The Scythians are the mysterious people. Nomads left no towns after them, and written sources about them are very ambiguous. The burial places are the only sources of knowledge about this civilization. Since 2018, the Russian Geographical Society and the Institute of the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences have been studying the Tunnug Kurgan located in Tuva. The first season showed that the burial ground is the oldest of all discovered.
Why the kurgan has not been ransacked for so many centuries ? What discoveries can be made there? And how to become part of a team of archaeologists? More details are in our material.
Science vs. Superstition
The Tunnug kurgan is located in the floodplain of the Uyuk River, near the village of Chkalovka, Piy-Khem district. It is located in the Valley of the Kings in the north of Tuva, but not on the left bank, like all the other royal kurgans, but on the right bank of Uyuk. According to preliminary data, the burial of the Tunnug kurgan dates back to the 9th century BC. It was discovered in 1971, but the excavation wasn't started due to the fact that it is located in a swampy area. It played a decisive role in the fact that the kurgan was not ransacked by alien diggers. For Tuvans, Tunnug is located in a sacred, especially venerated place: they did not come closer to the kurgan than two kilometers, believing that they could offend the souls of the dead, and they would take revenge.
In order to attract local residents to the excavation of the mound, scientists invited the shaman, who performed the rite and received the permission of the spirits.
Scientists are going to explore the kurgan in five years. Its periphery was investigated in the summer of 2018. In particular, the experts found that the burials around the kurgan are not divided into parts, as expected, but solid. The graves, that were discovered, belong not only to the Scythian period, but also to a later time, up to the Middle Ages.
The finds are still lowly - knives, arrowheads, pottery fragments, the Chinese coin and other artifacts belonging to the early Middle Ages - a later time than the kurgan itself.
One of the mysteries is where does the stonework throughout the entire archaeological site come from? Was the kurgan originally built in a swamp on an artificial embankment or did the area become marshy later?
“The stone structures fill the entire area around the kurgan”, says Timur Sadykov, the expedition's scientific leader and senior researcher at the Institute of the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences. – “In most cases, these are ritual purpose buildings, memorials and additional burials. One of the objects is of over a thousand square meters. We didn’t explore it fully last season. This year will begin the most interesting. ”
The Scythians: who they are and where they are from
The people was described by many historians of the Ancient world in the following way: the people was born in the saddle, drinks wine from the skulls of the enemies, are dressed in gold . They had no writing. Legends of their exploits and wealth were told by numerous peoples of Europe and Asia. It is known for certain that the Scythians existed independently from the IX century BC until the III century AD. Herodotus, Hippocrates, Pliny the Elder, Zhang Qian wrote about them. King Philip II, Alexander of Macedon’s father, once fought with the Scythians and won.
The civilization of the Scythians was located in the countries of the modern world: Russia - Tuva, Altai, Crimea, Rostov Region, Krasnodar Territory, the North Caucasus; Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Mongolia.
In ancient texts, ancient and oriental historians mentioned the names of leaders, some Scythian words. On their basis, scientists have concluded that the people spoke the language of the Iranian group of the Indo-European language family. In turn, there is a relationship between these nomads and Slavic tribes in the "Tale of Bygone Years" .
Ancient sources tell about a number of Scythian customs:
- Herodot in his “Stories” wrote that when the first enemy was killed, the Scythian was supposed to drink his blood. Scythians removed scalps from defeated opponents and used them as hand towels or sewed raincoats. The skin from the right hand of the enemy was torn off along with the nails and used to the covers for the quivers.
- The Scythians confirmed friendly ties with a special ritual. For this, wine was poured into the bowl and mixed with the friends' blood, and then they drank it after certain oaths. The Skythian could not have more than two or three friends, otherwise he was considered as a woman of easy virtue.
- If the Scythian could not cope with his enemies alone, then he killed the bull, cooked his meat, and spread the skin and sat on it with his arms twisted. Everyone could come up, take a piece of meat and, standing with one foot on the skin, swear to bring a certain number of soldiers. Thus, enough warriors were recruited to take revenge on the abuser.
- The Scythians worshiped fire and the sun. An important rite is honoring the royal hearth. The Scythian king was also the religious head of the community. These nomads did not build temples, replacing them with holy places. In exceptional cases, the Scythians made human sacrifices.
What can be found there
The Scythian tradition was to put parts of material culture in the graves of the dead - clothing, jewelry, weapons, ceramics. It allows us to understand what kind of people they were, who they worshiped and valued. These elements can reach from far times to us in relatively large form with an adequate level of conservation inside the burial.
The earliest princely tombs of the Tuva Valley of the Kings consist of stone blocks with circular chambers. The walls of the chambers are made of larch. Weapons, harnesses for horses and objects decorated in the so-called animal style are usually found In the Scythian graves.
There is every reason to believe that Tunnug is an exceptional kurgan. Its location, structure and first finds differ from other complexes known in Tuva. Its diameter exceeds the size of other graves and it is 140 meters. Scientists will find out what is in the center of it in four years, in the field season of 2019 they will only begin to excavate the kurgan.
Scientists do not make predictions, but everyone knows that there is also possible to find the Scythian gold. Moreover, the neighboring kurgan Arzhaan-2 contained beautiful pieces of jewelry art.
The richest Scythian burialsKurgan Arzhaan-2, Republic of Tyva. The burial of the Scythian leader of the second half of the VII century BC. Its diameter is 80 m, height is 2 m. It was first studied in 1997. It was excavated in 2001–2003 by a Russian-German expedition. More than 20 kg of gold items of a domestic and religious nature, made in an “animal style” with the highest jewelry art, have been found in Arzhaan-2. The main part of the objects is in the Republican Museum of Tuva, and some are in the State Hermitage Museum.
"Thick Grave" kurgan, Ordzhonikidze, Dnipropetrovsk region. Excavations were carried out in 1971. There were found not only rich clothes embroidered with gold, but also 11 gold rings on the finger of a buried woman. Also was found the famous pectoral, the breast decoration of the finest work. Its weight is 1 kg. The pectoral depicts mythical griffins and wild cats, a pattern of plants and birds. In the center - two Scythians, studying the Golden Fleece.
"Five Brothers" kurgan, near the Koluzaevo farm, stanitsa Starokorsunskaya, Krasnodar Territory. The tomb consisted of two square chambers, one of which was completely looted, and the other was intact. A young warrior was found in the chamber, dressed in luxurious royal decorations. Valuable objects are a golden quiver with an ornament from the scenes of Achilles’s life and golden plates from the wooden sheath of akinakes. They depict the war of the Scythians with the Greeks, as well as the torment of a doe by a griffin. In total, 2000 gold items were found. The burial dates from the last third of the IV century BC.
Expedition’s scientific leader Timur Sadykov believes that the metal from which the finds are made does not matter. Bronze products are no less elegant than gold. The most valuable thing is that the necropolis will tell about its creators.
Uninterrupted operation of the field camp away from civilization is possible only with serious preparatory work. This is a campground, bath-house, food, entertainment and the safety of hundreds of people. For the second year, the expedition’s leader is Igor Spiridenko, Chairman of the Krasnoyarsk Regional Branch of the Russian Geographical Society. He is an experienced expeditionary and is trying to do everything to make the upcoming season successful.
“Now there is no less work than during the excavation itself”, Spiridenko says. - Snow is melting. We are preparing a reconnaissance entrance to the camp and the excavation zone for the first time this year. It is necessary to assess the condition of existing buildings, make an inventory of expeditionary property, test the camp’s power supply system before the second season of the expedition.
The field camp will look the same as last year, only there will be more tents. 90 volunteers came last year and 270 volunteers will come this year. They will begin to set up tents, equip them for living, put in order the work units of the economic units from the end of April. A wooden pedestrian crossing over the river Uyuk will be built in May.
“We have large comfortable army-type tents, electricity is provided”, says Igor Spiridenko. - There is a cellular communication on the territory, there is internet. Of course, there is a bathhouse and showers and on hot days you can swim in the Siberian river Uyuk, which goes around the camp area.
To become an archaeologist
But one should not think that only specialists can touch the great mystery of the Scythian people. For the second year, the Russian Geographical Society is gaining volunteers of 18–35 years old.
There are four expedition shifts
First shift: May 1 - May 30, 2019.
Second shift: June 1 - June 30, 2019.
Third shift: July 1 - July 31, 2019.
Fourth shift: August 1 - August 31, 2019.
Elena Tkacheva took part in the first expedition.
“At such moments you realize where you are and what really surrounds you”, the girl says. - The camp is in a picturesque place. There are the river Uyuk, and the hills on the horizon. The main plus in the lectures from archaeologists is that every evening we were given the opportunity to understand what kind of work was helding and why. Every time it became more and more interesting for us... I am sure that there are definitely no indifferent people to archeology after the shift.
- Touching the secrets of ancient history is already a great thing in itself, that will surely be remembered for a lifetime. Many people dream of this in childhood,- Igor Spiridenko shares his opinion. - But the volunteers of the Tunnug expedition do not just participate in the excavations, but also they communicate, exchange knowledge, listen to dozens of lectures in archeology, anthropology and ethnography. And do not forget that the Tunnug kurgan is located in one of the most ecologically clean areas - in Southern Siberia. There everything breathes with ancient history and inspires, - summarizes the leader of the expedition.
Timur Sadykov first appeared on the excavations while studying at the university. According to him, participation in the expedition is similar to spiritual practice.
At the excavations, one can understand how hard the truth is given, - says the expedition's scientific leader. - So much time you clean the stones, then fix everything in detail, draw, photograph, and only then begins the analysis. This is the extraction of objective facts, from which the history is built then. The whole history is up to written sources and for a long time simultaneously with written sources - this is the result of many thousands of archaeological excavations, for each of which was held the work of caring people.
Apply for volunteers here.IMPORTANT: a prerequisite for participation in the expedition - anti-encephalitis vaccination, which is done in advance, so that immunity will arise before the arrival of a volunteer in the expedition!
Applications are accepted until April 10, 2019 (inclusive). To participate you have to fill out a form. For more information, please, see the Competition Regulations. The selection results will be known until April 18, 2019.