Completion of the Excavations of the Burial-ground near the village of Filippovka in the Southern Urals

in the interfluve of the Ural and Ilek Rivers, involved two stages. The first kurgans were excavated by an expedition led by A.K. Pshenichnyuk and the others by an expedition of the Institute of Archaeology. As a result, the cemetery which contained 29 kurgans of varying size, has now been fully excavated. Two of the burial-mounds located in the central part of the site are between 8 and 9 m in height and measure 80 m in diameter. Kurgans of this size are known as “royal”. One of them was thoroughly excavated in 2006 after there had been an attempt to loot it: despite serious damage to the mound it proved possible to discover four burials beneath it dating from the era when the Early Sarmatian culture was taking shape in the southern foothills of the Urals. Three of these burials located at the edge of the mound turned out not to have been looted and had survived in their original state. A large part of the central burial, although it had been looted both in antiquity — by those living at the time of its construction — and also in the present day, had nevertheless remained intact. A unique find in this kurgan was an iron sword encrusted with gold, on the blade of which could be discerned scenes of horseman hunting wild boar and the killing (probably ritual) of a deer after the horsemen had dismounted. Another interesting find was that of a bronze lamp fashioned in the shape of a hump-backed zebu-bull: the inner surface of the vessel walls turned out to be stained with soot, which testifies to the secondary use of the lamp as an incense-burner.
The kurgans excavated in 2007–2009 also yielded up materials which were extremely revealing in all respects. Among these were a bone plaque worked in the “Animal Style”, a stone pestle with a terminal in the shape of a griffin with large ears and a bone terminal decorated with a composition in the shape of a bird of prey pecking at a large fish or dolphin. Parallels as regards content are already known to us from Scythian sites in the North Pontic region.
The central burial in Kurgan 29 consisted of a large grave pit with a corridor type entrance or dromos. Inside this, twelve individuals of both sexes and various ages had been buried. Each time a new individual had been buried, the skeletons of those buried earlier had been unceremoniously moved up, together with the grave goods which had accompanied them. In the entrance of the dromos, armour consisting of bone scales had been laid out. Among the other finds attention should be drawn to two “whetstones” with handles set in gold. With the help of natural-scientific methods it proved possible to establish that these articles had been touchstones specially designed for determining the quality of metals and their properties. Parallels for this particular find have also been recorded among classical Scythian antiquities, but in this instance it had proved possible for the first time to demonstrate the true function of the objects in question. One of the side burials in the kurgan was a cenotaph: there was no individual buried in it, but grave goods had been laid out in the usual positions — an iron sword, a wooden bowl with gold facings, a quiver with bronze arrow-heads and a spear with an iron head. In accordance with the Sarmatian custom of damaging articles set aside to serve as grave goods, a wooden spear had been deliberately broken during the funerary rite.
The excavations of this site of cultural significance at a global level have been completed. We can now say that the site dates from the late-5th or early-4th century BC. Within the territory of the Southern Urals this era was marked by the appearance of burial complexes for individuals of high social status and the Filippovka cemetery falls into this category. It is possible that the appearance of rich clans of nomads in the given region was linked with the political and military activity of the Achaemenids and, in particular, with the rapacious policies of King Darius I, which have been described in detail in the written sources.
The concentration of new nomad groups in the Southern Ural mountains and at their edges led to the emergence and subsequent development in this region of the culture of early nomads, who were referred to in accordance with the tradition in our country as Sarmatians. During the following millennium, the Sarmatians mentioned in the chronicles dominated the East European steppes and played a prominent role in the shaping of the ethno-political map of Eurasia.

L.T. Yablonsky

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