K.V. Chugunov (The State Hermitage
Museum, St.Petersburg, Russia), H. Partsinger, A. Nagler (Germany Archaeological Institute, Berlin,
CHRONOLOGY AND CULTURAL AFFINITY OF THE KURGAN ARZHAN-2 COMPLEX
ACCORDING TO ARCHAEOLOGICAL DATA
Impact of the Environment on Human Migration in Eurasia. Ed. E.M.Scott,
A.Yu.Alekseev and G.Zaitseva. NATO Science Series IV. Earth and
Environmental Sciences – Vol. 42. Dordrecht, Boston, London 2004. P. 1-7
The study of the burial mound Arzhan-2 is a result of joint
investigation, conducted by the Central Asian expedition of the State
Hermitage and the Eurasian Department of the German archaeological
Institute. The site is situated in the mountainous and steppe Uyuk
hollow, in the northern part of the Republic of Tyva. Here the
outstanding burial mounds are concentrated, some of them of especially
large size. In the early 1970-s one of the largest ones – namely Arzhan
– was investigated by the expedition headed by M.P. Gryaznov. The
kurgan was heavily robbed, but the materials obtained raised heated
debates among specialists, which are still in progress. It is not
strange because the main problem – the dating of the complex either to
the boundary of IX-VIII centuries BC, or to the later time – has a key
significance for the early iron age archaeology of the Eurasian steppe.
The problem solution enables a new consideration of the role of Tuva
and Central Asia on the whole in Scythian type cultures genesis.
The burial mound Arzhan-2 located 9 km from the investigated Arzhan, is
80 m in diameter and 2 m high. Numerous stone ring-shaped structures
and other ritual objects have been revealed around it. The main reason
that just very barrow has been selected for investigation was the fact
that its ground structure had been destroyed by the road built nearby.
The excavation of the burial mound was started in 2000 and finished in
Four-year investigations showed that in spite of some robbing attempts
in ancient time and later destruction of the kurgan, all the burials
related to the main complex remained intact. It was mainly conditioned
by unusual planigraphy of the site, where the major tomb was located
not in the center, but was well shifted to its northwestern side.
Beside the primary burial 11 graves more for 17 persons, a 14 horses
burial place and two complexes containing horse outfit have been
The main burial was set up in a double chamber of larch constructed
like a log house, placed into a deep pit (4,5 m), filled with clay. The
chamber had double ceiling of logs and to the moment of excavation the
earth has not penetrated inside. Due to this fact a special
microclimate emerged in the chamber, promoting well preservation of all
wooden artifacts as well as other vegetative remains. But on the
contrary, it was also the reason for poor preservation of other organic
materials (including bones of skeletons).
Numerous artifacts found in the grave were made in the Scythian
Siberian animal style. The great majority of them were made of gold.
All weapons, accompanying buried persons, were made of iron.
Some objects – an “acinaces”, knives, a battle-axe and even arrowheads
were decorated with gold ornaments. Before now objects made of iron
were considered to appear in the region of Tuva rather late – not
earlier than second half of the VI century BC. Besides, among objects
of art there were some, belonging to the same period according to
common views on animal style development. These were the
reasons for preliminary dating of the site to just that time (Chugunov
et al., 2002, p.183; Partsinger, 2002, p.73).
Good preservation of some organic materials in the tomb allowed
starting the work on the radiocarbon dating of great number of samples,
first of all wooden items and seeds. The burial chamber itself
(especially the inner timber) was kept so well that it was possible to
put it out of the pit. At present the dendrochronological scale for the
site is worked out at the laboratories of the German Archaeological
Institute and the Institute for Archaeology and Ethnography of the
Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. However, apart from
the natural scientific methods, the complex under study should be
considered in terms of archaeological data, available at present time
in both Tuva and joining regions. Despite the unique character of the
most items from the primary grave, a number of artifacts associates
with the local early-scythian cultural tradition.
Before Arzhan-2 investigation, the sites with special burial
rites and attendant items, containing typologically archaic articles,
were known in Tuva. These burials were united in the aldy-bel culture
and referred to VII-VI centuries BC (Grach, 1980).
In the aldy-bel common burials of Tuva the specific articles – earrings
with grain-covered cone caps, some of them having enamel inlays – were
repeatedly found (Semyonov, 1999). Due to identical earrings, found in
the accompanying tombs of Arzhan-2, the number of these artifacts in
Tuva has been doubled. Gold and bronze pectorals are also available in
the aldy-bel sites, though with no decoration. For instance, they were
found in some female graves of burial ground Copto (Chugunov, 1998).
The correlation with aldy-bel burials is also observed in burial
structures of Arzhan-2 accompanying graves. The slab chambers of the
last correspond to the aldy-bel tradition, where they were one of the
most usual ways of interment.
To identify the cultural affinity of the complex within the region a
fragment of a belt with bronze frame-shaped plaques (Fig.1-1) is the
most representative. It has analogies in the materials of two aldy-bel
burials in Central (Fig.1-3) and Western (Fig.1-2) Tuva (Vinogradov,
1980; Semyonov, 2001). Plaque decoration of another belt from one more
aldy-bel barrow is identical with gold ornaments from the primary tomb
of Arzhan-2 (Fig.1-4).
A considerable number of weapons found in the male burials, including
bronze socketed battle-axes, knives and arrowheads, is of great
importance for the dating of Arzhan-2. Arrow-sets with various types of
heads – socketed tetrahedral, tetrahedral-two-blade, tanged thrilobate,
bullet-like made of horn – are of particular significance (Fig.2).
Individual kinds of bronze arrowheads, found in Arzhan-2, have not
occurred in Tuva before, but they have analogies in the western regions
of the Scythian world (Fig.2-8). Iron arrowheads with encrusted gold
ornaments from the primary tomb had three-edge heads and special method
of fixation with short sockets and two clamping blades to press shafts
in between. This special kind of fixation is known for bronze specimens
coming mainly from Tuva and found as individual specimens in the sites
of Kazakhstan, Aral sea region and Pamir (Chugunov, 2000a, p.165, 166).
The bronze arrows from aldy-bel burial ground named Saryg-Bulun (kurgan
2, grave 5) provide the closest analogue for these artifacts (Semyonov,
Kilunovskaya, 1990, p.43, Fig.4-6,8, 9; Chugunov, 2000, Fig.2-5,6).
They are similar for their leaf-like head contour and clamping way of
fixation as well as curvilinear decoration on the edges. Beside the
clamping arrows, found in the quiver from Arzhan-2 “tsar” tomb, there
were bullet-like exemplars made of horn and tetrahedral rhombic in
section arrowheads, made of iron. Despite the unusual material, in
terms of typology all these arrows are limited by the early-scythian
period. The peculiarity of the main tomb quiver-set is complete absence
of tanged arrowheads in it. At the same time the accompanying tombs of
Arzhan-2 present roughly equal quantity of socketed and tanged bronze
arrowheads, which is in complete agreement with aldy-bel arrow-sets
(Chugunov, 2000a, p.165).
Of crucial importance for placing Arzhan-2 on the chronological scale
is the horse outfit, separate elements of which, as far as we know,
were transformed very quickly just in the beginning of the early nomads
epoch. Three pits, containing harness fittings, and a pit with bridle
ornaments only were discovered in the kurgan. Besides, one bit with
stirrup-like endings was placed on the ceiling of the paired male
burial, located under the mound stone fence.
The main complex of horse outfit was found in the burial of 14 horses.
Every horse was places bridled. One of the horses had a stirrup-shaped
bit with additional rings and three-hole cheek-pieces. 13 other
bridle-sets were rather standardized: they were bits with rectangular
endings and special projections to fix the bits into cheek-pieces and
matching cheek-pieces with long central loops (Fig.3-1, 2).
In 2003 one complex more with horse outfit was discovered. It was
placed as a ritual treasure between vertical slabs of the mound fence
facing. It consisted of 49 articles – a bit, cheek-pieces, belt
plaques, saddle-girth buckles et al., most of them decorated with
feline predator images. The type of the bridle is the same as 13 sets
mentioned above. Only the cheek-pieces differ from those found in the
horse burial – they are flat and have loops instead of holes. Large
saddle-girth buckles, including one with a horseshoe design, are
typical for the early-scythian cultural complex.
The cheek-pieces and the bits of special kind, typical for Arzhan-2,
were the first finds of that type in Tuva as well as in the
Sayano-Altay region in general. As it is known, in Arzhan-1 another
kind of cheek-pieces – three-hole ones of various types were found
(Gryaznov, 1980). In the aldy-bel burials the cheek-pieces of Ó-shape
to be used with stirrup-shaped bits are mainly available. Three-hole
cheek-pieces (Semyonov, 2001, p.170) and two-hole ones (Grach, 1980)
have been found as individual specimens. As for the bits with fixing
projections and the matching cheek-pieces, they were found at the sites
of tasmolin culture of Central Kasakhstan and in the early-sakas burial
grounds of the Aral sea region. The date of such type of the bridle
refers there to the end of VIII – VII centuries BC (Gorbunova, 2001,
p.193, 194). Considering that the whole body of materials from Arzhan-2
correlates with the aldy-bel culture, the predominance of this special
type of bridle can not be explained by chronological reason only. The
fact can suggest the tight contacts (probably of ethnogenetic
character) between Tuva and Kazakhstan during the early-scythian time.
One of the stone vessels from the main burial, the so-called
“beak-shaped censer”, testifies the same direction of links. Stone
vessels of the same shape were found in the complexes of Tagisken and
Uygarak in the lower current of the Syr-Darya river (Vishnevskaya,
1973, table XXIV-4, 5; Itina, Yablonsky, 1997, Fig.22-6, 55-10, 65-7).
Connections between Tuva and Kazakhstan during the early-scythian
period are attested by many other materials, including those coming
from the territories situated between these regions. As an example one
can give the buckle from Gilevo-10 burial ground (Fig.1-5), which has
been studied recently on the line between the steppe Altay region
(“Altaysky kray”) and Kazakhstan (Shulga, 2002, p.187, Fig.2).
In conclusion we would like to stress on the subjects of art and
show by an example the prematurity of relative chronology determination
based on their stylistic peculiarities. Depicts of horses with their
legs folded underneath the bodies were traditionally considered as a
later tradition as compared to deer standing “on tiptoe”. But in
Arzhan-2 both images decorated one and the same artifact – the
headdress of the male person from the primary tomb. Examination of the
art phenomenon from Arzhan-2 is still ahead and other complexes, may be
undiscovered yet, are likely to be dated according to these materials.
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