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Ergaki Nature Park

Human History and Cultural heritage

     Archeological evidences indicate that humans have lived in Altai-Sayan mountain region since early Paleolithic period (800-130 thousand years ago).

     Examinations of first human settlements in the contemporary territory of Ergaki Nature Park show that Neanderthals (Homo Neandertalensis) were skilledhunters-gathererscollecting wild plantsand hunting numerous mammals such as mammoths, rhinos, horses, deer for food. Excavations at several archaeological sites of the primitive man have revealed the remains of what appear to be artifacts of historical and cultural heritage.

     The foothills of the Western Sayan mountains were inhabited by ancestors of the Sayan Turks – the Khakas and Tuvans (Tuvinians). The origins of modern religions date back to Neolithic Age (6000-3000 BC). Nowadays local people practice three main religions: Orthodoxy, shamanism and Buddhism (Tibetan Buddhism).

     Even the earliest rock paintings depict animals, figures of witches dressed in animal skins, scenes of ritual hunting and dances aimed at increasing fertility of animals and people. Researches proved that engraving sandobjects unearthed from the excavations belong to different eras, showing that in ancient times this place was acrossroads of different civilizations.

     The first Russian researches in the area were Tsar emissaries to Altan-Khan (known as Tuva now) in 1615. Vasily Tyumenets and Ivan Petrov in 1615 contributed a lot to understanding of geography and geology of Western Sayan.

     In late XIX – early X century there were the first attempts to inhabit the area. Rugged mountains and unfavourable weather conditions discouraged massive humansettlements. Few villages and cultivable lands were scattered in the valleys along streams. In 30-ies of the XIX century Russian industrialists and merchants developed large gold mines and built copper and cast iron factories.

     Significant role in development of this territory was played by a Siberian route to Tuva and China opening long-distance political and economic relations between the civilizations. In 17th century merchants regularly crossed the local mountains to transport their goods to and from Tuva. In the mid-18thcentury, Ergaki became the border between expanding Russian and Chinese Empires, patrolled by the Cossacks recruited in nearby Khakassia.

     There were three trade ways – to be more exact mountain trails - and only one of them operated all year-round. In the 19thcentury, trade rapidly increased, leading to the development of a permanent commercial route crossing Ergaki, known as Usinsky Tract alongside the Us River. Merchants and their companions stayed overnight at huts therefore they built trading posts and log cabins along the road. Every year the volume of trade increased spreading the word about these magnificent mountains and valleys.