Olkhon Island


Archaeological and historical findings prove that Olkhon Island was inhabited by people dating back from the Lithic Age to the beginning of the 20th century. By 1993, 143 archaeological type-sites had been known: caves with the traces of habitation of ancient people, petroglyphs, the so-called cleavages – traces of stone dressing, ancient settlements, sites, burials, religious and fortified constructions. The most remarkable constructions are ruins of walls of an ancient fortress crossing Cape Khorgoy in its narrowest part (I. Chersky found it in 1879). These walls are likely to have served as a fortification against nomads or have been religious constructions for demarcation of public and sacral space which was inhabited by gods and spirits. For example, people burials in a form of burial mound covered with stony plates were discovered at Cape Shibetey behind such a wall. Historians believe that sanctuary settlements and burials on Olkhon Island were built by kurykans, an ancient Turkic people inhabiting Pribaikalye in the 6-9th centuries.

The Russians came for the first time here in the mid 17th century. In 1643, Kurbat Ivanov, a semi-sotnik (Cossack lieutenant), together with 75 “soldiers and eager and promiscuous people” from the Verkholensky stockade fort landed at the shore of Maloye More along the Sarma valley and sailed across Maloye More to Olkhon Island. A lot of coins date back to approximately the same time. Some of them can be found almost under the very surface of the ground.
Little things, old buttons and coins (from Mongolian “squares” turned green and Katherine five-kopeck coins to almost recent coins) which can be found up till now keep memory of those who lived here on their own will or by force during imperial and post-revolutionary times. Under Stalin, there were camps for “enemies of the people”. Prisoners were engaged in fishing of the famous Baikal fish omul. There was no need to guard them because of icy water and impenetrable taiga around the lake. 

There is no other place on Lake Baikal but Olkhon Island to which so many articles and books are devoted (“Olkhon as a Native Place”, “Profane and Sacral Worlds of Olkhon Buryats, etc.). There is also an interesting local history museum at school in Khuzhir where it is possible to get acquainted with the collection of ancient items which demonstrate the way of life and culture of islanders. This museum was founded by Nikolay Revyakin, a teacher of geography and local historian, and his students.

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