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Historical and Cultural Heritage of the Reserve

The history of exploring the territory of the future Altaiskiy Reserve by Russians dates back to the mid 16th century when Siberian Cossack detachments penetrated the area. In 1618 a fortified settlement Kuznetsk ostrog (fort) was founded on the Tom River, which triggered intensive exploration of north-eastern parts of Altai. Thus, in spring 1632 a small detachment under Tomsk voivode (military governor) Ivan Tataev ventured to penetrate into dense taiga forests of north-eastern Altai to collect yasak (fur tribute).  

Next year one more detachment led by Pyotr Sobanskiy (of boyar origin) was sent to the Biya River headwaters. It reached the place where the Biya drained the Teletskoye Lake, which the Altaians called  Altyn-Nor.  Arriving nine years later on the shores of the Teletskoye Lake for the second time, Pyotr Sobanskiy was surprised to find the Lake ice-free. The detachment built a fortification on the shores of the Lake and spent the winter there. The Cossacks built boats and crossed the Lake, exploring its surroundings. In spring Sobanskiy’s detachment left the place going down the ice-free Biya River.

In 1639 and 1642 the Teletskoye Lake shores were visited by Pyotr Dorofeev, a Cossack chieftain from Kuznetsk. P. Sobanskiy and P. Dorofeev provided first data on the life of local population and environmental features of north-eastern Altai. In 1653 the place was visited by Russian Cossacks who came to collect yasak from nomadic people inhabiting the Lake’s shores, but they found the shores deserted  -  the Teles left the Lake for other places unknown to Russians.

Non-ferrous metal ore discovery and mining at Altai foothills was a significant milestone in the history of Russia’s national economy development in the 18th century, which triggered massive penetration of Russians into Altai. Starting from the 30–40-s of the 18th century, the Tsar’s Administration and the Management Committee for Tsar’s Siberian Private Estates launched a number of large-scale expeditions to study Altai’s productive potential. One of such expeditions was sent in 1745 to a hardly accessible region of north-eastern Altai in the headwaters of the Biya, Chulyshman and Bashkaus Rivers and Lake Teletskoye.  On May 20, the expedition led by A. Demidov’s former dowser Pyotr Shelegin, arrived on the shores of the Lake to find around 10 yurts of nomad Kergesh (Turgesh) Yasak Tatars. Split in two detachments, the expedition moved further through the mountains and in boats towards the Chulyshman Valley. 

On May 30, the expedition arrived in the Chulyshman Valley to find about three dozens of Teleut yurts. They easily reached the Bashkaus headwaters and ascended to a highland plateau.     

The expedition’s Itinerary reads: “The places are very wild and rough with lush cedar forests”. Ousted by a big armed Dzhungar detachment on June 10, P. Shelegin had to go back to the Teletskoye Lake. The expedition’s Itinerary notes and reports contain a lot of invaluable data relating to the local population that used to live along the banks of the Biya and the Chulyshman Rivers and the shores of Lake Teletskoye. Documents also describe favorable arable farming lands, abundant hay lands in river valleys and soil fertility.

Thus, until the late 18th century the territory of the Reserve was very sparsely populated. Ails of nomadic indigenous Altaians were predominantly scattered along the Chulyshman Valley harboring a number of pack-animal trade trails to Tyva, Mongolia and China. Under-population of the territory and, as a result, insignificant pressure on game fauna until the mid 18th century produced a favorable effect on the population of game animals. Dozens of expeditions undertaken at that time were engaged in studies of the Teletskoye Lake area targeted primarily at mineral exploration and building new plants. Each expedition contributed new invaluable data and gradually closed the knowledge gap on the prospects of the territory.
Starting from 1771 Lake Teletskoye welcomed first academic expeditions closely connected with the name of a well-known Russian academician P.S. Pallas, and north-eastern Altai had been the center of various researchers’ attention ever since. Residents of the place that accompanied all expeditions and proved excellent guides rendered great assistance in creating the map of Altai. 

1826 expedition undertaken by professor Carl Friedrich von Ledebour and his co-researchers Carl Anton von Meyer and Alexander Andrejewitsch von Bunge from the University of Dorpat (Tartu) was a decisive step forward and differed from all previous expeditions. It centered on flora, fauna and mineral resources. Alexander Andrejewitsch von Bunge, a young Barnaul doctor and the first natural scientist, got acquainted with the area of the Lake and collected plants for herbarium. In his research paper devoted to the expedition he described high mountains surrounding the Teletskoye Lake, its cliffy shores and Chulyshman’s sandy delta. He was impressed with a great amount of fish in the Lake, which, to his great surprise, was completely ignored by the locals.   

In 1834 G.P. Helmersen, a prominent Russian scientist and later an academician, traveled around the Teletskoye Lake area and studied its shores. His research was mostly geological. 

Expedition undertaken by P.A. Chikhachev in 1842 deserves special attention. Studying the shores of Lake Teletskoye he collected a considerable amount of geological, zoological, botanical and ethnographic data.

In 1915 at the suggestion of V.A. Obruchev one of the ridges of Southern Altai encircling the Lake’s basin was named after P.A. Chikhachev.  In 1848 the English artist Thomas Atkinson visited the Teletskoye Lake, whose beauty he incessantly praised in his Notes of a Journey: “There’s nothing of the kind in Europe that could surpass the incomparable beauty of the Lake. This alone is worth taking such a long trip to the Altai Mountains”.   

In 1880 N.M. Yadrintsev, charged with exploration duties by the Geographical Society, described the Lake’s tributaries and was the first to mount Altyntu.

A detailed and comprehensive research of the Teletskoye Lake area was conducted in 1901 by P.G. Ignatov. Acting under the authority of the Geographical Society, he created the topographic map of the Lake’s shores and the Lake’s first water depth map, marking its max depth at 325 meters. At the end of the 19th century the territory was sparsely populated with sporadic Teles settlements found on the shores of Lake Teletskoye and in the Chulyshman Valley. The inner area was not populated at all except for a few hunters’ winter huts and one small settlement of Old-Believers in the upper reaches of Bolshoi (Big) Abakan. 

Animal trails were largely used by locals in the past due to relief peculiarities and rough terrain. Comfortable river valleys started to be used even earlier. These were the only routes in this rough territory. Russians used to visit the Teletskoye Lake yearly to engage in fishing and sable and squirrel hunting in the neighboring taiga.  In summer they came for Siberian stag antlers and in autumn – to gather cones. Some were after gold. Everything obtained, including timber, was floated and rafted down the Abakan, Biya Rivers and partially the Teletskoye Lake, to Altai foothills. An old trade route lay across the Lake, through Shapshal (on pack-animals) to Kemchik. Squirrel pelts were carried in the winter time along one of the trails starting at the Chulcha River headwaters to Uryankhai, where they were exchanged for tea (3 squirrel pelts for 1 tea brick). On the way back 20 tea bricks were carried, that were also exchanged in Chulyshman for squirrel pelts (10 squirrel pelts for 1 tea brick).  The trail, used until 1922, lay through the territory of the future Reserve extending further to the Chulcha River basin.



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