Scattered across the Altay Mountains are thousands of surface structures – funerary monuments, ritual structures and petroglyphs – of different, mainly nomadic civilisations, from the Eneolithic to the Ethnographic period (from the 3rd millennium BCE to the beginning of the 20th century CE). They are uncommonly well preserved; thanks to the specific geographical context with little sedimentation and erosion, low population density and limited urbanisation, until the present day. Even smaller monuments, comprising no more than a few stones, are still visible today, presenting us with a unique view of past and present landscapes.
Ghent University has been active in the Altay Mountains since 1995, with large scale survey projects and a limited number of well-targeted excavations (see project overview below). After some initial surveys and collaborations with different Russian partners, a PhD research (Wouter Gheyle, 2003-2009) mapped and analysed the archaeological landscape in detail, bringing together old and newly gathered survey data. Nine survey campaigns in the Russian and Kazakh part of the Altay Mountains resulted in a GIS-based database with information about over 14.000 surface monuments, covering 15 research areas (valleys). Based on these data, we compiled a detailed typology of the archaeological heritage in Altay, and analysed the geographical distribution of monument types in relation to their chronology, the topography, etc. To map the surveyed sites in high detail over vast survey areas in those remote conditions, we developed a methodology using specific GPS equipment and satellite imagery.