Tag Archives: Russia

An extraordinary kurgan discovery

Now, until I studied A Level Archaeology, I had believed a kurgan to be a villain from the 1986 film ‘Highlander’: 

Very nice, but he doesn't look much like a burial mound...

Very nice, but he doesn’t look much like a burial mound…

However, I am now older and slightly wiser, and can see the fascinating insights that these kurgans in their archaeological sense can provide us with. I can across an article earlier today on a Sarmatian kurgan excavated in the Russian Southern Ural steppes by the Institute of Archaeology (Russian Academy of Sciences), and it is truelly amazing what has been discovered. Until this point, I did not really know anything about Russian (or indeed any European) nomads except that some actually practised tattooing several millenia ago, but this find from the 1st millennium BC is the Iron Age equivelant to our own dear Sutton Hoo. These Sarmatians and other nomads called Scythians interacted with both Persian and Classical Greek culture whilst managing to retain their own distinct style that can be illustrated in some of the amazing artifacts uncovered from this recently-excavated kurgan. The finds are believed to suggest that this burial contained a woman- assuming that you subscribe to the dated and gender stereotyped view of 1970’s archaeological theory that women can be identified in the burial record by jewellery and mirrors. Osteological indications suggest a man, however, and I would be more inclined to believe this, to be honest.

The burial chamber showing the body, and some of the grave goods. The mirror is visible to the middle right of the image, and the silver container on the top left.

The burial chamber showing the body, and some of the grave goods. The mirror is visible to the middle right of the image, and the silver container on the top left. Image: Leonid Yablonsky.

Apparently, this particular mound had been excavated 20 years ago and had revealed 26 “golden” deer statuettes, but the section unearthed this year had been left unexplored. In a passage near the enterance the team found a cast bronze cauldron with a diameter of 102 cm, with handles decorated in a Scythian-Siberian animal style showing two griffins beak-to-beak:

The bronze cauldron. Image: Leonid Yablonsky

The bronze cauldron. Image: L.Y.

Detail of cauldron handle showing beak-to-beak griffins. Image: Leonid Yablonsky

Detail of cauldron handle showing beak-to-beak griffins. Image: L.Y.

Within the intact burial chamber, which measured 4x5m and was 4m deep, there was found a skeleton, and near to the skull, a wicker chest. This may have been a ‘vanity case’, and was filled with items including: a cast silver container with a lid; a gold pectoral; a wooden box; cages; glass; silver and earthenware bathroom flasks; leather pouches and horse teeth containing red pigments. There was also a large silver mirror, as well as items of clothing decorated with several plaques that showed flowers, rosettes and a panther leaping on a saiga’s (antelope) back. Breeches, a shirt and a scarf were found to have 395 pressed pieces of gold leaf sewn onto them, with the shirt having its sleeves embellished with multicoloured beads, and a fringed shawl was held together with a golden chain. Also, two cast gold earrings were decorated in places with cloisonné enamel and found on the skeleton, suggesting that they had been worn on the corpse. Less ornate were two stone mixing palettes that were discovered, along with gold-plated iron needles and bone spoons and pens decorated with animals- but it is believed that these were used to carry out tattooing. In all, there were over 1000 artifacts uncovered, and a few can be seen below:

Silver mirror. Image: L. Y.

Silver mirror. Image: L.Y.

Silver container. Image: L.Y.

Silver container. Image: L.Y.

Gold plague depicting a panther catching an antelope- not a particularly Russian image! Image: L.Y.

Gold plague depicting a panther catching an antelope- not a particularly Russian image! Image: L.Y.

Earring with visible enamel cloisonné detailing. Image: L.Y.

Earring with visible enamel cloisonné detailing. Image: L.Y.

This excavation has certainly opened my eyes to a society that I previously knew next to nothing about, and has certainly excited me to find out more about these Iron Age peoples. A couple of days of research are in order over the next few weeks, I think.!

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Thought’s on ‘Animal Farm’

animal farm

I said a few days ago that I’d recently read George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’, and that I would give a few of my thoughts upon this. Well- here goes!

‘Animal Farm’ is one of those books that I’ve meant to read for a while now, but haven’t until the past week or so. I feel slightly bad saying this, as to me it is  one of those books that I should have read (along with Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, which is also on my SOON TO READ list, and a host of Dickens, which are not). I knew that the message and theme of the book was meant to be upon the nature of socialism and the irony that this system has as a form of government, but I was pleasantly surprised by just how clever the book is. Despite being intended as a parody of Stalin-era Russia, there are several aspects that also bring to mind the Nazi state, such as the Night of the Long Knives-like killing of those who disagreed with or who spoke out against the state, and the Molotov/Goebbels-esque character of Squealer, flanked by canine Gestapo. In themselves, the use of dogs for the bodyguard, police roles suggests further that such secret police and other officials  are less influenced by political ideology and agendas than loyal service to whoever is in control, as before the rule of Napoleon, the dogs at Manor Farm would have been at the bidding of the previous leader, Mr Jones.  Indeed, the entire way in which Orwell shows propaganda and political manipulation at work comes across brilliantly, with the other animals only being dimly aware that the truth of the past may not be quite as it is being portrayed to them by their leader. Similarly, the subtle rewording of the Commandments painted on the wall are not questioned on the basis that they are on the wall, and so must always have been so. This blind belief that what the state tells is citizens is alway true and that the state knows best is a message that can just as easily be applied to present regimes and indeed our own country as it can Soviet Russia.

However, the best aspect of the book for me is the way that when the control of Napoleon begins to manifest itself, the reader is shocked by each act and led to think that they are terrible, and highly wrong morally. I for one couldn’t imagine such things actually happening, and the fact that these events are occurring to animals makes the links less obvious- but then suddenly it hits that everything that seems so shocking did actually occur in Russia, and the tightening of state control did take the same brutal and immoral routes.

All-in-all, I found ‘Animal Farm’ to be a highly enjoyable, gripping and thought-provoking novella, and for anyone who hasn’t read it, I would highly recommend it. I have only given here a few thoughts of mine upon the book, and urge you to find your own illusions within it, but hope that this may help.

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