Olkhon Island

Caves of Olkhon Island

There are a great number of caves, grottos and niches on Olkhon Island. An interesting cave-niche is situated in Gykhte Bay near Olkhon Gate Strait 2 km off ulus (settlement) Kurkutskoye. The cave is 3.5 m long, 2.5 m wide and 2.5 m high. This cave was inhabited in the Iron Age and served probably as a sentry post for inhabitants of the settlement located at Cape Shibete about 150 km to the north-east off this cave. An image of a rider of the Kurykan times (about 1000 years ago) was carved on the rock opposite the entry of the cave. A collection of fishes (omul, whitefish, burbot, and others) made of white marble and grey slate was found in a small grotto located at Cape Ulan-Khadinsky on the coast of Maloye More. Such small stony figures of fishes served as a lure for fishermen in the Late Stone Age. During winter fishing a fisherman put a fish-lure tightened to the belt or to a hair string into ice holes for attracting large fish. When a large fish came closer to the fish-lure, a fisherman harpooned it. Evenks from the northern part of Lake Baikal made such fish-lure of bone. Near the grotto in Ulan-Khada Bay there is a known Neolithic site where similar stony fishes-lures made of white marble were found during excavations.

Another large cave with three chambers is situated at the foot of a low mountain in the Khurgan dale on the left bank of the Kuchelga River entering Maloye More. A narrow entry into the cave leads to the space chamber of 3 m high. Iron arrowheads, birch bark, bones of horse and bull, and sawed horns of roe deer were found in the bottom of the cave.
On the western shore of Olkhon Island about 1.5 km to the north-east off settlement Khuzhir, two rocks of Cape Cave (Cape Burkhan - in the Buryat language “Oykhon-ekhe-babay”) composed of grey crystalline limestone with plentiful graphite spangles run deeply into Maloye More. These rocks constantly attract tourists’ attention coming to Olkhon Island. They are 30 m and 42 m high. In the nearest to the mainland rock there is a through winding Shaman Cave. It was formed as a result of weathering and washing out of limestone rocks. The cave is about 12 m long, 3-4.5 m wide and 1-6.5 m high. It is possible to enter this cave from two sides – north-eastern and western. The most convenient entrance is from the north-eastern side. There are side corridors and a narrow air hole. Since the ancient time the Shaman Cave has been worshiped by Olkhon Buryats – shamanists and lamaists. According to beliefs of Buryats-shamanists, the cave was the residence for evil “spirit – the master of Olkhon Island Khan-gute-babay and his son-eagle”. Bloody sacrifices were often conducted on the island in old times in honour of these spirits. There are a lot of legends about the cave including those about Genghis Khan and Lord of Mongols Gegen-Burkhan. The cave was also worshiped by Khorinsk Buryats. This worship should probably be compared to a known legend on the initial origin of Khorinsk Buryats from Olkhon Island. It is obvious that Khorinsk Buryats began to worship this cave before the distribution of Lamaism in Pribaikalye. There was a lamaistic chapel in Shaman Cave in which various copper, bronze and silver small figures of Buddhist gods were found, as well as paper and fabric icons, smoking candles and different sacrificial items. In 1952, P. Khoroshikh found a small plate of slate with the image of a woman-shaman in one of the cave cracks. Such images of women-shamans are carved on rocks of Lake Baikal at the site Sagan-Zaba and Aya Bay.
Ancient inscriptions in the Tibetan and Mongolian languages are preserved on rocks near Shaman Cave. Earlier in front of the entrance there were images of Buddhist gods drawn with white paint. It is difficult to establish whether the people lived in the cave at Cape Burkhan because the soil from the cave bottom was removed from the cave by lamas in old times for chapel construction. However, it is possible that cave men stayed in the cave for a short period of time as at the dune site cultural remains of the Neolithic Age were found. Images of shaman tambourines sculptured by people in the Iron Age were found on the white marble rock 150 m to the east off Shaman Cave. These images, unfortunately, were partially destroyed for the past years because of white marble mining for lime burning. A small arch situated on the narrow point-shaped Cape Gorkhon (Borkhon) on the north-western shore of Olkhon Island is very picturesque. This arch has been worshiped by Buryats since ancient times. They conducted shaman rites near it.
Several caves are situated in the north of Olkhon Island:
  • in Uzur, Khagaiaman,
  • in Budun Bay,
  • in the dale Ikhe-babay, 20 km off settlement Semisosenny and between settlements Khonkhoy and Sergete,
  • on Edor Island,
  • at Cape Sagan,
  • at Cape Uyagay-khoshun,
  • in limestone rocks of Mount Eremel and at other sites. According to legend, “a severe bloody battle against evenks” took place near the big cave on the shore of Maloye More near Malaya Kurla. At present, the entrance to the cave is blocked up with large stones.

From the book “Through the Caves of Pribaikalye” by P. Khoroshikh

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