Shatra and Jurt: The “Return address” in the Altaian ritual

D. V. Arzyutov*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines the shatra—ritual votive figurines made by Altaian hunters and pastoralists, and their relevance to the history of chess. Based on field studies in an Altaian village, where the author has been conducting research since 2005, and on the museum and archival data collected in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Gorno-Altaysk, social relations mirrored by the shatra are examined through the lens of Altaian ethnohistory. Proceeding from Edmund Leach’s interpretation of ritual, the study reveals the communicative function of the shatra and its relationship to the land and identity claims of the people participating in the ritual. The concept of “return address” is introduced and applied to Altaian ritual. This concept makes it possible to determine the actors in the ritual and the social actions tied with them. The actors’lives are intertwined through strong ties between themselves and the outer world, and are united through the creation of a figurative composition. These ties and their changeability are described using the concept of agency, as an action free of coercion. It is concluded that the shatra may be metaphorically interpreted as a knot of humans, animals, spirits, landscape, things, and materials.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-120
Number of pages10
JournalArchaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
*Supported by the Russian Science Foundation project (No. 14-18-02785) and by the Arctic Domus project (ERC, AdG295458).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 D.V. Arzyutov.


  • Agency
  • Altaians
  • Communication
  • Game
  • Religious movement
  • Ritual
  • Ritual objects


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