A Controversial Archaeological Phenomenon of the Region Between the Danube Mouth and the Volga at the Beginning of the Iron Age
Romanian version


The discoveries from the steppes stretching between the Danube mouths and the Volga dating from the first iron age are designated in the archaeological literature by the terms of "Cimmerian culture", "late Pre-Scythian culture" or "the culture of the early nomads" . These notions as well as the interpretations of the archaeological material they refer to are based on a model borrowed from the ancient Greek historiography (Herodotus, IV, 11-12). Consequently there has appeared a confusion between the classes of archaeological finds and the populations mentioned by Herodotus, which, in its turn, had repercussions upon the definitions of the cultural groups. Thus, the most eloquent example in question consists in the line of thinking inaugurated by Terenožkin. The latter postulates the existence, in the northern-Pontic steppes, of a single ethnic group - the historical Cimmerians - as well as the existence of a unitary archaeological culture, "the Cimmerian culture". The presence of random "Cimmerian" elements in other cultural zones is considered to be indicative of the Cimmerians' migration; similarly, the "Cimmerian culture" allegedly broke off its evolution, as a result of the Scythians' migration that brought along a culture differing in every respect from the Cimmerian one. (Terrenožkin 1976; Vinogradov et al. 1979; Meljukova 1989; Otroščenko 1987; 189; Romaško 1987; Vančugov 1993; Mahortyh 1994; Skoryj 1994). But there is a previous model to the one formulated by Terenožkin, namely, that formulated by Jessen. The latter prefers a separate analysis of the archaeoloical and the historical sources, and allows the corroboration of the two categories of sources only in the last stage of the research (Jessen 1953). By the mediation of Leskov, the Soviet archaeological school borrows from Jessen's contribution, especially the latter's conclusions regarding relative chronology. Leskov refutes Terenožkin's thesis, but he takes as his starting point yet another ethnic premise. The černogorovka and Novočerkassk groups (chronological phases in Terenožkin's view) are considered contemporary, especially with a view to demonstrating the coexistence of the Cimmerians and Scythians to the north of the Black Sea and the Caucasus (Leskov 1984). Dubovskaja accepts the černogorovka-Novočerkassk contemporariness and argues in favour of this by invoking the "prestigious" and implicitly overcultural character of the Novočerkassk metallic inventory. The sole cultural and ethnic group is represented, in Dubovskaja view, by the finds of the černogorovka type. (Dubovskaja 1987; 1987a; 1989). If we leave aside their divergencies regarding the attribution of the archaeological material, Terenožkin's and Leskov's theories agree in point of methodology: they unconditionally equate the groups of archaeological finds with the populations mentioned by Herodotus. Ostensibly, for this reason the discussion about the relationship among the černogorovka, Novočerkassk and Sythian inventories of forms has turned into a dispute between the partisans of the migrations and those of the autochtones. The formal renunciation to this kind of approaches to the "Cimmerian" finds has nevertheless gone hand in hand with the application of similar judgments in respect to the issue of the absolute chronology for the end of the Černogorovka - Novočerkassk and the beginning of the archaic Scythian culture. On the one hand, the identity between the Černogorovka - Novočerkassk group and the historical Cimmerians has been doubted. But on the other hand, an older idea of Jessen's was put in ethnic terms: both the Scythians and the Cimmerians known from Assyrian sources have been identified with the bearers of the archaic Scythian culture. This is why specialists have accepted as legitimate the connection between the chronology of the archaeological finds and the chronology of the events on the Assyrian border of the last years of the 8th century BC (Medvedskaja 1992; Tohtas'ev 1993; Erlih 1994). It is undoubtedly necessary, under the circumstances, to simply renounce the method of cultural attribution and definition by resorting to an image derived from the literary sources. And so it becomes compulsory to ascertain instead whether or not the defining forms for the "Cimmerian culture" are related to a certain geographical area, to a typical set of funeral practices and to a clearly delineated chronological segment. Alongside the extreme sparsity of the defining elements for "the Cimmerian culture" within its designated area, these elements are remarcably wide-spread over a territory that exceeds by far the actual limits of the northern Pontic steppes. The triangulated head mouthpieces (Table 2/1), the mouthpieces with double ring endings (Table 2/2), the arched curb bits (psaliahs) with three holes (Tables 2/3-5) and the arched curb bits (psaliahs) with three rings (Table 2/6) are to be found in the northern and eastern basins of the Black Sea, especially in the cultural environments of Černoles - Žabotin, the protomeotic and Koban ones (Maps II - IV). The lunulae (Tables 2/7-9), the discoidal appliqučs (Table 2/10) and the helmet-shaped ones (Table 2/11) follow the spreading patterns of the curb bits (Map V). By contrast, the meshes with bridle stoppers (Tables 2/12-16) sparsely found to the north of the Black Sea are rather frequent in the protomeotic* and Koban tombs (Map VI). Some types of "Ponto-Caucasian" harness pieces have also been encountered in the western basin of the Black Sea, namely, the arched curb bits with three holes, the lunulae, the two types of appliqučs and the meshes with stoppers of the Aksaj type (Table 2/12). In the current research stage, the eastern spreading limit for the "Cimmerian" harness kits can be set in the Minusinsk depression to the north of the Altai Mountains, where there have been found, in the tumuli of Aržan, a number of triungular head mouthpieces and some arched curb bits of the Černogorovka type (Map VII). Both the bimetallic daggers with a cruciform hilt guard (Tables 3/1-2) and the daggers with triangles at the hilts (Tables 3/3-4) , generally quite rare in the "Cimmerian culture" tombs, are to be found in Central Europe in the final UFK environment, in tombs of the Ananio culture in the northern basin of the Volga, in the Černoles environment, as well as in the cultures of the sub-Caucasian zone (Maps VIII-IX).What appears as more frequent in the "Cimmerian" tombs are the arrows with bone points (Tables 3/5-7) or with bronze points (Tables 3/8-11). The general spreading area for these items also exceeds the limits of the northern-Pontic steppes. Items that resemble the ones included in the area of "the Cimmerian culture" have been met with in north-eastern Bulgaria, in Černoles type settlements, in protomeotic and Koban funeral inventories, as well as in an early "Scythian" tomb of Anatolia (Map X). The conclusion to draw from the geographical distribution of the material is that the elements considered to be defining for "the Cimmerian culture" cannot be circumscribed to a clearly delineated geographical area. Also, they cannot be associated to a single culture, their presence being significant for the regions to the west of the northern-Pontic steppes in the cultural environments of the late UFK and Basarabi - Şoldăneşti, to the north of the same in Černoles - Žabotin and Ananino environments, and to the south and east in protometic, Koban and Aržan environments. For some weapon categories, the area can be also extended to the southern basin of the Black Sea. As regards the ceramic types, a different picture for the geographic spread can be outlined in comparisson with that applicable for the harness and weaponry. Alongside some territorially restricted categories (such as the bowls, for the Dniester basin or the Boľšaja Belozerka type amphorae, for the Dnieper basin), in the tombs under discussion there exist vase forms (Table 4) and vase decorations (Table 5) encountered from the mouths of the Danube until the Dnieper river and - for the case of the amphorae in the shape of bi-truncated cones - also in the Don basin (Maps XI- XIII). These belong to some ceramic species common to several cultures from the beginning of the iron age, which have been located from the north-eastern Balkans up to the Ukrainian sylvo-steppes (Pšeničevo, Babadag II, Cozia, Saharna - Solonceni, Černoles II, Basarabi, Şoldăneşti, Žabotin, Ferigile). At the same time, the basins of the Dnieper and the Don stand out especially owing to the presence of some metallic, but also ceramic inventories which connect them either with certain cultural groups situated between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea or with the central-European zone; such connections have been manifested more weakly in the case of the tomb groups of the Dniester and the Bug. The definition of an archaeological culture is conditioned by the possibilities for establishing a funeral standard. We should therefore be able to detect and follow a constant funeral practice over the entire territory between the Danube mouth and the Volga. The characteristic funeral rite for the Černogorovka - Novočerkassk tombs is that of inhumation. Another characteristic feature is the overwhelming presence of the secondary tumular burials. The funeral arrangements encountered over the entire mentioned zone belong to the following types: 1. Plain pits with an oval or rectangular contour. 2. Pits with nooks; the entrance to the nook is enclosed with slabs and beams. 3.1. Pits provided with a wood roof supported on poles. 3.2. Pits provided with one step and a roof; 4. Mortuary rooms made of beams. Types 2 and 3 frequently appear associated with the practice of filling the upper part of the pit with boulders. In the aggregate, the funeral inventories consist of ceramic deposits, often in association with wood vessels and alimentary offerings (ovicaprine bones, as a rule), weapons, instruments, ornamental objects and harness items. The arms and instruments together with the ornaments pertain to the category of garb objects, judging by their position in respect to the skeleton, when it it described. From the territorial disposition of the inventory categories and the types of funeral arrangements there can be observed easily noticeable differences among the hydrographic basins with the finds (Maps XIV - XVI). If, on the one hand, it is obvious how rare the tombs with metallic inventories are for the basins of the Dniester and the Bug, this is, on the other hand, the zone where there appear with extraordinary frequence funeral inventories exclusively consisting of ceramic offerings. The same type of behaviour is much more rarely observable in the Dnieper basin and altogether isolated in the Don basin (Map XV). Of all the hydrographic basins here discussed, the presence of weapons is completely insignificant only in the group of tombs unearthed along the Bug and relatively weak in the Dnieister basin. The tombs with harness items are almost exclusively spread in the Don and the Dnieper basins. At the same time, when comparing just the last two mentioned basins, there can be noticed yet another kind of regional differentiation. Even if the practice of depositing weapons and harness items exists in both zones, these categories appear paired in tombs only in the Dnieper basin, and, as a constant rule, separate in the Don basin (Map XVI). In the Dnieper basin there occur all the established four types of funeral arrangements. In the Dnieper basin and in Crimea, the associated presence of weapons and harness items or the presence of just the harness items is signalled either in tombs with a mortuary room, as is the case with Balki - M.5 (List: 10), Konstantinovka - T.376 and T.377 (List: 50), Nosačevo (List: 72) and Zol'noe (List: 131), or in tombs with radial beam structures under the *tumular mantle, as in Kvitki (List: 60) and Konstantinovka - T.375. The inventories of the mortuary room tombs of Balki - M.2 (List: 10) and Ryžanovka - T.5 (List: 98) contained weapons, but had no harness items included. The categories of weapons present in the tombs under discussion are arrows, spears and daggers. Similary, there have been recorded weapons - either spears or arrows - in tombs with roofs supported on poles, at Kisličevatoe (List: 47) and Velikaja Aleksandrovka (List: 121), as well as in a plain pit tomb of Vasiľevka T.1-M.3 (List: 119). The tombs with roofs on the step and the ones with nooks do not as a rule contain weapons, with only one exception recorded for the latter type tombs, at Aleksandrija (List: 3), from whence were unearthed some spear heads. Instruments, namely whetstones or little daggers, accompany the skeletons deposited in tombs irrespective of any one type of arrangement in particular. But the ornamental items ( the appliqučs, lock rings, saltaleones), when made of gold or silver, appear only in tombs with a mortuary room, at Balki-M.2 and M.5 (List: 10) and Dimitrovo (List: 25), in a tomb with radial beam structure of Kvitki (List: 60) or in tombs with a roof over the step, at Ľvovo (List: 66) and Sofievka-M.1 (List: 105). The same ornament types, but made of bronze, and with bracelets added have been recorded in tombs with a plain pit or with a nook. By comparison to the Dnieper basin, a quite different situation for the distribution of the inventory types according to the kinds of tomb arrangements has been recorded in the Bug and Dniester basin. The majority of the burials in the Bug group were made in pits with a nook, usually containing only ceramic deposits and just rarely associated with wood vessels. In contrast to the Dnieper basin, from the tombs with this kind of arrangement, it has only rarely been the case that instruments or ornaments were unearthed, namely, from Kalinovka (List: 41) (a whetstone, a little knife or a hammer) or from Limancy (List: 61) (saltaleones). The tomb with a mortuary room at Novopetrovka (List: 75) is comparable to the ones of the kind from the Dnieper basin owing to the presence of the arrow points and the gold ornaments (*lock ring, bracelet), but it does not contain any harness items. The most wide-spread burial pattern in the Dniester basin and southern Bessarabia is the one represented by the plain pit tombs with exclusive ceramic inventories. There are very few burials observing any other funeral practices. Tombs with mortuary rooms are known to exist at Berezki (List: 11), Căuşeni (List: 17) and Suvorovo T.6 (List: 111), tombs with one nook have been recorded at Butor (List: 16), Krasnoe T.1-M.7 (List: 55), Roşcani (List: 97) and Suvorovo T.5-M.2 (List: 111), and tombs with a roof supported on poles at Gura Bâcului (List: 34) and Semenovka (List: 103). Swords were deposited in the mortuary room tomb of Berezki, the nook tomb of Butor, as well as in one tomb devoid of any specified arrangement, at Surovo T.5-M.1. Unlike in the Dnieper basin, arrow points have been noted to exist only in plain pit tombs, at Novosel'skoe M.4 (List: 76) and Parcani T.178 (List: 84). A singular case for the western area of the Černogorovka - Novočerkassk archaeological finds is that of an axe signalled in the tomb mentioned at Căuşeni. A preference is worth noting for placing instruments (i.e., whetstones and little knives) and ornaments (e.g., lock rings or bracelets) either in tombs with wood arrangements or with one nook. Just like in the Bug basin, there exist no funeral inventories hypothetically containing spear heads or harness pieces. For a comparison of the same kind with the tombs from the Azov Sea basin there are only a few mentioned arrangements. The mortuary room tomb of Alitup (List:6) only contained ceramic pieces, which has never been the case in any of the zones under discussion. The inventories of the tombs with one nook may contain either exclusively ceramic pieces, at Kremenevka T.3-M.9 (List: 57), or just ornaments, as was the case at Kojsug (List: 49) or even, ceramic votive offerings in association with arrows, at Zimogor'e (List:129). This category of weapons reappears in the tombs with roofs supported on poles at Vasil'evka (List: 120) and Verhnepodpol'nyj (List: 123), in this latter case being associated with an axe. Further to the comparison of the northern Pontic practices to the ones in the sub-Caucasian territory, one can note the existence of a zone where the same model is employed in funeral ceremonies for the representation of the social status and which comprises the basins of the Kuma, the Terek, the Kuban, the Crimean region and the Dnieper basin (cystic tombs*******, tombs with a morturary room made of beams or with a radial beam structure; the presence in the tombs of Černogorovka - Novočerkassk weapons and harness sets in association with Assyrian or Urartian type items; horse burials; the placing of anthropomorphic stelae). As resulting from the mapping (cf. Maps XIV and XVI), the diffusion of the respective model may have been effected from the Caucasus towards the territories to the north of the Black Sea, through the Kerč peninsula. But it is harder to prove that the Assyrian imports appear to the north of the Caucasus, as a result of the invasions of warrior riders into the Urartian & Assyrian zone. This idea is contradicted, on the one hand, by the earlier dating of some such imports in respect to the events already mentioned. On the other hand, the archaeological environments/contexts from which these imports derive rather suggest the idea of imitation, in the protomeotic areas and in Koban, of a behaviour that was characteristic for the warrior elite of Urartu and Assyria. The phenomenon was reflected in the funeral practices. The insinuation of this model farther to the west of the described zone was sparse, whereas in the Don basin the model in question was present only through some of its elements (i.e., the placing in the tombs of the harness sets and of the horses). Thus, instead of there existing a sole model of funeral behaviour between the mouth of the Danube and the Volga, there are rather several funeral fashions, which tend to get grouped around hydrographic basins. As regards the chronology of the material, the Herodotus-Terenožkin line should be abandoned, in favour of a more flexible one. The decisive argument is to be found in the existence of a number of Černogorovka - Novočerkassk complexes - in which are present archaic Scythian elements (i.e., arrow heads with three fins), alongside a number of "mixed" complexes, which may very well pertain, through their material, either to the Černogorovka - Novočerkassk group or to the first phase of the archaic Scythian culture as well as in the persistence of a Novočerkassk tradition up to the second phase of the archaic Scythian culture. This involves a longer duation for the "Cimmerian culture" than the duration of the "late pre-Scythian period", as defined by Terenožkin. To conclude, the hypothetical migration of the Scythains did not put an end to the evolution of a unitary archaeological culture in the area of the steppes between the mouth of the Danube and the Volga. There are also a lot of significant indications which would encourage one to believe that this hypothetical migration did not even bring about any new archaelogical culture. The example of the "Cimmerian culture" reveals the fact that the archaeological sources and the literary ones may reflect perfectly autonomous phenomena in respect to each other, even were we to accept their being contemporary.

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