The Buzachi Peninsula has five small ‘sands’ (пески), which is a Russian term for a small desert: the Kyzylkum (Кызылкум), Uvahkum (Увахкум), Shulshagylkum (Шулшагылкум), Zhilimshik (Жилимшик) and Egizlak (Эгизлак). The Kyzylkum Sands start on the outskirts of Shebir village and extend 30 km west to Kiyakty where it merges with the Uvahkum Sands. The Uvahkum portion is similar in size and runs up close to the edge of the Caspian coastline where it turns into a network of inter-dune saline areas. The combined surface area of the deserts is similar in size to the Big Tract Salt Marsh, which it borders to the north. Approximately 10 km south of the marsh is the minor Shulshagylkum, which is connected to the Kyzylkum’s north end.
The Zhilimshik Sands stretch from the north-eastern edge of the Buzachi Peninsula, near Dead Kultuk, to Zhideli settlement. From there it merges with the smaller Egizlak Sands, which extend another 15 km to the west. The combined east-west measurement of the two deserts is 45 km. Few people live here, aside from half a dozen farmsteads between eastern Zhilimshik and Zhideli. Thirty kilometres south is the nearest town, Akshimrau.
Shebir hosts the Buzachi Peninsula’s most important archaeological sites. A number of Neolithic and Chalcolithic artefacts have been discovered around Shebir. At Shebir-4, pottery was discovered with similar designs found in Tajikistan’s Dzheitun and Iran’s Sialk settlements. There’s also hand-moulded earthenware bearing direct resemblance to the Chalcolithic Khvalynsian peoples of the 5th-4th century BCE, who lived in the Middle Volga and North Caucasus regions. According to prominent Mangystau archaeologist Andrey Astafiev, the Khvalynsian people introduced metallurgy and domesticated sheep to Mangystau.
K.M. Taimagambetov and Z.K. Baypakov’s Archaeology of Kazakhstan mentions two large ceramic fragment and flint accumulations in Shebir. There’s also a pit, used for religious purposes, filled with sand and red ochre, and over one hundred small ‘flakes’ and blades. It’s believed that locally sourced silicon was used as a raw material in the manufacture of tools and weapons too. No arrowheads have been discovered at Shebir, although this is made up for with numerous composite tool inserts. The authors go into more depth, including descriptions about Shebir’s hand-moulded earthenware, in their chapter about Kazakhstan’s Chalcolithic era.
Fifteen kilometres south-east of Shebir is the mausoleum of Dosan Tazhiuly. Along with Isa Tilebayuly, Tazhiuly led the 1870 national liberation uprising of Mangystau’s Kazakhs against Tsarist settlers. The event is considered one of the most important in the country’s history. He was born in Zhideli. Tazhiuly is most famous for beating Lieutenant Colonel Rukin in Ushayz, on Kochak Bay’s southern coast. In 1874, he was captured in Sam Sands, some 35 km north of the Uzbek border, and died two years later in prison. His body was returned to the peninsula and a mausoleum erected in his memory not long after. Many consider him as the first of Mangystau’s inhabitants to take a stand for independence.
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