People have lived in the Baikal region for 40,000 years. There is evidence of seal hunting from 9,000 years ago. The area’s earliest named inhabitants were the Scythians around 1000 BC. Next came those the Chinese called the Xiongnu Confederation. The Xiongnu’s northernmost members, the Kurykans, lived around Lake Baikal. They herded sheep, cows, camels, goats and horses, much like their Buryat descendants. Even they have left many archaeological sites in the area.
After the disintegration of the Xiongnu in the 1st Century AD the Kurykans joined the Tiele confederation. Some also migrated north, keeping only cows and horses. They became the Yakut people of Yakutia. Others stayed to mix with various Mongol peoples and Evenki. They eventually become today’s Buryats. Genghis Khan’s son Jochi subjugated them in 1207. This state of affairs continued until the arrival of the Russians in 1609, who in turn subjugated them. The Russians kept important Buryats hostage and extracted fur tribute, or yasak, from their clans.
A gradual process of Russification began. It never, however, managed to destroy Buryat culture, language or spiritual beliefs. Amazingly, relics from all the above-mentioned periods can be visited by the adventurous tourist today. There are fortresses, Scythian burial sites, dwellings, stone walls and more. Many of the region’s petroglyphs are over 2,500 years old. Some come from an era before even the Xiongnu. They depict animals such as deer, birds such as swans and shamanic rituals.
Among the best places on southern Baikal for prehistory is Olkhon Island. In the north, Cape Ludar, Cape Krasny Yar and Boguchan Island provide a wealth of sites. There are petroglyphs and dwelling sites from the Stone Age to the Mongol period.
Please see our tours that include visits to prehistoric sites around Lake Baikal. Alternatively, get in contact to design an itinerary based on your own specific goals.