A Group of Archaeological Sites at Ostraya Luka in the Don valley

The main purpose of the archaeological work, which has been carried out for over ten years in the territory of Ostraya Luka in the Don valley in the Zadonskii District of the Lipetsk Region, has been the study of the ethnic history and the social structure of the population in the wooded steppe of the Don valley during the Migration Period. In recent years excavations have been carried out at the Ksizovo 19 group of sites containing not only materials from the Hun period but also levels dating from the Chalcolithic period to medieval times.
The Chalcoithic levels contain materials from the Repino culture and the materials relating to the Bronze Age include those of the Voronezh, Catacomb, Abashevo, Timber-Frame and Bondarikhino archaeological cultures. Unique in the upper reaches of the Don are eight flat-grave burials of the 6th–4th centuries BC from which stem iron and bone arrow-heads, bronze pins with spiral-shaped heads and a tassel-holder. In the wooded steppe of the Don valley objects of this kind have so far only been discovered in the Semilukskoye fortified settlement, but at that site they were possibly not so much grave goods as objects associated with the remains of members of the population, who had perished at the hands of the Sarmatians.
Materials from the Hun period predominate in the habitation levels at this site. The total area of the unfortified settlement from that period — the largest one of its kind in the region — is approximately 36 ha. Within the area a pottery kiln has been excavated and the nearby clay pits, semi-dugout dwellings, storage pits, hearths and also several ritual objects — pits containing dog skeletons and a pit containing fragments of broken vessels and with a stone laid out over it. To judge from the layout of the structures there were five households in the excavated part of the settlement.
A unique dwelling dating from the second half of the 5th or early-6th century and consisting of a structure round in plan and with a diameter of approximately 5 m is the earliest yurt-type structure to have been found within the territory of Eastern Europe.
In one of the properties a place was identified, where a jeweller had worked. The cultural layer in that part of the site was filled with droplets of bronze, off-cuts from various plates and pieces of a spear.
Apart from hand-moulded and wheel-turned pottery the habitation levels of this site also yielded up tools and weapons represented by arrow-heads typical for the Hun period, a few rings of chain-mail and a marble sword terminal. Fragments of amphorae, lamps and other imported pottery and glass vessels, beads, an earring and Roman and Bosporan coins testified to links with the Classical world.
One of the seven burials dating from the middle of the I millennium AD, which had been let into the cultural layer of the Hun period, was a group burial: the four deceased had been laid out one above the other. In another grave the skeleton of a woman was found: on her head were the remains of a ribbon embroidered with beads, to which bronze pendants were attached. Such an item of jewellery was typical for female attire of the Classical world.
Forty-two burials had been opened up in antiquity, as a result of which many toilet articles had appeared in disturbed levels: tweezers, fragments of mirrors, a “nail-cleaner”, bone combs and also parts of attire and jewellery items. The latter included fibulae, parts of belt-sets, a silver earring and glass beads, found during excavations of the cultural deposits at this site.
The settlement and the burial-ground have been dated to the 5th century, possibly the end of the 4th, and to the beginning of the 6th century as well. The population, which left this site behind it, was multi-ethnic: the hand-moulded pottery, house-building techniques and the jewellery items testify to the presence of Early Slavs, Finno-Ugrian, Germanic and steppe peoples and also Late-Classical elements.
The materials obtained during the excavation of the Ksizovo 19 site, dating from the I millennium AD, confirm the previous assumption to the effect that a centre of power had existed at Ostraya Luka in the Don valley, which had probably been part of a Hun state.
The wheel-turned pottery and the finds dating from the 13th and 14th centuries — a strike-a-light, a slate distaff, iron keys, the fragment of a lock, knives and silver Golden-Horde coins, rings with seals and so on — relate to the Medieval Russian period.

A.M. Oblomsky

Digital publication