Settlements with a Symmetrical Layout in the Northern Caucasus

The Kislovodsk Basin is a unique natural region situated in the central part of the Northern Caucasus. The history of its archaeological investigation goes back over 150 years. The relatively small size of this geographically enclosed basin, containing an incredibly rich range of archaeological sites from a number of different periods, and the high degree of detail in which they have been studied led to the selection of that region as a base for setting up the “Kislovodsk” archaeological-geographical information system, (AGIS), which by this time already brings together information on over 800 archaeological sites, more than 400 of which have been discovered in recent years in the course of surveys carried out by the Institute of Archaeology. These include settlement structures with a new, formerly unknown, kind of appearance, which were identified during the interpretation of aerial photographs: one of the first such settlements was charted as Pravoberezovskoye 9. In 2004 during a survey undertaken in conjunction with the Eurasian Department of the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut and with the active involvement of local historian, K.M. Magomedov, twelve new settlements, similar to Pravoberezhskoye 9, were recorded first on the surface and then in aerial photographs. A characteristic feature of these sites was the arrangement of a central area oval or rectangular in shape, with buildings round its edges that have shared walls. The distinctive layout of these sites, created using a uniform plan based on the symmetrical arrangement of the buildings on both sides of a main axis, gave rise to their name — settlements with a symmetrical layout.
The study of the settlements with a symmetrical layout, being conducted within the framework of a joint project of the Institute of Archaeology (D.S. Korobov), the Eurasian Department of the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (S. Reinhold) and the “Heritage” State Unitary Enterprise of the Ministry of Culture of the Stavropol Region (A.B. Belinsky), is based on a multi-disciplinary approach. Thanks to the presence of the stone architecture on the ground surface, settlements of this kind are clearly visible in aerial photographs, which make it possible to outline all settlement landscapes: they have fundamentally changed our idea of the settlement pattern in the era under discussion. As a result of the analysis of aerial photographs and field work carried out by A.B. Belinsky and S. Reinhold, it has been established that more than 160 such settlements are to be found to the South of Kislovodsk in uplands of a height ranging from 1,400 to 2,400 m in places, which had previously not been regarded as having been suitable for permanent habitation and had therefore hardly been investigated.
During the expedition’s field work a micro-topographical survey of the relief was undertaken with a laser tacheometer and a geodesic class GPS-station. Sections of the settlements were surveyed using Ground Penetrating Radar and magnetometry and a systematic selection of soil samples was taken for phosphate, magnetic, chemical and micro-bacteriological analysis. While these non-destructive investigations were in progress, archaeological excavations on a limited scale were also undertaken: in the course of these a number of structures and a dump area were investigated at the Kabardinka 2 settlement. Preliminary information obtained regarding the dating of the structures found using the radio-carbon method enabled the team to date the life of one structure to the period from the 13th to the 9th centuries BC and another — to the 16th century BC.
The multi-disciplinary approach to the study of these archaeological sites enabled the expedition to obtain extremely rapidly a wide range of information on a new, formerly unknown phenomenon relating to the Koban Culture in the Northern Caucasus — namely settlements with a symmetrical layout — to chart the extent of their distribution area and trace certain of their features.

D.S. Korobov

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