It is located between the Irkutsk Oblast to the northwest and the Buryat Republic to the southeast.
The lake is completely surrounded by mountains. The Baikal Mountains on the north shore and the taiga are technically protected as a national park. It contains 27 islands; the largest, Olkhon, is 72 km (45 mi) long and is the third-largest lake-bound island in the world. The lake is fed by as many as 330 inflowing rivers. The main ones draining directly into Baikal are the Selenga River, the Barguzin River, the Upper Angara River, the Turka River, the Sarma River, and the Snezhnaya River. It is drained through a single outlet, the Angara River.
Lake Baikal was situated in the northern territory of the Xiongnu confederation, and was a site of the Han–Xiongnu War, where the armies of the Han dynasty pursued and defeated the Xiongnu forces from the second century BC to the first century AD. They recorded that the lake was a "huge sea" (hanhai) and designated it the North Sea (Běihǎi) of the semimythical Four Seas. The Kurykans, a Siberian tribe who inhabited the area in the sixth century, gave it a name that translates to "much water". Later on, it was called "natural lake" (Baygal nuur) by the Buryats and "rich lake" (Bay göl) by the Yakuts. Little was known to Europeans about the lake until Russia expanded into the area in the 17th century. The first Russian explorer to reach Lake Baikal was Kurbat Ivanov in 1643.
Russian expansion into the Buryat area around Lake Baikal in 1628–1658 was part of the Russian conquest of Siberia. It was done first by following the Angara River upstream from Yeniseysk (founded 1619) and later by moving south from the Lena River. Russians first heard of the Buryats in 1609 at Tomsk. According to folktales related a century after the fact, in 1623, Demid Pyanda, who may have been the first Russian to reach the Lena, crossed from the upper Lena to the Angara and arrived at Yeniseysk. Vikhor Savin (1624) and Maksim Perfilyev (1626 and 1627–1628) explored Tungus country on the lower Angara. To the west, Krasnoyarsk on the upper Yenisei was founded in 1627. There were a number of ill-documented expeditions eastward from Krasnoyarsk. In 1628, Pyotr Beketov first encountered a group of Buryats and collected yasak from them at the future site of Bratsk. In 1629, Yakov Khripunov set off from Tomsk to find a rumored silver mine. His men soon began plundering both Russians and natives. They were joined by another band of rioters from Krasnoyarsk, but left the Buryat country when they ran short of food. This made it difficult for other Russians to enter the area. In 1631, Maksim Perfilyev built an ostrog at Bratsk. The pacification was moderately successful, but in 1634, Bratsk was destroyed and its garrison killed. In 1635, Bratsk was restored by a punitive expedition under Radukovskii. In 1638, it was besieged unsuccessfully.
In 1638, Perfilyev crossed from the Angara over the Ilim portage to the Lena River and went downstream as far as Olyokminsk. Returning, he sailed up the Vitim River into the area east of Lake Baikal (1640) where he heard reports of the Amur country. In 1641, Verkholensk was founded on the upper Lena. In 1643, Kurbat Ivanov went further up the Lena and became the first Russian to see Lake Baikal and Olkhon Island. Half his party under Skorokhodov remained on the lake, reached the Upper Angara at its northern tip and wintered on the Barguzin River on the northeast side. In 1644, Ivan Pokhabov went up the Angara to Baikal, becoming perhaps the first Russian to use this route which is difficult because of the rapids. He crossed the lake and explored the lower Selenge River. About 1647, he repeated the trip, obtained guides and visited a 'Tsetsen Khan' near Ulan Bator. In 1648, Ivan Galkin built an ostrog on the Barguzin River which became a center for eastward expansion. In 1652, Vasily Kolesnikov reported from Barguzin that one could reach the Amur country by following the Selenga, Uda, and Khilok Rivers to the future sites of Chita and Nerchinsk. In 1653, Pyotr Beketov took Kolesnikov's route to Lake Irgen west of Chita, and that winter his man Urasov founded Nerchinsk. Next spring, he tried to occupy Nerchensk, but was forced by his men to join Stephanov on the Amur. Nerchinsk was destroyed by the local Tungus, but restored in 1658.
Jat History connections
Hukum Singh Panwar (Pauria) writes that The Russian archaeologists discovered innumerable graves of the Saka Kings and chieftains in the Kuban, north of the Caucasus (7th-6th century B.C.), in the Crimea, in south Russia, in the Taman peninsula, in the Dnieper Valley as far up as Kiev, as well as in the Don, Donetz and Volga basins as far westwards as the Urals, in the Dunube basin as far west as Hungary and in what used to be East Prussia and is now Western Poland (6th-5th century B.C.)107. Excavations of the Royal Scythian tombs by M.P. Gryazhnov, S.I. Rudenko and others at Pazyryk and other sites in the Western Altai and nearer to lake Baikal (6th-4th century B.C. contemporary of Herodotus's Royal Scythians of South Russia) were most interesting and informative.
- M. Hammer and T. Karafet (1995). "DNA & the peopling of Siberia". Smithsonian Institution
- S. Hudgins (2003). The Other Side of Russia: A Slice of Life in Siberia and the Russian Far East (PDF). Texas A&M University Press.
- Chang, Chun-shu (2007). The Rise of the Chinese Empire: Nation, State, and Imperialism in Early China, ca. 1600 B.C.-A.D. 8. University of Michigan Press. p. 264.
- Lincoln, W. Bruce (2007). The Conquest of a Continent: Siberia and the Russians. Cornell University Press. p. 246. ISBN 978-0-8014-8922-8.
- [http://www.irkutsk.org/baikal/research.htm Research of the Baikal Irkutsk.org. 18 January 2006.
- George V. Lantzeff and Richard A. Price, 'Eastward to Empire',1973
- "Открытие Русскими Средней И Восточной Сибири" (in Russian). Randewy.ru.
- The Jats:Their Origin, Antiquity and Migrations/The identification of the Jats,p.318
- Artamonov, M.I.; 'Frozen Tombs of the Scythians', in the Scientific American, May, 1965, Vol. 212, No.5, pp. 100-109.