Old Turkic runic inscriptions in the Altai Mountains and their reflection of traditional beliefs and religion of the ancient Turkic population

Irina Nevskaya

Old Turkic runic inscriptions in the Altai Mountains and their reflection of traditional beliefs and religion of the ancient Turkic population

(62nd Meeting Friedensau, 2019)

Old Turkic runiform inscriptions are the earliest Turkic sources providing valuable information on the history, culture and language of ancient Turkic peoples. Written in an autochthonous script on rocks, steles and everyday objects, they present a great challenge for researchers trying to decipher them. The most famous and studied ones are the “classical” Orkhon inscriptions in Mongolia, followed by runic epitaphs in the reaches of the river Yenisei in the Republics of Tyva and Khakassia (Russian Federation).

Old Turkic runic inscriptions in the Altai Mountains are special in many ways. They are made by extremely fine engravings on rock outcrops, so that they are hardly seen even from a close distance. They are rarely epitaphs following the classical canons of the Orkhon and Yenisei inscriptions, but often philosophical, religious or very personal texts, written by the ancient Turkic population at large. Moreover, they are written in a non-canonical orthography as compared to the orthography of the ”classical” Orkhon inscriptions, and employ some runic signs not found in the latter. All this hampered research on them for a long time. Only in the course of the recent decades, they have become an object of special research (e.g. Tybykova et al., 2012).

The lecture will present some results of our recent research on the Altai runic tradition. Since 2017, I am engaged in a three-dimentional documentation of these inscriptions allowing for a revision of their earlier readings (Vavulin et al.). It has turned out that some new readings provide interesting information on the religion of the Altai Turkic population (Nevskaya et al. 2018). Moreover, a number of inscriptions found recently, have proved to be blessings or prayers directed to the spirits of the Altai mountains, or extracts from canonical religious texts, still unknown to us in their full versions.


Irina Nevskaya & Larisa Tybykova & Mikhail Vavulin & Olga Zaytseva & Evgeniy Vodyasov: 3D documentation of Old Turkic Altai runiform inscriptions and revised readings of the inscriptions Tuekta-V and Bichiktu-Boom-III. In: Turkic Languages, Volume 22, 2018, Number 2, 194–216.

Tybykova, L. N., Nevskaya, I. A., & Erdal, M. (2012). Katalog drevnetjurkskix runičeskix pjamjatnikov Respubliki Gornyj Altaj. Gorno-Altajsk: Gorno-Altajskoe knižnoe izdatel’stvo.

Vavulin, Mixail & Olga Zaytseva & Evgeniy Vodyasov & Irina Nevskaya & Larisa Tybykova. 2018. Dokumentirovanie drevnetjurkskix runicheskix naskal’nyx nadpisej Gornogo Altaja na osnove texnologii fotogrammetrii. In: Virtual’naja arxeologija (s vozduxa, na zemle, pod vodoj i v muzee). Materials of the International Forum, Saint Petersburg, State Hermitage, May 28–30, 2018. Sankt-Peterburg: Ermitage, 29–37.