Bayan-Ulgii has been a crossroads throughout history for empires, conquerors, and trade routes. Just north of the fabled Silk Road; Turks, Scythians, Huns, Tuvans, Uighurs, Mongols, and Kazakhs have left their mark on this vast land. The region has been occupied for over 12,000 years. Descendents of Turkic tribes that currently occupy a territory stretching from Siberia to Turkey originated in the Altai Mountains around Bayan-Olgii around 2000 BC. Later Scythian nomadic warriors expanded out of the Altai Mountains after 700 BC eventually reaching the Black Sea and modern day Ukraine. Their power declined after Alexander the Great defeated them in a battle in 329 BC in what is now Tajikistan.
After the Scythians, the Huns migrated from the steppes of Mongolia to Europe around 100 AD and caused much havoc in the Roman Empire around 400 AD under Attila the Hun. Reindeer herding tribes called the Tuvans first appeared in the Siberian forest north of the Altai Mountains. Their descendents can be found in the same area today with a large population in Tsengel Soum. The Altai Mountains and the nearby Silk Road were controlled by Turkic-Uighur tribes after the 6th Century. This lasted until the great Mongol Empire swept through in the 13th Century stretching from Korea to the Poland. The area remained under the control of Mongol khans until the Kazakhs kingdom was founded in the 15th Century, which remained in power until the Chinese and Russians expanded their empires in the 19th Century. Thanks to a cold dry climate and a sparse population, many of the artifacts from these ancient empires remain in pristine condition. Surveys of the region have estimated there to be hundreds of thousands of petroglyphs, including concentrations of several thousand in some canyons, plus over a thousand stone monuments, around 50 “deer stones,” and numerous tombs, burial mounds, ancient graves, and other sites. Petroglyphs from Turkic tribes and the Huns dating from 10,000 BC to around 100 AD help archeologists trace the evolution of hunter gatherers to pastoralists to the semi-nomadic herders. Through these images etched onto cave walls, one can see the roots of modern ger-dwelling herders that live in the mountain valleys and steppes of Bayan-Ulgii to this day.