Kazakhstan, the largest segment of the Eurasian Steppe, was the home and crossroads for numerous groups of people throughout history. Human activity in the region began with the extinct Pithecanthropus and Sinanthropus 1 million – 800,000 years ago in the Karatau Mountains, as well as the Caspian and Balkhash areas. Neanderthals were present 140,000 – 40,000 years ago in the Karatau Mountains and Central Kazakhstan. Modern Homo sapiens appeared 40,000 – 12,000 years ago in Southern, Central, and Eastern Kazakhstan. After the end of the last glacial period, 12,500 – 5,000 years ago, human settlement spread across the whole of Kazakhstan, eventually leading to the extinction of large animals (mammoth, woolly rhinoceros). The hunter-gatherer communes invented bows and boats, and used domesticated wolves and traps for hunting.
The Neolithic Revolution was marked by the appearance of animal husbandry and agriculture, giving rise to the Atbasar, Kelteminar, Botai, Mokanjar, Ust-Narym, and other cultures. The Botai culture (3600–3100 BCE) is credited with the first domestication of horses. Ceramics and polished stone tools also appeared during this period. The 4th – 3rd millennia witnessed the beginning of metal production, manufacture of copper tools, and use of casting molds. In the 2nd millennium, ore mining developed in Central Kazakhstan.
The change of climatic conditions forced massive relocations of populations in and out of the steppe belt. The aridization period that lasted from the end of the 2nd millennium to the beginning of the 1st millennium BCE caused depopulation of the arid belts and river valley oasis areas. Populations in these areas moved north to the forest-steppe zone. New populations migrated into the Kazakhstan region with the end of the arid period during the beginning of the 1st millennia BCE, repopulating abandoned areas from the west and the east.
In the 3rd century BCE, the rising Hunnic Empire included the whole of Kazakhstan among its territories. Soon after its creation, the Hunnic Empire absorbed 26 independent territorial possessions, uniting various steppe and forest peoples into a single state. After the demise of the Eastern Hunnic Empire, the Tiele people of Kazakhstan, known in Chinese annals as Tiele, formed tribal unions that became an important new regional power. In the 6th century CE the people of Kazakhstan were again absorbed into a new political state, the Turkic Kaganate, that controlled approximately the same area as the Eastern Hunnic Empire. Subsequently, large portions of Kazakhstan were ruled in sequence by the Uigur and Kirgiz Kaganates.
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