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Tamgas (function)
V.S. Olkhovsky
TAMGA (a function of à symbol)
(Historical and Archaeological almanac, No 7, Armavir, 2001, pp. 75-86)




The offered work is precious for its bird's eye review of the tamga tradition and the examples it cites. The bulk of interpretations, however, are a blend of biased distortions, unsupported assertions, and crooked conclusions aimed to prove unprovable. Their inaccuracy elicited numerous comments of the posting. V.S. Olkhovsky can't be blamed for many of the problems; some, like the sacral or mystic property of tamgas, was ingrained by the illiteracy and primitive mindset of the archeological and historical schools. Still, the work was a great step forward, breaking the tradition of cloistered science and sowed ignorance. A great help is the bibliography.

Tamgas remain somewhat terra incognita not only in the scientific world inside Russia, the birthplace of tamga, where Türkic people first invented them and brought them to their neighbors and to the large world, but also in the world outside the Russian borders, with the exception of the Türkic and Mongolian states. Inside Russia, the casual knowledge of them is widespread, with many non-ethnically Russian peoples continuing using them. Most tamga examples are dispersed in topical publications, where a presence of the tamgas is just noted, and not followed up. Even the most authoritative English-language publications neither address them, nor appreciate their significance.

Tamga is a property mark, a necessity when your property has four legs and is grazing in unfenced pastures, hundreds and thousands of them commingling with other hundreds and thousands belonging to hundreds of neighboring families that exploit the same grazing range. It is believed that tamgas originated as tribal totems, because the relicts of the totem tradition and tamgas frequently interlace. A brand mark for the chattel, the tamga found a myriad of other uses, identifying the owner as much as the property. Like the graffiti now tagging the territory under control in today's metropolis, it found a use as a boundary marker. Like a graffiti on the Glacier Point in Yosemite, tamgas mark prominent points for “I was here” remembrance. Like the today's condolence cards, tamgas mark a personal sign of respect and grief. Like today's family name, tamgas marked gravestone balbals and wooden monuments over the burial kurgans (kabristan “cemetery”), and for a permanent glory marked the balbals depicting the fallen enemy. Tamgas reached into the royal ranks, clearly identifying the ruler even when the legend on the coins was in a foreign language written with foreign characters, incomprehensible to the user. With time, it became a mark of dignity, separating the plebs from the nobles. As a mark of a clan, tamgas offer a posterity, passed from the elder to the younger and rejuvenating in each generation. As a matter of the historical record, tamgas allow tracing of the clan branches, visible in the geographical and temporal stratification. As an identifying marker, tamgas show an amazing permanence, documented in the last millennium from the Arab conquest to the present, and showing up in various relicts from the 6th century BC well into the documented periods of the history.

With disintegration of the nomadic society tamgas were gradually fading away, finding utilization in more specialized applications like craft branding, today's trademark symbols and coats of arms. In these specialized applications tamgas continued their life, popping out everywhere where the Türks had a significant presence. In the Hellenized colonies of the Pontic, in Persia, Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Russia, India, Mongolia, Finnish and Ugro-Finnish lands at some time sprang a culture of tamga, brought in by a Türkic segment of the population, a Türkic ruling elite, or at least imitated by a ruling caste. In favor that tamga was a unique Türkic invention points the fact that every sedentary or nomadic Türkic people on record had and used tamgas, while in the neighboring areas tamgas were used in or around the areas populated by Türkics, or predominantly by the Türkic ruling elite, and remained foreign to the unmingled local populations. It is a fact that what continues to live in the life or in the memories of any of the Türkic peoples does not even have a residual trace in the populace of the non-Türkic people, like Hindi, Baluchi, Pashto, Urdu, Chinese, Slavic, Romance, German, Persian, Finnish, and on and on. At the same time, the closer the population is to the traditional Türkic area, the more familiar with the concept of tamga that part of the population is, even if at no time those people themselves adopted a use of tamga. Over millenniums, the unique mobility of the nomadic culture managed to fan tamgas far and wide, from the Far East to Visla and Danube, and from the Arctic to the Persian Gulf and well into the center of the Indian peninsula.

The origin of the tamga is connected with a Tasmola Culture, a blend of Kurgan Hunnic migrants with the Kurgan and non-Kurgan local populations that were to become Sarmatians. The anthropological aspect of that process is described in the work of T.Chikisheva, 2010, Anthropology of South-West Siberians.  The huge core area of the Tasmola Culture is extended from the S. Urals to Dzungaria, and from the forest belt to the latitude of lake Balkhash, its area is quite compatible with the areas of the USA, China, or India. A little later, the Tasmola Culture area became the core of the Hunnic, Jujan, and Türkic empires. Two Hunnic waves from the east, one in the 9th-8th cc. BC and another at the turn of the 8th-7th cc. BC, created a common Central Asian version of the nomadic Kurgan archeological culture, with numerous subcultures. The nomadic migrants carried technology of iron production and, among many others, the tamga tradition. The western tribes of the Tasmola Culture became known as Sarmats, the eastern tribes became known as Saka, and their westernmost part became known as Scythians. These divisions are quite conditional, they follow a historical tradition established by different sources that use close, but differing terminology for the same people. As of yet, nobody can tell where the Scythians end and the Sarmats begin. The descendents of the Tasmola Culture extended it in time to the middle of the 1st mill. AD, and extended it to Europe, creating the European Sarmatia of the Classical authors (200 BC - 360 AD) that ushered in our era. Throughout Eurasia, these late Kurgans were known under blanket appellations of “tribes” (Uzes, Guzes, Guties, Getae, Goths) and “kins” (Uns, Huns, Chions). The ethnonyms Saka and Scythians, and their synonymous Tokhar, probably started as a generic appellation “Mountaineers”, a clear exonym, from the Türkic saqa “foothill, piedmont, upland” (Foot-hillers or “Piedmonters) and taɣ “mountain” (Mountaineers) respectively.

Conceptual area of Tasmola Culture
in the east, it extends though Dzungaria
Steppe Nomads Periodization:

Age Equestrian Tecnology Events
Chalcolithic (7700–3300 BC) Ropes, Bone, Percussion, Dogs, Copper Europe: ca 5500 BC. East Asia, Middle East: ca 4500 - 4000 BC.
Mesolith (5000-3300 BC) Ditto Mounted riding: First Kurgan wave to Europe ca 4400-4300 BC. Decimation and expulsion of farming settlements of the “Old Europe”. Before decimation, Old Europe predominant Y-DNA Hg I.
Neolith (5000-3300 BC) Ditto + Wheel, Bits, Bridle Sedentary: Balkan-Carpathian metallurgical province (copper) ca 5500 BC
Wheeled transport: ca 3500 BC
Domestication of horses: Botai culture 3,700 - 3,100 BC (5,700 - 5,100 YBP), event or dating is clearly wrong
Early Bronze Age (3300-1900 BC) Ditto + Bronze Mounted riding: Seima-Turbino metallurgical province (bronze) ca 4500 BC; reaches Altai ca 3500
Mounted riding: Second Kurgan wave to Europe ca 3500 BC
Mounted riding: Third Kurgan wave to Europe ca 3000 BC. Mass Kurgan migration to C.Europe. European “killing fields”, wholesale physical replacement of C.European population. First bronze in Europe.
Mounted riding: Seima-Turbino metallurgical province in Altai at its peak and spreading. Abashevo (ca. 2500–1900 BC), Sintashta (2100–1800 BC), Petrov (1800 - 1600 BC) Uralic/Kurgan cultures
Middle Bronze Age (1900-1200 BC) Ditto Mounted riding: Seima-Turbino migration from Altai to northeast Europe, China, Vietnam and Thailand. Karasuk culture expansion to China 1400 - 800 BC)
Wagon riding: Southeastward migration of farmers from N.Pontic to Indian subcontinent and Iranian plateau (2000 - 1500 BC)
Late Bronze Age (1600 - 1200 BC) Ditto Mounted riding: Seima-Turbino migration of Karasuk culture expansion to China (1400 - 800 BC)
Sedentary: Reverse migration of N.Pontic farmers to C. Europe. Displacement of Kurgans and repopulation. Migration of Hg I to Balkans
Iron Age, Antiquity (1200 BC - 1 AD) Ditto + Iron Mounted riding: First Hunnic wave to Kazakhstan (ca 900-800 BC). Tasmola Culture (ca 900-200 BC)
Mounted riding: Second Hunnic wave to Kazakhstan (ca 700 BC)
Mounted riding: Kurgan Sarmatian wave to Europe (200 BC). European Sarmatia (200 BC - 360 AD).
Mounted riding:  Hunnic Kurgan wave (Attila-Krum) (375 - 814 AD)

Periodization of Archeological Cultures of Steppe Nomads
Migration of R1b Neolithic hunters from Asia to E. Europe (5,000 BC, 7,000 ybp)
Tripolye Culture (4000 - 3500 BC) Mix of farmers and herders
Sredny Stog Culture (4000 - 3000 BC) Mix of herders and farmers
Khvalynsk Culture Herders
Karanovo VI Culture Herders
Kemi Oba Culture Herders
Usatovo Culture Herders
Botai Culture Herders
Poltavka Culture Herders
Fatyanovo Culture Uralics and herders
Abashevo Culture Uralics and herders
Sintashta-Arkaim Culture Mix of herders and ?
Early Bronze Age
Maikop Culture (3500 -  BC) Herders
Pit Grave Culture (3300 - 2300 BC Herders
Baden culture Farmers
Funnel Beaker Culture (3300 - 3000 BC) Celtic
Catacomb Culture (2800 - 1900 BC Herders
Middle Bronze Age
Timber Grave Culture (1900 - 1200 BC) Herders
Andronovo Culture (1800 - 1200 BC) Herders
Mnogovalikovaya Culture Herders
Glina III/Monteoru Culture Mix of herders and ?
Iron Age, Antiquity
(1200 BC - 1 AD)
Tasmola Culture (900-200 BC) Herders, Iron production

Posting's notes and explanations, added to the text of the authors and not noted specially, are shown in (blue italics) in parentheses and in blue boxes.

V.S. Olkhovsky
TAMGA (a function of à symbol)

The word “tamga” (aka belgü, daɣ, taban, tamɣa, tamqa, taqba, and probably more; the form “tamga” was borrowed into Russian) of a Turco-Mongol origin in the languages ​​in that group had several meanings: “brand”, “stamp”, “seal”. During the Tatar-Mongol expansion of the 13th – 15th cc. the term spread in the conquered countries of the Middle Asia, Eastern Europe, Middle East, Caucasus and S.Caucasus, where in addition to the former meanings it acquired new meanings -  “document with the khan's seal” and “(monetary) tax”.

The term Turco-Mongol is a political term; although the Mongol language of the Chingiz-khan was much Turkified in the previous millennium after the rise of the Syanbi, it still was a distinctly Mongol, and not a Türkic language, it is the language of the “Secret History”. In the 15th-17th cc. that Turkified Mongol language disappeared, replaced by non-Turkified eastern Mongol language known today as Mongol language.

The Türkic word tamga was indeed in the lexicon of the Turkified Mongol language of the Chingiz-khan times and court. The language was identical with the lingua franca of the tri-partite Tatars, which were a collection of refugees who joined the Mongol Tatars in the area of the Kerulen river.

However, the assertion of the “new meanings” is bogus: these functions predate the Chingiz-khan times by a millennium and a half, officials were given badges carrying the tamga of the court, tamga stamps certified payment of custom fee (custom tax), and payment of any other tax in any flavor and form. What could be new is the use of tamgas in the Caucasus, but even that is doubtful since the First Türkic Kaganate was collecting taxes in the Caucasus in the 6th c.

The apparent popularity of the term in the Turko-Mongolian millieu from which it was borrowed into the other languages ​​(including Russian), still can not be considered as a proof of the Turko-Mongol origin of the tamgas as fundamentally new marking system, versus for example the writing.

This funny disclaimer is accurate, since nobody knows who invented customs stamps, but they were used across Eurasia from pre-literate periods, as attested by the seals found on the transportation vessels.

 Meanwhile, the specificity of tamgas' main use (as marks of clan or tribal affiliation), undoubtedly class tamgas to the category of the most important historical sources. The scientific study of the tamgas and tamga-like symbols has been ongoing for more than two centuries, and although the achievements are indisputable, this topic and many related issues are still far from being resolved.

Of the number of the topic's aspects - genetic, chronological, formal typological, functional, etc. - below is considered only one - the functional aspect.

A survey of the works published on the topic revealed both a lack of proper and common methodology for the studied symbolic systems (with a presence of quite acceptable local studies), and a significant spread of opinions on the role and functions of the signs, including tamgas. The reason is obvious: the absence (in most cases) of narrative descriptions for the “operation” of a particular sign system, whereby (as well as due to the natural loss of the signs from the system's “stock”) the conclusions of the research a priori looked like more or less justified hypothesis. It should be obviously noted that in this paper the term “tamga” is used largely conditionally, that is, it does not carry an “ethnocultural load”; hence the signs belonging to the non-Türkic and non-Mongol peoples may be called tamgas. Likewise with the terms “tamga-type signs”, “heraldic symbols”, etc.

And pizza does not carry an “ethnocultural load” describing its eaters; a cultural borrowing is a routine affair among humans, and not only humans. At the same time, a pizza sold at the Termine is probably Italian, and the purpose of the pizza is about the same in Rome and in Saigon. Chinese, for example, assembled a  “tamga encyclopedia” to guide their purchases of different horses from different Türkic tribes (Ref. Yu. Zuev, 1960, Tamgas of vassal princedoms, Tanghuyao).

This qualification probably attempts to create a bridgehead for forthcoming disclaimers on sensitive ethno-cultural matters.

 The following is a synopsis of the main signage systems used by sedentary and nomadic populations of the Eurasian steppe and forest-steppe belt in the last 2.5 millennia.

We pass the forest zone, where apparently were no nomads, no horse husbandry, and no tamgas.

Sufficiently well studied and documented are the tamgas of the Kazakh tribes of the Senior, Middle and Junior Juzes (Kudayberdy-uly Sh. 1990; Vostrov V.V., Muhanov M.S., 1968). The formation of the Kazakh tamga system belongs to the Middle Ages era, it also exists today. The Kazakh tamgas are geometric, structurally simple, and their number is relatively small, roughly corresponding to the number of clans (tribes). They are collective signs: all members of the same clan have one tamga.

The faulty dating is predicated by the presumed date of the Kazakh nation: no Kazakhs, no tamgas. The assumption and the dating are false because the Juzes (Russian knock-off Souz, like in the Souz of Soviet Socialist Republics, the former USSR, the so- is a Slavic prefix “with”, and  -uz is the Kazakh juz “union”) coagulated at very different times, and of very different tribes. The oldest is the Senior Juz, its base are tribes of Usuns, known from 6th c. BC, and Kangars, known from 23rd c. BC. The Usun - Ashina (Oshin) tamga represented a raven. Usun genesis legend included Raven as a totem. The Usun Juz (confederation, union) formed in 161 BC, and by 100 BC it was a coherent political entity with its own foreign relations. The Usuns, called Uisyn in Kazakh, constitute a nucleus of the Senior Juz, and they are documented, with their tamga, from 6th c. BC.

Next formed the Middle Juz, in the early Middle Age, and then the Junior Juz, in the late Middle Age.

The kind of nonsense propagated in the Soviet times served to divide people into superiors and inferiors, to justify imperial ambitions of the superiors of the superiors and to divide peoples for better control and ethnic engineering undistinguishable from racism.

Omitted in the discourse is that each clan and down to individuals have their own modification of the tribal tamga, by attaching simple and easily recognizable markings to the base image. The prime utility of that is to distinguish cattle belonging to the relatives: father and son, brothers, etc. Thus, with time, the complexity of the image grows, it is readily apparent, for example, in the tamgas of the Kushan royals.

The continuity and discontinuity is clearly visible, and so is the erroneous attribution: the first two tamgas are those of Kanishka, third and fourth are of his blood relatives and possibly co-rulers or autonomous rulers, and the last is of somebody's else.

The signs of various shapes close to tamgas and obviously heterogeneous in nature were known in Kazakhstan and in the 1st millennium BC, they were used, in particular, on the ceramic vessels for different purposes before or after firing (Baipakov K.M., Podushkin A.N., 1989, p. 142-151), they are also known from later times (Smagulov E.A., 1979).

The artisan stamp essentially plays the same role as the tamga cattle brands: to distinguish one maker from another; obviously the artisans were sedentary and worked for the market; they did not need to identify the tribal affiliation; quite the opposite, on the open market their tribal affiliation could destroy their trademark.

The Nogais, Karakalpaks, Kirghizes, Altaians used tamgas as tribal markers (Poznan BC, 1991).

Mongolian tamgas probably chronologically precede Kazakh, they extend to this day. Among them, in addition to the simple shapes and similar tamgas in other regions of the Middle Asia, Kazakhstan and the Black Sea area, are more “decorative” forms, they were definitely used as clan's, and perhaps as a family signs (Vainberg B.I, Novgorodova E.A., 1976; Baski I., 1997, p. 151, 152).

It is hardly possible to project the term Mongol beyond the 13th c. Before that, and largely after that, the Türkic or Mongolic content of the term “Mongol” is mostly speculative.

Before encountering the Scythian-type horse nomads called Juns (Rongs) and Jous (Zhou) by the Chinese, the east-northern aboriginal tribes south and east of the modern Mongolia (future Mongols and Tunguses as two main stems), were sedentary hunters with subsistent sedentary-type agriculture that included pigs; these tribes were marked by a predominance of Y-DNA Hg C and mt-DNA Hg C, whereas the Scythian-type horse nomads were marked by the predominance of Y-DNA Hg R (R, R1, R1a, R1b). The sedentary aborigines did not have any use for tamga branding of their cattle, they did not have roaming cattle. The Mongolic tribes were incorporated into the Hun empire (ca 200 BC) or hid in the mountains and taiga to become known as Uhuan and later Syanbi Mongols. Only the Mongol tribes associated with the Hun empire joined the horse nomadic economy and started using the Türkic tamga branding. In ca 150 AD a part of nomadic Mongol tribes called Syanbi took over command of the numerically far surpassing 500,000 Huns, creating a first Mongolic-led nomadic confederation. Their descendents eventually moved from the Central Asia to the Middle Asia, adding their mix to the local Kazakh tribes; that movement started with Karakhanids and Karakhtais ca. 1200, continued in the Chingizid time, and is impressed in the anthropological, ethnical, and tamga contributions. Those western Mongols developed a Chagatai Türkic lingua franca, hence culturally they already were Türkic tribes, and they yet did not carry a Mongol label until the later Mogul times.

A strong tradition of using tamgas as family and tribal symbols is recorded among Chuvashes and Bashkirs, and a significant part of their tamgas has a typological similarity with tamgas of the Türkic peoples (Kuzeev R.G., 1974; Ahmerov R.B., 1994).

According to the linguistic assertions, Chuvashes (Ogurs or Proto-Ogurs) separated from the bulk of the modern Türkic peoples in the 1st  – 2nd mill. BC, hence they are a living testimony that the tamgas, common to the Chuvashes and the bulk of the modern Türkic peoples dates to the  1st  – 2nd mill. BC (unless other alternatives can be substantiated).

The modern Bashkirs are an assembly of many individual tribes with their individual history. For example, the Abdaly (Abzeli of Bashkortstan, Ephthalites) migrated with their tamgas and genetic make-up, Kipchaks migrated with their tamgas and genetic make-up, etc. Their tamgas are typologically identical with the Abdaly and Kipchaks living in other areas, like Russia, Turkey, Caucasus, etc., so as soon as scholars of history dispose of the modern politico-administrative division, the “Bashkirs” tamga would disappear, and instead would become visible the Bashkir proper, Abdaly, Kipchak, etc. tamgas. Projecting the newly established  politico-administrative division (ca 1920s) onto the phenomenon extending to the 1st  – 2nd mill. BC debases the whole idea of science.

The tamgas of Tatars were widely used, especially in their places - in the Crimea (from 13th c.), in Dobruja, etc., the clan and familyl tamgas were often depicted on vertically installed headstones (Akchokrakly O., 1927; Baski I., 1997), and the khans' tamgas were minted on coins (Lebedev V.P., 1990).

Here the term “Tatars”, like the above “Bashkirs”, has nothing to do with ethnicity or the subject of the discourse, this “Tatars” is synonymous with the “Türks” and another moniker “Mongolo-Tatars”. Generally, it denotes specific “them”, “not us”, and carries as much ethnic weight, although it is predominantly and deceptively used in the ethnic context, like in the above sentence. On a taxonomic level, the term is equivalent to the terms “Nigger”,  “Gringo”, or “Paki”, but since it is ensconced in the official Russian lingo, its slurred nature is not felt by its users.

In adjectival form with a determinant the term is officially and routinely used towards numerous unrelated people: Baraba Tatars, Siberian Tatars, Dobruja Tatars, etc., but only towards the Itil area Türks it is used without a determinant. Most of the switch-over from the native ethnonym to the Russian monikers occurred in the 20th c., when the monikers were elevated from the official and folk lingo to a state-defined nomenclature used in mandatory passportization and censuses. Like with cows, every cow may deem itself a princess, but it is up to a farmer to grade them “slaughter house” or “milk”.

The tamgas on the gravestone mark the family, and every member of the family knew who is buried under each tombstone. An elaborate tradition of recurring commemorative rituals for each deceased kept the memory alive and educated minors. In addition, practically every deceased had a sequence of names known to the outsiders during the lifetime, and a private name known within the immediate family but as a rule not to the outsiders; that makes mentioning the names pointless and confusing. The rulers were buried under their official title being the name, and with a personal tamga.

Tamgas were also known to the early Türks (including Oguz), next to the borders of China, not later than 7th c. AD, as tribal symbols they were widely used for branding horses (Yu.A.Zuev, 1960). The early Türks' tamgas largely differ from the rune “letters” of the runiform alphabets synchronous with them (Kyzlasov I.L., 1994), although a few among them are tamgas identical with the runes (Fig. 1). A developed system of family and kinship (and perhaps personal) tamgas had Hungarians (Fig. 2) and the Bulgarians during their migration to the west and at a later time (Baski, Imre, 1997, p.153).

Ðèñ. 1. Äðåâíåòþðñêèå òàìãè
(ïî Ý. Òðèÿðñêîìó, èç Áàñêè È., 1997)
Ðèñ. 2. Âåíãåðñêèå òàìãîîáðàçíûå çíàêè (ïî: Áàñêè È., 1997)
Fig.1. Old Turkic tamgas
(by E. Tryarski, after Baski I., 1997)
Fig. 2. Hungarian tamga-like symbols (after Baski I., 1997)
Old Turkic tamgas Hungarian tamgas

The Mansi of Northwest Siberia used various family or personal symbols - katposes - almost to modernity (Alekhin K.A., 1997), not only as symbols of ownership, but also as graffiti marking the presence of the katpos' owner in the others' hunting territory.

Ðèñ. 3. Êàáàðäèíñêèå òàìãè
(ïî: ßõòàíèãîâ Õ., 1993)
Ðèñ. 4. Àáàçèíñêèå òàìãè (ïî: ßõòàíèãîâ Õ., 1993)
Fig. 3. Kabardin tamgas
(after Yahtanigov H., 1993)
Fig. 4. Abazin tamgas (after Jahtanigov H., 1993)
Kabardin tamgas Abazin tamgas

From the Middle Ages, tamgas and tamga-like signs are also very typical for a number of Caucasian peoples: Kabardins ( Fig. 3), Nakhs (Ru. Chechens), Ingushes, Abasins (Fig. 4), Balkars, Karachais, Adygs, Circassians, Abkhazians, and Ossetians (Fig. 5) and others; practically, they are used presently (Yahtanigov Kh., 1993). It can be deemed established that in the Caucasus, tamgas are used primarily as a clan and family symbols, but there is a possibility that some of them served as personal symbols, as a signature.

Ðèñ. 5. Îñåòèíñêèå òàìãè
(ïî: ßõòàíèãîâ Õ., 1993)
Ðèñ. 6. Òàìãîîáðàçíûå çíàêè íà àõåìåíèäñêèõ ïå÷àòÿõ
(ïî: Boardman J., 1998)
Fig. 5. Ossetian tamgas
(after Jahtanigov H., 1993)
Fig. 6. Tamga-like symbols on Ahemenid seals
(after Boardman J., 1998)
Ossetian tamgas Ahemenid tamgas

No doubts raises the fact that the Alans had a tamga system (Minayeva T.M., 1971, photo 17, Fig. 22), apparently a result of the development of the chronologically previous system of the “Sarmatian symbols”.

In the Vs.Miller/V.Abaev hoax, Alans serve as a stepping stone in the logical chain Ossetes  > Ases > Alans > Sarmatians > Scythians. No link in this chain is proven, and every link is disproven. However, the scheme was taken into Soviet political armory, and still lingers on.

The Türkic Masguts were nicknamed Alans ~ “Flatlanders” by their highland neighbors, Masguts were a part of the Caucasian Huns, who are positively identified with the Türkic people, the Caucasian Masguts were a splinter of the Türkic Dahae ~ Tokhar confederation of the Saka tribes that sustained assault by Cyrus that cost him a head at the hands of the Masgut queen Tamar.

Naturally, all horse nomadic tribes, including Alans/Masguts/Massagets had a tamga marking system, otherwise they would not have been able to keep track of their flocks in the pastures, during military campaigns, and at the marketplace. And naturally, the horse nomadic Sarmats had a tamga marking system. We do know that dynastic lines extended at least from the Sarmatian times, for example the line of Siavushids lasted for one and a half millennium, plenty of time to leave their tamgas behind.

In the Rus, in the 10th-13th cc. had notable distribution the “Rurik signs”, the tamga-like signs in the form of bident or trident. They were marking weapons and tools, works of art, ceramics, and architectural structures. Especially often these signs occur on the lead trade seals and document stamps, pointing to their “legal significance”. In recent years, the study of the Rurik signs allowed to trace the process of transforming a clan sign into a personal sign, and identify patterns reflecting the process in the typological features of the signs (Beletsky S.V., 1999). Some resemblance with the Rurik signs have the synchronous and later heraldic insignia of Poland and Lithuania, which are often based on bident or trident ((Beletsky S.V., 1999, pp. 320, 321). The majority of their forms resemble the Rurik signs and Sarmatian and early Türkic signs. This similarity, considering the chronological position of these groups of signs, indicates the presence at the certain part of the Slavic population still in the pre-Mongol times of a developed system of family and personal signs. Rather obviously, the tamga-like signs were primarily used by the social elite.

Unfortunately, this is another example of patriotic galimatia that equates the non-Slavic ruling elite with the Slavs, and then equates the ethnology of the ruling elite with the ethnology of the Slavic peasantry. Likewise, the confederation Rus is equated with much later Russia. The last ruling Rurikid Ivan the Terrible died in 1584, and with the change in the dynastic line, the Dulo tamga was abandoned and suppressed. Instead of being proud that the Rurikids descended from the Hunnic dynastic line Dulo, which produced a continuum of European dynastic lines, including the Rus, Poland, two (or three) Bulgarias, and Hungary, and the Kushans in the Hindustan, the patriotic fantasy offers a hodge-podge of questionable inferences and illogical interpolations.

To avoid using the Türkic term tamga, the quasi-scientific politicians routinely come up with substitutes, in this case a clumsy non-statement “sign” instead of the nowadays Russian word tamga.

Tamgas were the most precious possession of a tribe, clan, or individual, they were heirloom and heritage, and they carried a great legal significance. Accordingly, an unjustified use of tamga, by a person ineligible for tamgas, or use of another person tamga was classed as a most grave crime, and persecuted accordingly. These conventions are still observed in the societies which practice the tamga traditions.

A slightly different character, but somewhat similar graphics have the pottery markings at the bottom of the vessels made ​​on a potter's wheel. Such signs were widely used throughout the territories of the Slavic peoples from 9th to 14th cc. (Gupalo V.D., 1985). However, they are not tamgas, in spite of a certain resemblance, primarily due to their limited functional “field”, significantly limited functional diversity (universality) of the real tamgas. A separate group of markings are the old Rus “bort marks”, the signs that marked “bort trees”, the bee “hives” from which was extracted honey. These markings are varied, they identified the the owner of the tree, being a legal proof of ownership. The time of appearance of the bort marks is unclear (but not later than the 11th cc.), they were used at least up to the 17th c. (Anpilogov G.N., 1964).

The artisan trademarks in the “Slavic lands” indicate a rise of artisanship and sustained trade relations. The “Slavic lands” were populated by numerous non-Slavic people, so the ethnic attribution is quite dubious. Before appearing in the “Slavic lands”, the potter wheel and artisan trademarks were used elsewhere for millenniums, and till the stratification of the Slavic societies were probably imports.

Bort and bortnik are Türkic terms for wild honey husbandry, they appear in the ethnonym Burtas, the Türkic name for Mordva, who apparently were known for producing honey and alcoholic fermented honey drink. The allophones of the words bort and bortnik are kbown in Czech and Polish, pointing to forest belt specialization. In Türkic societies, honey was in great demand not only as a sweetener and drink, but also as a preservative in the funeral rituals, when a deceased ruler was taken over his domains in a casket filled with honey, a trip which could last for many summer months. The tamga of the ownership in the forest belt was a knock-off of the cattle branding, and possibly appeared first along the meridional pasturing routs.

A distinct kind of markings with typological and often with full graphical similarity with tamgas are the architectural and construction signs, marking bricks (before or after firing), stone blocks, and other building materials. A distinction of such markings is the expressed absence of a desire by their creators to their advertizing, “presentation” to the audience. Apparently, this group of signs was used as technical markings primarily for the builders, it contained information of the maker (master), customer, or “superintendent” of the construction. Possibly, they are a kind of “acknowledgement”, informing viewers or customers of the fulfillers of the order and certifying quality. Very expressive examples of such signs were found on the monuments of the ancient Rus architecture of the pre-Mongol era (Rappoport P.A., 1985), on the bricks and ceramics of the Khazar cities (Flerov V.E., 1997), on the early Bulgar fortress walls (in particular, Pliska) and other structures of the 7th-10th cc. (Makarova T.N., Pletneva S.I., 1984).

The builders of the ancient Rus architecture of the pre-Mongol era were Bulgar masters, probably descendents of the masters that built Pliska.
Rappoport 1985 Tamga Illustrations

Khazar tamga on Khazar coin

Thus, the bort signs, the ceramic and “brick” symbols can be seen as a special sign systems, much similar to tamga systems in form, purpose, and structure. Quite possible and probable is the connection (including genetic) of these systems with fairly developed existing parallel tamga systems in the same ethno-cultural milieu.

Complex tamga-like signs were also known in the Sasanid Iran (224  – 651) (Lukonin V.G., 1961).

The Sasanid Persia was a successor of the Parthian Empire, established by the horse nomad tribe Pardy, an offshoot of the Tokhar (Dahae) nomadic confederation. The Sasanid state inherited all nomadic traditions of the Parthians, and naturally understanding and use of tamga was a part of that inheritance.
Tamga in front of the horse, Indo-Parthian coin,
Gondopharan Tamga

Reference to the Sasanid Iran without mentioning the Parthian Empire reflects the institutional blindness on the part of the patriotic Russian scientology, which goes to great lengths to emphasize linguistically Iranic component of the Asian history while trying to minimize, debase, or skip altogether the non-Iranic counterparts.

The fact of using a developed system of signs for marking bricks in the Middle Asia and Near East in the earlier, Hellenistic period, is noteworthy (Kruglikova I.T., 1986, p. 59, 61, 88, 94). So, the signs, some of which have an undoubted resemblance to later “classical” tamgas of the nomadic peoples of Middle Asia and Kazakhstan, were found in Khorezm in adobe buildings, dating no later than from the 4th c. BC (Gertman A.N., 1998). However, earlier and unmistakable evidence of the use of signs, “artisan markings” were found in Asia Minor, particularly on some Persepolis buildings (Kleiss W., 1980). In that region, including Anatolia, was found indisputable evidence for the existence of a developed system of the tamga-like signage. Signs of various shapes, some identical with the tamgas of the later time, in the Achaemenid Iran, that is no later than 6th-5th cc. BC, were on the signet rings (Boardman J., 1998), apparently in lieu of a personal signature of the holder (Fig. 6).

It may seem incredible, but 15 hundred years later, at about 1000 AD, most European rulers were illiterate, and could not sign their signature. Each had its place in the society, cows produced milk, scribes wrote and read, and rulers ruled. The name-seals may predate any tamgas in the world, and they are still around in daily usage. The concept of wet signature is a recent concept.

Somewhat later the tamga-like signs became widespread among the Sarmatian nomads that in the end of the 1st millennium BC – 1st half of the 1st millennium AD (ca 2nd c. BC –  500 AD) united numerous etno-tribal groups (mainly linguistically Indo-Iranian) in the zone of the Eurasian steppe belt and adjacent regions. In the North Caucasus, Crimea, Northern Black Sea, and Middle Asia were recorded hundreds of typologically different and varied tamga-like symbols on the weapons, harnesses, jewelry, pottery, cult objects, architectural details, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic sculptures, etc. Some signs in the territories, distant from each other by hundreds and thousands of kilometers, are identical, which can be explained by nomadic economy and migrations of the Sarmatian tribes (Solomonik E.I., 1959; Drachuk B.C., 1975). In some cases, Sarmatian tamgas form clusters (sometimes called “encyclopedias”) of several dozens or even hundreds of characters (Yatsenko S.A., 1992, 1998 ; Olkhovsky B.C., Yatsenko S.A., 2000).

From a scientific standpoint, the assertion on “mainly linguistically Indo-Iranian” is a hoax, perpetrated by Vs. Miller and V.Abaev, who fabricated facts on the ground and manipulated a few primitive schemes to substantiate the Scytho-Iranian (sic! not Indian!) paradigm. That patriotic idea was readily and largely uncritically accepted by the Indo-European science, unwittingly making it a pseudo-science. The author, V.S. Olkhovsky, gracefully inserts minor amendments, making it “mainly linguistically” instead of simple “linguistically”, and “Indo-Iranian” instead of simple “Iranian”, but that does not change much. Indo-Iranians and Iranians equally did not belong to the Kurgan Culture, did not have a horse husbandry culture, did not have a tamga culture, did not have lexicon for mounted riding, did not have lactose tolerance needed for folks living of milk and meat, used mercenary cavalry in their armies, did not live in horse-drawn mobile homes, did not do cranial deformation, and so on without an end. The laundry list of “did nots” is in excess of 50 items, and is growing daily. The author, V.S. Olkhovsky, must be given a credit for mentioning the Türkic people at all, for many years in his country that was a taboo. Still, in the humanities, it is possible to assert an impossible as long as the audience favors your point. The last nail was driven by the genetics that did not find any Iranian alleles in the bones, and instead suggested local folks like Altaians, dancing around the Türkic axel like mules around a grain mill shaft. Nowadays, the  Scytho-Iranian paradigm has shrunk from an axiom to a purely linguistic theory, and is held together by an endless chain of references where one non-linguist cites in a footnote other two non-linguists as a proof.

The suggested timing is alike off the calf. The Sarmatian chronology is well established in archeological, anthropological, and biological aspects. And beyond that, there are no reasons to postulate that the Kurgan waves that flooded Central and Western Europe in 4400-4300 BC, 3500 BC, and soon after 3000 BC were not some kind of Sarmatian ancestors. The Huns and Alans were some type of Sarmatians. The Sarmatians were taxonomically Uralic-type, and Uralics populated the Aral area to the end of the 3rd mill. BC, when at the turn of the 2nd Mill. BC aridization forced them to migrate westward, northward, and eastward. They came back at the turn of the 1st mill. BC as mounted Kurgan Timber-Gravers, repopulating the river valleys and wetlands. At the same time, at the turn of the 2nd Mill. BC, the ancestors of the Indo-Iranians started their migration from the N.Pontic southeast, in the opposite direction, moving into the Indian subcontinent and Iranian Plateau, and arriving ca 1,500 BC. It is positively known that at their arrival in the south-central Asia, the Indo-Iranians did not have a tamga culture, they did not preserve it, and did not pass it to their descendents. Their tamgas, if any, are a cultural borrowing.

It should be noted that the isotope dating still is not done by the Russian archeologists. Although much of the later tamgas can be dated by various indirect methods, the earlier suspects are “dated” by consensus, “he said, she said”. The age of the oldest artifacts has not been established yet.

Around the same time (ca 2nd c. BC –  500 AD), tamgas appear on the coins of the Middle and Near Asian states ruled by the “nomadic” dynasties, above all these are the Khorezm, Kushan, and Indo-Parthian coins (Weinberg B.I., 1977). The connection of such tamgas with the “common Sarmatian” tamga world is quite obvious.

Thus, identified to date in the Near East reliable evidence of sustainable use tamga-like symbols date from the middle of the 1st millennium BC. Sometimes, less reliable testimony of the simple symbols engraved on bone, rarely on bronze arrowheads of the Scythian time (900 –  200 BC), attests to the Central Asian origin of the tamgas (Kocheev V.A., 1994). Still more problematic are the results of the search for “proto-tamgas” in the monuments of the Bronze Age (i.e. steppe Bronze Age, ca 3300-1200 BC). So, although the hand-made vessels of the Timber Grave cultural community had numerous different signs and pictograms (Zakharova E., 1998), it is hardly right to see them as letters or characters that serve as tamgas. Equally incredible is “to find” the prototypes of the Adyge and Crimean Tatar tamgas on the Greek pottery of the 6th -5th cc. BC (Yahtanigov Kh., 1993, pp. 38, 43). Attempts to pronounce the Caucasus petroglyph symbols as tamgas and “a kind of script” of the 5th – 1st mill. BC, and at the same time state their Türkic identity and presence there in the 10th -8th mill. BC of the Türkic titulature (Jafarov J.I., 1993), have nothing to do with the science.

Both opinions on the Caucasus petroglyphs appear to be unrelated to science. With the absence of chemical analysis and graphological research, they are on the level of “he said, she said”.

The reviewed groups of symbols that existed in the early Iron Age and Middle Ages Eurasia allow to conclude that:

  • conversion of graphic symbols into a system suggests ordering, i.e. a presence of certain rules in formation and functioning of the symbols;
  • emergence of symbolic systems requires certain social conditions, in particular, existence of potential “carriers” and “consumers” of the signs;
  • the genesis of the symbolic systems is associated not so much with the nomadic, but with the sedentary world, as a rule more developed economically; however, the tamga system becomes very effective functioning specifically in the (early) nomadic environment, distinct by mobility and often  by complete or almost complete absence of written language;
  • the system of tamga-like symbols can coexist with other information systems - pictography, literacy, etc.;
  • the functions of the tamga-like signs in different sign systems and ethno-cultural environments were different;
  • the presence of identical form signs in different sign systems does not constitute an absolute proof of their real connection; fully permitted is their heterogeneity.
This hodge-podge “conclusions” appear more to be premises than conclusions. The tamga cultural tradition can be called system only conditionally, and then only with a clear definition of what the term “system” means. Neither quantity of components, nor their variety or uniformity do not make a collection a system. The difference between tradition, a specific practice of long standing, and organized structure for arranging, operating, or classifying called “system” is great, and even codifying a tradition does not make it a system without extended functioning of the tradition under new conditions. It is one thing to describe and analyze a tradition; is is completely different thing to describe a system. The first does not need any premises; the second assumes an objective the system is supposed to meet, even if the objective is not defined beforehand.

Thus, “conversion of graphic symbols into a system” is a non-statement.

Tamga is a means of communication, and any communication involves two sides, a communicator and a comunicatee. This is a nature of communication, be it codified (e.g. alphabet) or spurious (e.g. croaking of frogs). The statement on “social conditions” is a non-statement statement.

Nomadic vs. sedentary world would have been true if the pots had feet and mingled en mass in the free ranges. Then the pot makers would have to mark them to bring the right pot home. The sedentary peasants do mark their cows, so that the village shepherd can see from afar and guide the right cows to the right homes. The shepherd's dogs also learn that science, and know what to do, when, where, and and to whom. They also brand them against poachers, like did the ancient nomads. Nowadays the suitcases tend to walk away with strangers from the airports, so the passengers mark them for better visibility and distinction. It is done whether the passenger is literate or the dog is illiterate, the distinction should be clear to either one. On the literacy level of sedentary society, we have an authoritative source: V.Lenin complained that Russian illiteracy was 80%, while the Tatar literacy was nearly 100%. In the 1900s, Russia belonged to the “developed” and “literate” sedentary and agricultural world, and Tatars belonged to the “undeveloped” and “illiterate” nomadic world.

As a side note, the author, V.S. Olkhovsky, repeats a pretty much racist mantra spread in the sedentary worlds eons ago. If that mantra was true, the sedentary peasant owners would not have to built Chinese Walls and organize hunting parties to hunt down their run-away property. The nomadic world was always attractive to the bonded peasantry, it did not have a tradition of hard labor, nor of a forced labor, and that trait was numerously noted by the chroniclers. The mantra was especially popular among the peasant owners, since they did not have to labor themselves. Another example is the Slavic part of the Cossacks, who chose the free life of nomadic mercenaries to the enslaved tillage. As to the self-aggrandizing “more developed economically”, no peasant at any time in history could even dream of the income routine in the nomadic economy: an average nomadic family had 30 horses, and produced 6 horses for the market; at Byzantine prices, that amounted to 6 lb of gold per family if they sell all their merchandise at Byzantine market prices. At local markets, the income was much less, 5 kg of silver annually per family. A single horse during imperial times was sold for 20, 60, up to a 100 rubles. Twelve such horsed would equal a salary of a Russian Prince. And the nomadic Nogais were selling 120,000 horses annually, at any market they wanted. A Russian peasant, in contrast, could spend all his life and never see a single silver denga. So much for the illiterate and poor  “developed” world.(Jacques Margeret, The Russian Empire and Grand Duchy of Muscovy, University of Pittsburgh, 1983, pp. 47-50)>

The last item, that a symbol specifically identifying a clan (tribe) or a member of a clan can accidentally coincide with an identical symbol with identical purpose is laughable. Statistically, given all possible geometrical forms, and given that only a tiny fraction of the humanity is even familiar with the tamga tradition, the chances for elements other than circle, triangle, and a few others is next to nil. As an example, the whole combined multitude of the Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mayan, Egyptian, etc. hieroglyphs may have only a few that resemble any of the combined tamgas of the Scythians, Cimmerians, Sarmats, Huns, etc., but none of these few hieroglyphs would be a unique identifier of a clan or a member of a clan, semantically these graphical coincidences will be completely different. The point of the last item is to divorce the emblem of the Rus rulers from the royal tamgas of the Kushans, Huns, and other Türkic dynasts by proclamation, by unsubstantiated statistical assertion, i.e. by political and devoid of science proof. It is just another Potemkin village.

We would try to identify possible functions of the tamga-like signs on the example of the so-called Sarmatian tamgas that form one of most representative signs systems of early Iron Age.

It is known that the Sarmatian (in the broad sense of the ethnonym) tribes did not have their own script, but were in contact with the highly developed sedentary civilizations who had their scripts. It is universally recognized that information is a defining feature of any sign system. To convey to the “viewers” certain information associated with a sign was to adjust appropriately their behavior: for example, cause a sense of alertness, etc. However, the expected effect was only possible if the “audience” understood the meaning of the sign, that is to acknowledge it, seeing as an external signal and a “call for action”. Thus, the most important function of the sign (including tamga-like signs) is a signal acknowledgement.

The whole steppe belt, from Pacific to Adriatic, where agriculture was not sustainable, was adjacent to the areas, where agriculture was sustainable, and where the writing emerged in Sumer. It was impossible for the steppe nomads not to be familiar with the concept of writing, not to interact with writing, and not to learn writing. The mobile nomads were the agents of disseminating knowledge and technology, including writing, across Eurasia, bringing writing to their sedentary frontiers. That is attested by the Zhou nomads bringing writing to China, and Ases bringing writing to the northwestern Europe, and probably Alans or Huns bringing writing to the forest zone of the Eastern Europe to the Slavic peoples. The role of nomads in bringing enlightenment to the isolated sedentary agricultural enclaves is known, attested, and does not need to be belittled by patriotic semi-scientists.

The part of on “signal acknowledgement” is too sophistic, not too subtle and too specious. A tamga on a pot, on a cliff, on a coin says “me, I, mine”; a tamga on a gravestone says “ours”, in every case it identifies an owner according to the traditional conventions, and does not expect the viewers to heed a “call for action”. The circumstances other than seeing a tamga guide a viewer to the action or inaction.

Practically, depiction (marking) of a sign meant marking of a part of a certain entirety by its deliberate marking that allowed to identify (classify) the marked part by both “markers” and “viewers” and visually control it (am I controlling a penny just because it is marked with a bust of Lincoln? What a primitive galimatia).

The need for such markers objectively exists in any society that perceives a simple opposition “us - strangers”. It should be assumed that with the development of the social structure (splinter of the clan, professional, etc. groups) and complexity of the linkage complexity between elements of the structure the need for such symbol systems increases. However, the informational capabilities of the tamga-like signs are not limitless; over time their application range should gradually taper off, switching to a better information system, the writing. But a certain period of coexistence of the two systems is quite possible and even inevitable. Further evolution of the tamga-like symbols usually lead to the heraldry (tamgas a kind of “coat of arms”), religious (tamgas are sacred symbols), legal (tamgas are “certificates”, confirmation of the affiliation, possession, etc.) or traditional household sphere (tamga is an element of ornament).

A quick look at societies with a tamga tradition and without it, like the ethnic Rumanians (Vlakhs) vs. Türkic-Rumanians, or ethnic Russians vs. Türkic-Russians would clearly demonstrate the futility of such speculations.

The “prototypes” of tamgas, according to the the available ethnographic data (since only the Türkic ethnography notes tamgas as an ethnic marker, the reference to the “available ethnographic data” is solely to the Türkic societies, or the societies where the Türkic element were a ruling elite) were simple geometric shapes (circle, square, triangle, angle, etc.), sacred pictograms, birds and animals, household items, tools, weapons and harness, sometimes letters of different alphabets. Therefore graphemes (particularly simple graphemes) of the many symbols could be used simultaneously or sequentially in parallel in several geographically, culturally, and chronologically unrelated societies. The symbols were undergoing some stylization unavoidable in marking selected surface with heavy tools (chisel, knife, adz, etc.). The main requirement for a tamga-like sign was a graphic clarity and laconism, and possibility of modification within the existing conventions. So, probably, was accounted for that the regular use of the sign on different surfaces (stone, leather, wood, etc.) would be easier if the sign was simpler.

Branding tools were and still are made by smiths on order, and probably the simplicity of the image and the desire of the customer had to find a balance. Any tamgas required authorization, be it a head of the clan approving modification, a head of the tribal union (two kinship clans had to share tamga, but the distinction between clans had to be apparent), the Prime Minister of the confederation, etc., each according to his jurisdiction. Once established, tamgas took on their own life, continuing the tradition. The cowboys that used tamgas had no clue of the sophistication ascribed to them by the later desk scientists.

Tamga-like or “Sarmatian” signs are an important element of the culture of many Sarmatian (Sarmatian -Alan) tribes. They are also interesting in that the direct predecessors of the Sarmatians, Scythians and Savromats, did not know tamgas. The genesis of the Sarmatian tamgas still remains unclear, but the available data allow to disclaim a priority of the Sarmatian tamga tradition. Location of the “homeland” for the Sarmatian signs is hindered by their “scattering” resulting from movements and migrations of the nomads. But the impossibility of the origin of the Sarmatian tamga tradition in the areas of the N.Pontic, Volga (Itil) and Ural is quite obvious. A most likely hypothesis seems to be importation of the tamgas to the N.Pontic and Caucasia during migrations of the Sarmatian groups from the Middle Asia, where a tradition of using tamga-like signs long existed. In the ancient societies of Eurasia the literacy and writing were a privilege of the social elite, while all sectors of society could use signs due to their relative simplicity; this circumstance, together with others, was creating good conditions for the spread of the tamga systems among the illiterate nomadic peoples.

The Sarmatian origin is classified as Tasmola archeological culture, aka Bobrov-Tasmola archaeological culture, which concluded that origin of the Sarmatians is a result of amalgamation of the Middle Asian Huns and local population of Central Kazakhstan. Essentially, archeological studies suggest a Hunnic origin of the Sarmatian tamgas. The “scattering” is innate for the mobile nomadic societies, that is what distinguishes the sedentary and nomadic society.

The blurb in literacy - illiteracy, and their advantages for the spread of tamgas is ahistorical propaganda nonsense. Nomadic societies, in contrast with sedentary societies, were intrinsically egalitarian and meritocratic.

Among the Sarmato-Alans, tamgas image are usually found on objects from the rich burials, and rarely from the ordinary burials, that can be seen as an evidence of the predominant tamga use by the nobles. However, there is no evidence that tamgas were used exclusively by the Sarmato-Alan elite. Such a situation might occur, but it appears only at an early stage; the poor nomads could mark the tamgas on poorly preserved organic objects. The spread of tamgas among the the nomads was driven by a need to tag stops on their pasturing routs, their pastures, and to brand cattle to demonstrate their ownership. So, the signs posted on the cliff passes were quite durable, and most importantly they were understood by all members of a specific society regardless of their social status. The branding of the cattle was the only “cheap” and reliable way to mark their owners.

An utter ignorance of the Sarmato-Alan religion of Tengriism, and its necessity to equip a deceased with a travel necessities for a trip to Tengri for reincarnation underlies the bunk speculations and irrational conclusions. What we see in the funeral inventory is a mirror of the deceased's household, because the family of the deceased supplied the deceased with the same inventory that he or she used during lifetime: his transportation (horse, wagon, harness), his dishes, his table (taskak), his dress (belts, ornaments), his arms (arrowheads), plus the donations of the those paying respect at the funerals. A rich or high official household may have their dishes monogrammed with tamgas, an ordinary household that did not conduct diplomatic or social receptions did not monogram them. The misinterpretation of the funeral inventory in the Russian science was institutional, based on intentional ignorance of the Tengriism, and driven by an objective to find support for the Avesta and its interpretations. Even the terminology is particular and flawed: a Hunnic, Bulgarian, Türkic etc, tamgas are tamgas, but the Sarmatian tamgas are “signs”, “tamga-like signs”, and the like euphemisms.

The definition “Sarmato-Alan” is as vague as they come: The attributions to the “Sarmato-Alan”, “Sarmats”, “Alans”, “Scythians”, and “Saka” is done based on the vague notions of the “Sarmatian time”, “Scythian time”, “Saka time” formulated from the literary sources, from the typological assessments, and with extensive complains that the chronological typology does not work for mobile societies. Even the distinction between the Scythians and Sarmatians has been established only conditionally, the archeology does not offer any clear-cut criteria. Of the modern testing and computer technology only one tool is used, the “garbage in, garbage out”. Fortunately, such debased science is on the wane, and the real scientists lead the change.

To date, were identified hundreds of versions of the Sarmatian signs on the natural objects, household items (dishes, mirrors, musical instruments, etc.), clothing, jewelry, weapons, art monuments, tombstones, coins, objects of worship, architectural, religious, burial structures etc. In some cases, these tamga-like signs occur in clusters numbering from few tens to hundreds. A large number of Sarmatian signs recorded in the N.Pontic region (Fig. 7, 8) is presented in monographs of E.I. Solomonik and V.S. Drachuk (Solomonik E.I., 1959; Drachuk B.C., 1975). The studies of recent years (Simonenko OV, 1999, and others) significantly increased the source base, but did not result in unambiguous solution of the problem of the  Sarmatian sign functions, and of the tamga-like signs in general (Vasiliev D.D., 1998).

The statement on the problem to be solved is buried in the introductory portion of the article: “the role and functions of the signs, including tamgas”. Obviously, the solution that the author, V.S. Olkhovsky, is aspired to will never be found: that is the difference in the use of tamgas between the Iranian-speaking Sarmats of the Scytho-Iranian Theory, and the real Eurasian Sarmats. The only “solution” advanced so far is the ingenious insight of S.À.Yatsenko: the Türkic tamgas have a nickname, and the Iranian don't. For a sober person that would be a positive indicator of the cultural borrowing, but such an admission would have brought about a storm into the reigning paradigm, and may unfavorably affect the author himself. So the possibility of the cultural borrowing was not even mentioned, unlike the present article that admits that the Sarmatian tamgas were a cultural borrowing. So, the non-existent problem remains “unresolved”.

Ðèñ. 7. "Ñàðìàòñêèå çíàêè" èç Ñåâåðíîãî Ïðè÷åðíîìîðüÿ
(ïî: Ñîëîìîíèê Ý.È., 1959)
Ðèñ. 8. "Ñàðìàòñêèå çíàêè" èç Ñåâåðíîãî Ïðè÷åðíîìîðüÿ
(ïî: Ñîëîìîíèê Ý.È., 1959)
Fig. 7. "Sarmatian signs" from the North Pontic region
(after Solomonik E., 1959)
Fig. 8. "Sarmatian signs" from the North Pontic region
(after Solomonik E., 1959)
'Sarmatian signs' from the North Pontus 'Sarmatian signs' from the North Pontus

It seems that the available materials give reason to expect a polyfunctionality of the Sarmatian signs even within a framework of a single ethno-cultural community, but with a preservation of their main signal and identification function.

1). Tamga is a sign of belonging (ethnic, collective, most commonly personal). The attribution problem, the specific “owners” of the signs is very difficult. From the later ethnographic parallels, patterns of the tamga use, the tamgas can be interpreted definitely enough as the signs of personal or group affiliation. If a tamga was a collective identifier, any member of the group was a “carrier” of their sign, which in practice turned also served as a sign of individual affiliation. The collective owner of the tamgas could be a family, kinship, clan, tribe, or tribal group. Affiliation of the members with the same “tamga” was setting them apart from the mass of other individuals, meant that they belonged to “their” folks and signified their distinction from the “others”. Did all the members of a family or clan group had a right to the “family” tamga, and under what circumstances they used it without changing the grapheme, these are just some of the questions with difficult to obtain answers. Thus, in this case was tamga was a signal and identification symbol of the kinfolks (real or fictitious), and was applied to clan's flags, shrines, etc.

Mentioning of the flags is funny: a flag is a field army signal emblem, and no clan was an army.

2). Tamga is a sign of ownership. With a large doze of probability can be expected the use of tamgas as “tracer tags” certifying the fact of possession of territory, property, cattle. Who specifically (kins, family, clan, tribe, or individual) was the owner of the object with tamga image was determined by the first tamga function (sign of membership). So, among a number of Iranian and Caucasian peoples, tamgas were marks of clan ownership of livestock, land possessions, and religious objects. Also, quite possible is the use of tamgas as a mark of personal possession of valuables (weapons, jewelry). This is supported by discovery in one burial of several objects marked with the same type of tamga (Simonenko A.V., Lobaev B.I., 1991, p. 62, 63).

3). Tamga is a sign of authorship. Probably, this use of tamgas was not widespread, it was a master's mark for especially valuable object. However, in this case is not excluded a possibility of initial marking of the customer's tamga (future owner) instead of the manufacturing master.

4). Tamga - a sign of the of (territorial) presence. Detection of tamgas in places that are difficult to deem as probable someone's “property” (architectural structures of the Hellenic cities, cliffs, Greek sculptures, etc.), as well as the presence of large tamga clusters in limited areas, allows to conceive a possibility of tamga use as marking of presence of different family and tribal members at a certain place. Possibly, a visit to these places was accompanied with marking tamgas on natural or artificial stone surfaces was marking events of a political, military or religious nature, important for large Sarmatian etno-tribal associations.

5). Tamga is a certificate (personification) mark. This function suggests the use of tamgas as a “badge”, as a personal “signature”. More than likely is the use of tamgas by the highest Sarmatian and Bosporus nobility. Positively enough were identified the personal tamgas of the Sarmatian kings Farzoi, Inismei, Bosporan kings Rimitalk, Tiberius Eupator, Sauromates II, Reskuporid III, and others (Fig. 9). The royal tamgas on the coins, their inclusion in the texts of the royal decrees apparently was equivalent to the royal seal.

Ðèñ. 9. Çíàêè-òàìãè áîñïîðñêèõ öàðåé:
1 - Òèáåðèÿ Þëèÿ Åâïàòîðà; 2 - Ñàâðîìàòà II; 3 - Ðèñêóïîðèäà III; 4 - Èíèíôèìåÿ
(ïî: Ñîëîìîíèê Ý.È., 1959)
Fig. 9. Symbols-tamgas of the Bosporan kings:
1 - Tiberius Julius Eupatoros; 2 - Sauromatos II; 3 - Rheskopurides III; 4 - Ininphimeus
(after Solomonik, E., 1959)
Tamgas of the Bosporan kings (in Crimea)

Intentionally or not, the tamgas No 1, 2, and 3 are shown upside down. They are tridents, with individual modifications. More than that, the tamgas of the first Kushan royals is identical to the tamgas of the Bospor royalty, indicating a close family connection between the Sarmatic dynastic clan of the Bospor state and the Huna house of the Kushans. One has to be blind to miss it. Tamga no 4 appears to be a portion of the Horezmian tamga, known from numerous coins.

6). Tamga is a sign of patronage and submission. Detection of the Sarmatian noblemen (including the royals) tamgas on low-value objects or in places where it is difficult to expect a personal presence of a high-ranking tamga owner allows to read the use the “master's” tamgas by his servants or dependents as a mark indicating their belonging to the tamga owner's clan. Use of someone else's tamgas by subordinates or dependents thus could mean a transfer under the patronage of the tamga's owner.

7). Tamga is a chronological indicator. This function is only apparent when is well established the ownership of tamga by a historical person, the years of life or activities of whom are known from other sources. Examples of such tamga function are votive reliefs with dated texts, decrees of the Bosporus kings, and epitaphs to the known persons accompanied  with tamga, or coins with the name of the dynast and his tamga, etc.

8). Tamga - talisman, amulet. The complex semantics of many tamgas, especially ascending to the ancestral cult symbols or even totems, admits a use of tamgas as amulets. The tamga as a personification of sustained human group (family, clan, tribe) and could act as a symbol of a sacred power of a particular group, protecting its member. Perhaps it was a “protective” function of the tamgas that explains the widespread Sarmatian and Alan custom of depicting tamga images on the reverse side of the mirrors, which sacral significance is quite likely among the Sarmatians (Khazanov A.M., 1964).

The above examples of reconstructable functions of the tamga-like Sarmatian signs may not cover the full diversity of their use in ancient times. New materials and future research would obviously clarify our understanding of the nature and mechanism of the functioning of the sign systems, a very important historical source.

In Russian
Writing Contents
Alphabet Contents
Codex of Inscriptions Index
Ogur and Oguz   Alan Dateline
Avar Dateline
Besenyo Dateline
Bulgar Dateline
Huns Dateline
Karluk Dateline
Khazar Dateline
Kimak Dateline
Kipchak Dateline
Kyrgyz Dateline
Sabir Dateline
Seyanto Dateline
03/04/2009, 3/15/2014
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