Interesting Historical Discovery

Evidence of ancient Christianity discovered in Kazakhstan

By Tom Davis on Sep 22, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following report is by the Tandy Institute for Archaeology’s Tom Davis, professor of archaeology and biblical backgrounds at Southwestern Seminary as well as chair of its archaeology department.

The ancient city of Ilyn Balik, known from pilgrims’ travels and historical texts, has been discovered in Kazakhstan. Historians of Christianity along the Silk Road have known of travelers’ accounts of Christian communities in the region and in the ancient city of Ilyn Balik, but now, recent excavations at the village of Usharal, 60 kilometers from the Chinese border, have uncovered the ancient city as well as the site’s cemetery, where eight gravestones have been found.

This discovery is the first archaeological evidence for a Christian community in the borders of the Republic of Kazakhstan. This discovery supports the understanding of ancient Kazakhstan as a multi-cultural center between the East and West, with Muslims, Buddhists and Christians living among the local herdsmen and nomadic tribes.

A local resident of Usharal reported the discovery of an inscribed stone marked with a cross two years ago. The stone was recovered, but the original location of that stone is not known. The Kazakhstan government, cognizant of their multi-cultural history, has created the Center for Cultural Rapprochement under Karl Baipakov, Kazakhstan’s leading archaeologist and a world-renowned specialist on the Silk Road. Under Baipakov’s leadership, the Center has encouraged archaeological work focused on illuminating the varied cultural strains in Kazakhstan’s history and actively supports the joint teams’ efforts.

Baipakov encouraged the formation of a joint international team from Archaeological Expertise LLC based in Almaty, Kazakhstan (under Dimitri Voyakin), and the Tandy Institute for Archaeology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (under the joint direction of Steve Ortiz and Tom Davis), to investigate the discovery. The joint team began investigations of the site of Ilyn Balik, a medieval city never before excavated, within the boundaries of Usharal late this summer.

The team discovered seven inscribed gravestones clustered on the surface outside of the main area of settlement of the site. The suspected grave markers all have inscribed Nestorian-style crosses, and two of them have fragmentary inscriptions.

The new discoveries provide context for the previously discovered inscribed stone and most likely indicate an extra-mural cemetery and possibly an associated Christian community. One of the inscriptions in Old Syriac has been partially deciphered by the Tandy Institute’s epigrapher, Ryan Stokes, associate professor of Old Testament at Southwestern, and indicates a date of 1162 A.D.

The local Christian community has reacted with joy to the news of the new discoveries. One believer responded, “So nobody can tell me that I don’t have Christian roots.”

The Nestorian gravestones show that Christianity was present in Kazakhstan long before Western imperialism. It is, in fact, an element of historic Kazakh identity.

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New Computer, new formatting

I have been away for a while and not written like I used to when I lived in Kazakhstan. I have a new computer so I can’t figure out how to get the photo I want into the text.

Back when living in Kazakhstan, I wrote EVERY day and if I didn’t have something I had experienced or observed I put up photos. Busy with teaching first year students in two composition courses and volunteering at the Carnegie with a grant that I just got with the historical society in St. Paul, MN. The grant is for $8,765 and with two other researchers we will be writing 15 articles about NW Minnesota.

There seems to be an extra push to get things done and with my Mom having just taken a bad fall and breaking her arm, I have things I need to do to help her. I know she wants to be independent and do things on her own but she will be immobilized in the one arm for about a month or more.

Well, the garden has much produce to tend to and I’ve made grape jelly and plum jelly and that was after doing raspberry jam. Now we have tomatoes that I’m giving away after I made five batches of Mrs. Wages assortments. Now I have pumpkins and GREMLIN decorative gourds. I’m also taking in plants so they do not freeze. Plants make a different in the work space and also at the Carnegie.

Okay, I better close with a photo. I have to give a presentation about our campus to our Rotary club. Always something! Mowed the lawn the other day and we are past middle of September! LOTS of mushrooms in the lawn. The one above was as big as a frisbee and 3-4 inches thick in a tree in the woods!

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Decorative Gourds


Decorative gourds and pumpkins

I went out the other day to get some pumpkins and also our decorative gourds. They are GIGANTIC!  I think we will have to just give them away because people want gourds that are about half or a 1/3 this size.  Maybe they are edible but they are pretty to look at despite their size.

I am making pasta sauce with Mrs. Wages and our own tomatoes. I keep giving all the nearly ripe ones to my mom who processes them in jars for later use.  I’m happy she does that because she gives us some of the quarts.  That reminds me, after 1 inch and 7/10s of an inch of rain yesterday, I should go out to the garden to see what other tomatoes there are to pick and bring into town.


close up of our produce

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Fall is here, much harvesting to do…

3 grape clustersI probably already wrote this but I am busy with harvesting of all of our crops out in our vegetable gardens. I pick tomatoes every day and give to my Mom who cans them in quart size jars. Then I also pick sweet peas every day so I can give to people as a little but nice bouquet.  These flowers won’t last long, so I am making the most of them around our yard light fence.  Yesterday was a strong wind and that helped me to see the pumpkins that are under the big leaves and also all the decorative gourds that we have.  I cut those and will bring to the Pioneer Day celebration next week.  People may want to buy them but they are soooo BIG that it is not your usual decorative gourd.  They look big enough to eat instead of placing in a cornucopia.

My husband and I picked most of the plums that were on our trees to the south, bumper crop this year.  I have given away about 8-9 gallons worth and probably have from last night about 7 or 8 more gallons to deal with.  I roasted some of them last night at 400 degrees for about a half hour and the juice that came out will make a nice plum jelly. I’ve never made plum jelly before, always jam.  I made three batches of grape jelly last weekend and have enough grape juice that I processed for probably another three batches. The problem is that we don’t eat much bread so why all the jelly and jam?  Have to preserve this somehow so they will make nice gifts in the winter time.  The jars look so colorful with the bright jelly inside and one friend of mine says she uses the jelly jar I gave her last year as decoration in her kitchen. She is not the canning, jelly making type so she wants to make it LOOK like she did it.  I should give her some other jars to further decorate her kitchen.


pumpkins from our west west garden

What else to do today on this fine Saturday?  I have to dig up all the potatoes and we have a LOT of them. Plus all the carrots and beets.  We are still getting yellow beans and I’m glad we are DONE with the snow peas. I just kept giving those away after I made two salads out of them.  We have some green peppers and have been eating Swiss chard when it is ready.  We had brocolli and cauliflower but not much.  I think we are supposed to have cabbage but I’m running out of interest in watering that.

Last night I pulled up many of my flowering begonias from the flower bed and potted them to take into work or the Carnegie.  I have a lot of healthy coleus that should be planted as well.  I need bigger pots for that.  Anyway, I finished two weeks of teaching two classes of composition so I have my students who are into their schedule and a good bunch of kids. They want to learn. I have one know it all type student who seems mouthy but he will be harmless…I hope.

We got our grant of $8,765 to write articles about our farming area and our town so there will be three of us researchers working on that in the next nine months.  Always something going on for which I am grateful I can do things still.  Having my folks out for supper tonight, they are busy in town getting their garden torn up to put back into lawn.  So, I better get outside and do things that need work before we get another big rain tomorrow and Monday.

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Been a LONG while since I’ve written

Boubin's horse drawn carriageAugust has been a very busy month…now I am into teaching two more composition classes. A different kind of busy.  This summer was dedicated to gardening and to restoring the Carnegie building in town.  As a result of carrying heavy water buckets from my rain barrel and also lifting heavy boxes of old documents at the Carnegie, I have suffered a rotator cuff problem in my right shoulder.  No fun for sure.


Sunset on the prairie

I am glad for the good gardens we have and thankful for the produce that we have to harvest. We have had an abundance of snow peas, yellow beans, tomatoes, potatoes, beets, carrots, cukes and much more!  We have LOTS of grapes I need to process and also many, many plums.  They are small but maybe I’ll make the latter into jam.  Oh my, that is more work but at least not heavy lifting.

Then there is the Carnegie that after four days of constant visitors to see the photographer’s framed pictures of outside scenes and also watercolor painters, we brought in over $3,000 of fundraiser monies.  For that we are thankful and hope to do more work on the lower level floor.  Part of having shoulder problems was staining, varnishing, sanding and varnishing again the wainscoting that went in the former children’s library.  Yes, I had to work quickly because three days later we opened up the Carnegie building to the public.

Our best day was showing off the Boubin paintings that people own in the community on Saturday. There must have been at 40-45 paintings, big and small that showed up.

mentor-wagon-for-poster (2)

I should get back to preparing for next week’s lessons. I have 35 students and they are all great students. Some are international students mostly from China but from other countries as well.

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Summer is two-thirds over…then what’s next?


Small room with new look


Looking out to hallway inside the small room

Last Friday I signed my contract to teach two more composition classes which starts up on Aug. 23rd.  That hardly gives me any breathing space to have a summer vacation after all speed ahead with our town’s annual event from Aug. 17-20th.  The big parade, which will change its route to go downtown again, will be the climax of a very busy but fun time at the Carnegie.  We have a LOT of activities to keep up with but we have some awesome volunteers as well.

Yesterday I stained the wainscoting paneling that will go up in the basement of the Carnegie which is where we all went for our children’s library back in the old days.  Memories run long for many who are from this area because we used to have an outdoor swimming pool right next to the library and there were also tennis courts down the hill. A very good hangout for many teenagers and young people which was centrally located in downtown.

Now, we don’t have as many kids and we have older people who can’t ably take the massive steps up to the main floor of the Carnegie. That is where we will have different art exhibits and also a photography display for all four days.  Along with that we will have a class competition to see which class can donate the most money to help with our restoring the Carnegie and the first night we will have people paint and take a canvas home after painting on their own canvas.

I tell people that I feel like one of those clowns who has plates that are spinning on top of poles and that you have to keep them all spinning simultaneously without them falling down. That’s what is going to be happening for FOUR days but there are many others who will be there to help. The only difference is that we will have both levels of the Carnegie in operation with the gift shop downstairs.

I’m showing some of the pictures of what has been happening lately. All good things. With 2/3rds of the summer gone, I’m wondering when I’ll get my summer vacation before I start teaching again.


what our stained wainscoting looks like


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Looking for a particular rock


My flower bed with begonias

I haven’t written on this blog for a week or so, I have either the Carnegie to work on or weeding the many gardens we have on the farm.  I’m not complaining and am grateful for the health and energy to do both.  When one sees vast improvement, that gives further motivation to keep going. The other day, however, I was working with several areas that we see out of kitchen window while doing dishes.  I asked my husband if he could tell the difference and he didn’t.  Oh well, *I* know that the quack grass that I had pulled several months ago was back covering over the cream colored bricks and it was also covering over the other bricks by the bird bath.  I wanted the big rocks to show that had been handled by my paternal grandpa, taken out of our rich, Red River Valley soil. I also have a couple of rocks from my mom’s side of the family that her dad, my grandpa would have handled and taken out of his field in North Dakota. The only thing is that they had to do yearly rock picking because there were rocks that kept emerging. Contrary to that, you have to go a LONG way on our fertile soil to find any kind of rock.

Speaking of rocks, several weeks ago I was using my power gloves to weed one of our vegetable gardens. My folks had come out to help. My dad does the spin trim around buildings or he goes out in the back woods and mows the tall grass down.  I DO remember when I was trying to yank my one left glove off, it was stuck and not moving.  I yanked some more and finally it gave way.  The funny thing is that I never looked to see why the glove wouldn’t give way. Instead, I kept working with pulling out the weeds or raking the ones I had already pulled or what my mom had pulled. I placed (rather threw down) my gloves on the lawn near the south edge of the garden. Later I picked them up again to do cutting of tall, nasty weeds south of one of our barns.  I was outside long past the time my folks went back into town. During these LONG summer nights, my usual time to come indoors is about 10:10 or 10:15 p.m.  The days are supposedly getting shorter, good thing, because that decreases my time to be out working!

I went to bed after a shower to get all the weed dust and dirt off of me.  At 3:15 a.m is when I reached down to my left hand to find that I was missing my diamond that Ken had given to me 23 years ago.  I went to the bathroom to see that only the four prongs were showing and at that moment realized that what my glove had been stuck on were one of the prongs. Thus, my diamond was somewhere in the vegetable garden perhaps covered up by snow peas, tomatoes, yellow beans or worse yet, in the grass nearby. At about 5:30 a.m. I went out with a flashlight to fruitlessly look around for any glint of diamond. I went back inside to write my first newspaper article that I had been struggling to write.  I had a kind of passion or empathy for the person I was trying to highlight due to my own loss.

When I had gotten back into bed I told my husband that I was missing my diamond. Maybe he was not fully awake but he said something to the effect that it was just a diamond and that it would get replaced.  I had that same feeling too…just a diamond that had been worth a LOT back when my husband had money to buy it.  Since I had been trying to write an article about an artist from Czechoslovakia who had been imprisoned for his rallying against communism, I compared my loss to his. For 3 1/2 years total he had been tortured, lost his dental practice, his health and almost his family of wife and two sons.  He got out soon after Prague Spring and ended up in New York jobless and then my hometown.  For almost as many years as he had been in prison, he lived in freedom and painted and painted for a livelihood.  So to compare my losing a diamond to the life he had gone through, that was my thought too, it was just a diamond.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t go out to weed and water my vegetable garden and look for that particular rock.  There are many rocks and broken pieces of glass in this particular place.  It could be that it was not even IN the glove at the time I struggled getting it off and that the prongs were there to resist.  No one had ever told me to get those prongs snug to the diamond but now I know to do that with the new diamond that my husband helped me pick out. I should be getting it any time in the next week or so.  It will have six prongs and I will wear it with pride.  I know I have a husband who loves me and my Mom and Dad do too.  They helped to pay for some of this particular rock.

Yes, lesson learned, I will have to take off this precious jewel whenever I am gardening because that is a lot of abuse it takes as I tug at the weeds that resolutely want to stay in my garden where they are NOT wanted.


Flatlands of rich soil that my dad mows down

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