is described in detail by Obruchev:

"The sun was already setting when we passed the dry channel at the foot of Khara-arat and entered this chain of low black hills, entirely covered with rubble and debris of weathered rocks and almost devoid of any vegetation. <...>

We drove for quite a long time over these dismal hills and finally reached the southern slope of the chain, where the terrain had a completely different appearance, which struck us with its originality. One would have thought we were in the ruins of some ancient city. We drove as if through streets bordered by massive Asian-type buildings, with cornices and columns, but without windows. <...>

Here streets and alleys of different lengths and widths alternated one another, in places - squares, furnished with massive walls two or three stories high, with cornices, with round kernels sticking out in the walls, towers - round and square - of different sizes, pyramids, pillars, needles, figures singly and in groups."

Джунгарский Алатау
© Джунгарский Алатау / Ivan Oleynikov,

The writer found no traces of life, but saw rocks impregnated with oil. If the city had been inhabited in ancient times, the underground deposit would have helped with heat, lighting and even defense. It is known that as early as the 4th century B.C., the Chinese used to repel nomads with a semblance of "Molotov cocktails."

Based on the prints of bivalve freshwater shells found, Obruchev concluded that the city once had drinking water as well. Nature had taken care of everything necessary for life. Even more - quaint natural structures create an aesthetic environment, which could be inspired by ancient sculptors and architects.

An ideal place for an ancient metropolis, the "belly of the earth" on the border between the western and eastern parts of Eurasia. True, Obruchev did not find traces of man in the Aeolian city. However, he was not an archaeologist, and the intensive search for artifacts in the Dzungarian valley began only after World War II.

Participants of expeditions to Central and East Asia at the time of Obruchev's campaigns, in his words, "were beckoned by more distant and interesting tasks in Tibet, Nanshan, Kunlun." On their way back, the weary travelers "hurried to return home." Perhaps the city would still show signs of life.

With typical samples of aeolian pebbles or otherwise windmills can be found in the exposition of the Mining Museum of St. Petersburg.