Ancient Sites of the Volga-Don Steppes

The territory of the Volga-Don interfluve and then beyond the Volga has, on account of its geographical position, since time immemorial served as a crossroads where routes met, which were used by the ancient cultures of East and West, North and South. Since 2006 the Institute of Archaeology has been carrying out intensive surveys and excavation work in the region, supported by the Cultural Committee of the Volgograd Region’s administration.
The Krasnye Lipki Burial-ground which contains materials from the Late Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age has been one of the most interesting discoveries of recent years. For the main burials in the three burial-mounds a cremation rite had been used. At this site a burial with rich grave goods was identified — three decorated clay vessels, a bronze knife with a wooden sheath and fragments of a wooden bowl with bronze facings — which made it possible to classify it as a “priestly” one. Burials of the pre-Scythian period had been let into two burial-mounds at the site. In one of the graves with a side-chamber containing an adult skeleton with the head pointing west, a horn cheek-plate was found and a conical-spherical vessel of the korchaga type — finds quite rare for the given area.
Of particular interest was the burial of a noble warrior from the Late Sarmatian period found in the Gremyachaya group of burial-mounds inside a T-shaped catacomb. A narrow passage led from the entrance pit into the burial chamber and on its floor the adult skeleton had been laid out on its back with the head pointing east. The range of weaponry accompanying the deceased could not fail to impress. By his right shoulder was a long iron sword with a set of silver buckles from its belt and a handle complete with a pendant made of rock crystal. The bronze plate on the pendant had been covered in gold leaf and decorated with four garnet inlays. A second sword lay in the north-west corner of the burial chamber. Behind the head of the deceased were found an iron dagger with a bronze cross-guard and an iron battle knife with a bronze carved handle and under the right hand remains of the wooden handle of a whip with a silver facing had survived. In a corner of the burial-chamber a long whetstone was found, two bronze fibulae, a bronze ring and numerous gold plaques semi-spherical in shape. The remains of the funeral feast were accompanied by two iron knives and fragments of a wooden bowl with silver facings. A unique find was the surviving handle of a cup in the shape of the face of a beast of prey with teeth bared. The selections of burial “gifts” were also interesting as they were of a kind more usually associated with the grave goods found in female burials. They included silver and gold bracelets, a gold pendant, two clay distaffs and a string of amber beads found in a burial-chamber in front of the narrow passage leading in from the entrance pit. On the basis of the funerary rite and the range of grave goods this burial was dated to the middle or second half of the 3rd century AD. The appearance of a funerary rite involving T-shaped catacombs in the Volga-Don steppe was linked by several scholars with the military-cum-political activity of the population from the Central Caucasus.

S.V. Demidenko

Digital publication