From prehistoric times
a constellation of people had been migrating throughout Central
Asia in the area between Pamir and Yenissei, the Volga and the T'ien
Shan Mountains. From this loose collection of people sprang communities
speaking FinnoUgric, Turkish and Mongolian languages. Later, at
the time of Christ's birth and mainly through Chinese sources, the
first Prototurkic people in Western and Northwestern China are recorded.
They were the ancestors of today's Turks. Neighbours of the Mongols
and probably related to them, they were a nomadic equestrian people
who were more mobile than the other people scattered across the
Asian continent at the time
The first historical references
to the Turks appear in Chinese records dating around 200 B.C. These
records refer to tribes called the Hsiung-nu (an early form of the
Western term Hun ), who lived in an area bounded by the Altai Mountains,
Lake Baykal, and the northern edge of the Gobi Desert, and who are
believed to have been the ancestors of the Turks (see fig. 3). Specific
references in Chinese sources in the sixth century A.D. identify
the tribal kingdom called Tu-Küe located on the Orkhon River
south of Lake Baykal. The khans (chiefs) of this tribe accepted
the nominal suzerainty of the Tang Dynasty. The earliest known example
of writing in a Turkic language was found in that area and has been
dated around A.D. 730.
Other Turkish nomads from the Altai region founded the Gokturk Empire,
a confederation of tribes under a dynasty of khans whose influence
extended during the sixth through eighth centuries from the Aral
Sea to the Hindu Kush in the land bridge known as Transoxania (i.e.,
across the Oxus River .
The Gokturks are known to have been
enlisted by a Byzantine emperor in the seventh century as allies
against the Sassanians. In the eighth century, separate Turkish
tribes, among them the Oguz, moved south of the Oxus River, while
others migrated west to the northern shore of the Black Sea.