Zhamanshin Exploration

by Roman Davidov
(revisited from the June 2003 issue of Meteorite Times)

Zhamanshin. This word translated from Kazakh language like “bad soil” or “land without anything growing on it”.

Firstly, peculiarity of this place noticed in 1936 by V.Vahrameev and later in 1941 by A.Yanshin. This two scientists noticed the presence of Paleozoic rocks among the field of cainosoic rocks. Twenty years ago B.Pilya found some strange glasses here and P.V.Florensky began to study them. With a point of view of meteoritical hypothesis this region was recognized in 1966 year. Structural anomaly of place and uncommon composition of glasses and slags among which the pure leshatellerite was found, glass droplets which composition was analogous to tektites let to tell about explosive derivation of structure. But in all reference books and catalogues Zhamanshin stayed like “isometric local elevation” and glasses like “the products of cainosoic volcanism”. Finally in 1975 explosive derivation of structure was finally proved. Different slags and glasses was classified like impactites which named zhamanshinites and glass drops identified with tektites. Thus for the first time in the world, tektites were found in the meteorite crater.

Kazachstan met us with good shiny weather. Autumn only began to come to this country.

1976 year. Expedition of professor Florensky. “Working horse” of expedition- biplane “An-2” Expeditioners used this plane to made aerial photographs, to brought water, products, equipment, spare parts for the cars and for the boring plant.

I traveled there with my friend Serge. I invite him to make me company because to be alone in this place is very dangerous. I remember one story about a woman who spent a winter in this place having only a small piece of meat. When their car was broken the driver went to the nearest village for help and disappeared. When she understood that no one helps, she cut this small piece of meat on 365 very thin slices. Then she dug a pit in which she slept in cold winter nights. She ate one slice of meat in a day and drunk water from a car radiator and collect a snow, so receiving a water. She was living there during hundred days until the people don’t find her.

The only goal of this expedition is to collect rocks for my own collection and for the museum of our committee. At first we planed to stay in Kazachstan during one or two weeks, but the circumstances were stronger then us. That’s why our trip to Kazachstan was much longer than we planned. I was in the firm belief that we have all information about the location of this crater. Although I never been in this places yet, I have a good detailed map and not worse detailed explanation of my friend (he was there in 1978 year in the expedition of Prof. Florensky),

1976 year. Expedition camp in the crater.

everything found to be useless – the map was not so detailed as we desired and explanation of my friend was wrong. May be the memory played a bad joke with him.
Place we decided to be a crater was a valley with a hills around it. For the southwest this ring of hills have a hole. This valley probably was there like a result of erosion processes. All facts told us that this place has no common with meteorite crater. After a short conversation we decided to move towards opposite side of the valley. Twilight caught us on the half of the way

Here are the south side of the crater. At a first sight nothing talks that this is a crater’s bank.

Next day the weather began to go bad. The clouds appeared on it and cold wind became blowing. From the other side also there was no sings of a crater. I noticed a hill more higher then others. The form of it was very similar to the hill which we seeing on the photos of a crater. I told about it to Serge. We decided to go to this hill. We are going more than an hour, talk on different topics. Suddenly I noticed a small chips consists of different fragments with sharp edges. I show it to my friend.

The north-west side of the crater. Tektites and artifacts made of them are not frequent on these hills- ruins of crater’s bank, destroyed by time.

“Oh! It is very interesting!” he exclaimed. “Without doubt it is paleolyth workshops”…

But it was only a small part of historical artifacts of which this strange places can offer to the travelers as I understood later.

Here the hill at last. We are climbing into it’s mount. I rich mount first look around and feel only disappointment. “It seems to me that there is no crater” – Serge said. Mist was thickening. We cowered with my raincoat and study our map. Something was wrong with all our calculations. I told to my friend that we must go to the village which is situated in 30 kilometers from crater ask for a guide which knows this places well. “Yes You’re right we can’t find the crater alone without anybody’s help”. Wind and rain became stronger. Clay began gluing to our boots. Soon it becomes a real problem our boots became heavier with 3 kilograms. That’s why walking is very hard for us. In spite of raincoats our clothes became wet. We are trying to walk faster in order to reach the road before darkness. When we came to the road it was dark almost. “Road” it was only name. Rain convert it into a wash with numerous ruts from big and small wheels. I’m quick to add that traffic was not so animated. We are waiting for the car during thirty minutes but there were too much people in it. The next car appeared exemplary after an hour. It was a huge truck. We understood that it is our last chance to go out of here before darkness. The perspective to spend a night under torrential rain even having such a good tent that we have seems not so attractive. For our happiness a driver was a good man. After cold windy steppe warm cabin looks like a real heaven! Only one thing was not so good – the truck went to the opposite side we need. But our state was so that it was no matter for us. Car began to moving. But the clay was so

liquid, that it seems that we riding along melting butter. With every kilometer the road became worse and worse and we couldn’t driving at last. Another truck outstripped us and tried to drag us out from the pit. We took the shovels and moved the liquid clay out from the ruts… After five hours of fitting with the weather and terrible road we decide to turn back. The drivers told us that that in fifteen kilometers from the place there is small house in which we can intend for a good supper and a warm bed. We spent more than two hours to turn back the truck and reach the cross-road where the house is situated.

The house is called “chaihana” this word translated like a “place in which you can go to drink a cup of tea”. This chaihanas is situated near the road and beginning single centers of human civilization in these places. May be because of it people living there so happy to see a new man…

Another day we found a car going to the village. The village was partially destroyed by a tornado which is not rare in spring months there. People were busy to repair their houses.

This village was Russian fortress in the past. Russian government ordered to build this fortress to control nomadic tribes in these places. Even now you can see the ruins of it walls. During the Soviet period the most occupation of the villagers is sheep-breeding but nowadays most part of

Population hasn’t any job. They are working in their own gardens to have food to live. Some people are going to hunt in steppe.

Villagers met us cordially and helped us to find a guide and a car. The guide an old man told us that he knows place similar with what we are looking for but he was not sure it is exactly what we are looking for. We haven’t another variants and agreed to ride with him. Tomorrow morning we settled down the car and lived for searching the crater in forth time. This time we made a mistake costs a week to us… The car went away, disappeared in a dusty cloud. We let the driver and the guide instead of their advice to study the place carefully. Climbing to the next hill we thought that it is the crater bank. Looking around take away all our hopes. Having no ideas we went to the northwest.

“Listen!” my friend said. “Look at the ground. You see this shells?” Actually, the ground under our boots, and all around us, was covered by the different shells. They look very old. It’s a well-known fact that for a long time crater filled in by water. For Maybe two or three thousands of years water washed out the southwest crater bank. Maybe thousands tons of lake deposits were taking away by water. This theory looks rational and we were going to the nearest elevation over there probably the crater is situated. We never found the crater there. Instead of that we discovered the plateau with the ruins of ancient altar and fundaments of some strange buildings Maybe thousands years old.

Need to notice that we had confidence, which became stronger with every our failure, that we never go out of here until the crater not founded. Steppe in this period of time painted with yellow and golden colors of withered grasses. Sometimes we found white bones of different animals. The ground filled by holes. But more creatures living there like big spiders, scorpions and snakes were sleeping in this period. One time we found a skull of saigak-the steppe goat with greened from time ferrule arrow tip inside.

We have no ideas like moving back to the village. For our happiness the weather was good and shiny and we have a good stock of food and water. After a week of walking we reach the village. During three days of search we found an old hunter who told that he knows one expedition which took place in 1978 year. We asked him about details which we interested in. Judging by his story the real chance to find the crater appeared to us…

“Here we come!” told the driver; “There was no road further”. I jumped from the car, looking in the twilight. It is a crater or not? I have no confidence yet. An old hunter told us that we bewared of wolfs. Yes it is the one thing of which is really dangerous for travelers in that places. Autumn and winter months is a period of hunger for this animals. It connected with the migrations of a master food source for wolfs-the herds of saigaks. In this period, cases of man eating is very often.

But our strong argument is that we have guns and we are good hunters. I took my field glass to study the place in details. With no doubts it is the crater. Finally after more than two weeks of search we found exactly what we need!

“Red Rock” – outbreak of paleosoic rocks. It’s flaky structure whimsically crumped by the great power of explosion.

We spent in Zhamanshin ten days collecting different rocks and tektites. Some times we saw a small packs of wolfs but they run away hearing the sound of shot. May be every man, being in such places noticed some kind of strange feelings happened with him.

I don’t want to looks strange but it seems to me that I felt like some kind of anxiety. Sometimes I felt as if the ground steel ringing like a bell, like echo of that disaster, happened in prehistoric times. More than that I’m quick to add that my physical condition was changed. May be the reason of it the magnetic anomaly May be anything else… I don’t know. The habits of animals also very strange and couldn’t be explained sometimes. Every time I recall the story one of my good friends which happened with him in 1975 in Zhamanshin. That time he was a young physicist taking part in the expedition of prof. Florensky. “That day we have meeting of the scientific committee of expedition. We are sitting in the improvisated lectorium on the open air,

hearing a report of one of our members. Suddenly in the hole near at hand of my chair a gopher appeared, looking on us than come up to me, sitting nearby and looking at the lecturer. It was wonderful, but he wasn’t afraid of loud voices, laughing and moving of people and was fully indifferent to such attention to his person. Gopher “with great attention” hearing all the lecture and when the lecturer said, that he finished, and wrote down the last formula on the slate, this “genius” move away in his hole. It was so unusual and funny that we are all laughing”…

Meteorite crater Zhamanshin is very interesting in the point of view of archaeology. It’s a well-known fact that for a long time there was a lake in the crater. Probably this circumstance attracts ancient people to this place. In the crater bank you can find the places of ancient people stands with tools and amulets, made from impact glasses and tektites. It is possible that ancient people considered this place populated with spirits, come to there spent their rituals. Also it is very interesting to find fossils and imprints of ancient animals and plants over 200 000 000 years old. This rocks was thrown out from the depth more than one kilometer.

In the evening of tenth day we packed our bags. We need to come out the road to the nearest town with the railway station. Even our bags weighting sixty or seventy kilograms it was not so heavy for us. During a month of constant walking we had a good muscular training. We decide to go at night because the weather began to go bad again and we need to come out the road before foul weather. That night was a full moon. We saw everything like in a day. But the moonlight transformed place so much that we are not recognized it. And sometimes it seemed to us that it is another planet. We walking to the direction, showed in the map…

“Hyps roses” – the crystals of hyps. Big and small pieces they are everywhere! Adds some mystics to this places, especially at night, when moonlight reflects on it’s sides and it seems like some stars falls to the ground.

On the second day we saw a yourta (nomad’s conical hut). This dwelling, coming from ancient times, is very practical and comfortable to live in these conditions. This basis is a framework made from poles in a special manner. This framework covered dry skins of animals and felt. Even when the most part of people living in villages or in a big cities some people don’t want to change the traditional way of life, during a centuries existed on this land. The family living in yourta consists of five people: master, his wife and tree children. They invite us be their guests. Master told us that they never live in civilization. They are real nomads. Sometimes they have meeting with another families or small communities of the same people. Celebrating their national holidays, marriages, e.t.c. For us – spending our lifetime in urban society lifestyle of this people was very unusual and interesting: like a time travelers, we appeared in the past. The single reminding of modern civilization is radio, but it was without batteries. Their children – three boys are 7,10 and 12 years old. I asked their father how they are going to school. He told me that when the school year started, he send them to boarding school in Actubinsk city.

In summer time they have another school: their parents teaches them knowledge and wisdom of their forefathers.

The master was a good singer. It was beautiful and interesting hearing folklore songs. “The voice from a past”-my friend joked. Then we eat simple but very taste dish cooked from mutton. Their housekeeping consists with a flock of sheep, six camels, two dogs and two horses. These people lives in harmony with nature, like their ancestors lived. When we were told that we needed to go to the road, master told that we went to the wrong direction. “You need five days back to the road. But don’t worry I will taking away you there!”

Next morning we loaded our heavy luggage to the camels and leaved for the road… Well, our long trip comes up to the end. We thanked master to the help, and waiting for the car. After a few days we will back home. But for a long time I will remember this wonderful and severe land….

About the Author

Paul Harris
Paul is the webmaster for all of The Meteorite Exchange's websites including Meteorite Times Magazine. His fascination with all things space related began as a young boy during the Space Race. His free time is divided between meteorites, astrophotography, webmaster, and the daily operations of the eCommerce website www.meteorites-for-sale.com.
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