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
K.V. Chugunov1, H. Partsinger2, A. Nagler2
1- The State Hermitage Museum, St.Petersburg, Russia
2- Germany Archaeological Institute, Berlin, Germany
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 2003.
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 studied.
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
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,
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 aldybel 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 aldybel 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 cheekpieces 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 У-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 cheekpieces, 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, 657). 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.
Figures captions:
Figure 1. The belt fragment with plaques from Arzhan-2 and its analogies from other
sites. 1 – Arzhan-2, gr.26; 2 - Ust'-Khadynnyg I, b.4, gr.3; 3 – Sypuchy Jar, b.4, gr.1;
4 – Temir-Sug II, b.1, gr.1; 5 – Gilevo-10.
Figure 2. Bronze arrowheads from Arzhan-2 accompanying burials. 1 – 8: gr.26; 9 –
21: gr.25.
Figure 3. Bridle fittings from Arzhan-2, the 14 horses burial (horse № 9).
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