Reconstructing Central Asian Bullock-cart on the Basis of Cliff Art

Issue #3-4 • 2843

Petroglyphs picturing carts in the area of Karnab farm. According to G. Shatskiy

Since ancient times with many nations the image of a wheel has been a cosmogonical prototype associated with the Sun and the compass. The simplest form of a wheel had four spokes positioned at a right angle. Wheel pattern was widely used in Bronze Age jewellery ornamentation. Hence the cross symbol that was originally connected with the cult of the Sun. The myth about the Sun travelling across the sky is closely connected with means of transportation commonly used by different nations. According to the myths, the Sun either sails in a boat, or travels in a chariot. The latter version reflects familiarity with wheeled transport, and the image of a circle becomes the symbol of the Sun, echoing its look (1, Chapter VI).

Selected types of carts pictured as petroglyphs confirm their invention in great antiquity. Development of even the most primitive mode of transport is linked to the development of cattle breeding, farming and crafts. The bullock-cart called arba had become the primary mode of transport in Central Asia, and its ancient origin is proved by rock paintings.

Petroglyphs picturing carts in the area of Karnab farm. According to G. Shatskiy

Images of arba were discovered by G. V. Shatskiy in two locations on the same mountain stream of Karnab low highlands. The first one features two petroglyphs containing drawings of arba, and the second one has one drawing (2, pp. 105, 106). The three carts from Karnab were pictured from the bird’s eye perspective, i.e. as if viewed from above at an angle. In case of the third cart, however, the observation point is much lower; therefore it looks like an ordinary perspective with a slightly raised line of horizon. The horses and the driver are pictured half face in silhouette, while the cart is outlined. In all three pictures the drivers are riding the horse. Still Shatskiy questions if not the validity but the antiquity of the petroglyphs featuring circles with four spokes, as well as the pictures of the cart; he supposes that these images were carved by shepherd boys for the fun of it (2, p. 22). This opinion of Shatskiy is not quite true, as these pictures are not the only ones. In Uzbekistan the picture of a monaxonic cart was found by M. Khujanazarov in Karakiyasay (3, p. 29). A picture of arba of similar composition and structure was discovered in Mongolia (4, Fig. 163) and in Kuljabasy mountains in Kazakhstan (5, photos 1, 3, 22, 30, 37).

In Karatau mountains (Koybagar and Abai tracts) 14 images of chariots were discovered: eleven of them are drawn by horses and the remaining three – by camels. In one picture one can see a man harnessing two horses into a chariot (6, p. 501).

Petroglyphs picturing carts in the area of Karnab farm. According to G. Shatskiy

On the territory of Central Asia and Kazakhstan there are more than 140 known rock paintings of chariots and carts (3, p. 29), and a number of publications were dedicated to their academic analysis.

Pictures of Karakiyasay chariots differ from the Karnab carts in a way that all of them (4 x 5) are two-wheeled carts and, according to M. Khujanazarov, are pictured in plane (3, p. 29). Compositionally, the Karakiyasay carts gravitate more towards the chariots of Saymalitash, Karatau, etc. Apparently, the peculiar presentation of the Karnab carts put Shatskiy in doubt about their ancient origin, as there one can see a horse-mounted driver. This, however, could not have been the cause of doubt as a picture of a cart with a driver riding a bull was also discovered in Sauyskandyk (7, p. 124).

Researchers believe that freight carts were in use as early as on the verge of the 3rd and 2nd millennia B.C., and war chariots became widespread in mainland Asia in the middle of the 2nd millennium B.C. (8, p. 167). Chariots and a cart with bulls in harness should be dated to the middle of the 2nd millennium B.C. as these are more ancient than those in Yeshki-Olmes of the final Bronze Age and transition period to early Iron Age (5, p. 8).

Carts reconstructed in contemporary drawingd by Abdujabbor Nazilov

In the picture of the first arba from Karnab the distance between wheels is 1.5 times greater than the length of the horse; in the second picture the wheels and the space between them have a beautiful proportion, but the horse’s body is distorted, being too elongated. In the third image the wheel diameter is greater than in the previous pictures. According to Shatskiy, until quite recently large wheel diameter in local carts was common in northern parts of Uzbekistan, Karkalpakia and Turkmenia (2, p. 106). In Uzbekistan such kind of arba is commonly known as Quqon arava. In all three pictures the arba wheels have four spokes. P. D. Stepanov believed that the further east, the greater the number of spokes: four in Greece, six in Egypt and Assyria, eight and more in Persia (2, p. 50). Many ideas were expressed about the number of spokes as a feature that makes it possible to date a petroglyph. In this respect, quite convincing is the opinion of B. B. Piotrovskiy who noted that “when it is the matter of studying the remnants of the wheels and spokes proper, which were found during excavations, the number of spokes can indeed be the dating feature (yet not the leading one), but when the pictures of carts are studied, it is impossible to judge about the degree of schematization of the drawing, therefore, the number of spokes in the picture may not correspond to the number in the original (10, p. 152). We share Piotrovskiy’s opinion, as in the presentation of the wheels of the Karnab carts one can clearly see the conventionality in picturing not only the wheels, but also the arba itself, especially that in one of them the second wheel is drawn with no spokes at all. This, for instance, can be observed in one of the Saymaly-Tash drawings: one wheel of a chariot has eight spokes while the other has four. A chariot from Akjilgi has one wheel with seven and the other with nine spokes (12, p. 201).

In the presentation of the cart body there are some inaccuracies. In the first and second drawings there are three lines going from the wheel hub to the horse, and two lines in the third drawing. In all three instances the lines are converging towards the horse at an angle. Shatskiy believes that these lines indicate a freight platform of the cart, projecting forward from the axel (2, p. 106).

Carts reconstructed in contemporary drawingd by Abdujabbor Nazilov

The opinion expressed by Shatskiy on this matter is less convincing. If, supposedly, these projecting lines represent the frame of a freight platform, it would make it extremely inconvenient for the horse to pull the cart with cargo not only on turns, because the frame abuts the horse’s crupper. Apart from that, the freight platform is positioned between the wheel axel and the horse, which reduces its carrying capacity and puts the entire weight on the horse rather than on the cart. In this case the function of the cart is reduced to zero. Hence we believe that the lines that form a triangle cannot be the frame of a freight platform. It appears that the artist who created the drawing of the cart meant to picture a shaft. However, Shatskiy believes that shafts are not specifically shown here as they run along the horse’s body (2, p. 106). It seems to us that due to the lack of the artist’s skill the shafts are shown here in the form of a triangle, or the artist chose this particular way for his conventional presentation. It would be relevant to recall that petroglyphs carved in Khovdomon mountains (Mongolia) show images of chariots (4, Fig. 24, 26) with an arc-like plank attached to the wheel axel, which functions as an element of fastening a long shaft to the hub. Attached to the other end of the shaft are laths in the form of a triangle with two loops, which are put over the horse’s neck and harnessed on either side.

The aforementioned chariots are meant not for freight carrying but for combat and also for high speed riding; therefore there is a drawing of a platform for the rider above the wheels axel. Some researchers note, by the way, that Central Asian armies had combat chariots, probably including those equipped with scythes.

Carts reconstructed in contemporary drawingd by Abdujabbor Nazilov

In view of the above we should note that in the pictures of Central Asian arba the triangle-forming line between the axel and the horse’s body was the conventional presentation of shafts that ran alongside the horse’s body and were tied to its neck with the help of an arc-like collar. The freight platform pictured in the first and the second drawings is positioned above the axel between the wheels. In the third drawing the freight platform was above the axel, and its frontal part reached a transverse line featured in the drawing.

Validity of this viewpoint is also proved by the picture of a chariot in the shape of a cart discovered by E. A. Novgorodova in Mongolian mountains. Here the rectangular platform with oval corners is also positioned above the wheel axel.

Shatskiy’s opinion about the replacement of planking with ropes tied together is not to be questioned. For this purpose closely matched tree twigs could also be used.

Images of chariots also discovered in Kuljabasy mountains are similar to those from Mongolia. The only difference is that in the two chariots from Kazakhstan the rider’s platform is installed not above the wheel axel, but on the shafts and is slightly moved towards the centre. Petroglyphs discovered in Kuljabasy mountains prove the existence of biaxial carts in this area in ancient times (5, Fig. 8).

The structure of the Karnab cart is reproduced almost as modern one. The shafts are attached to the hub’s bush. As an extra fastening, one end of a short lath is fixed to the axel and the other one to the shaft, at an angle; and bullocks are harnessed instead of two horses. This kind of cart is practical for carrying hay or firewood, as well as for moving nomad’s yurt and family when travelling.

Thus, in our view, petroglyphs discovered in Karnab low highlands reflect the basics of Central Asian cart structure. Disregarding the artist’s miscalculation in picturing the shaft as a triangle, the basic design, although schematic, is still quite realistic, i.e. it has little difference from a late medieval arba. This proves that since ancient times the cart design has hardly changed in the process of its development.

Petroglyphs, along with the conventional arba, confirm the existence of one-axel two-horse chariots as well as biaxial carts in the northern parts of Central Asia in ancient times.

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Abdujabbar Nazilov

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