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Vladimir Erlikh The Northwest Caucasus at the Beginning of the Early Iron Age (the Protomeotian Group of monuments). Moscow, "Nauka", 2007.

Erlikh The Northwest Caucasus at the Beginning of the Early Iron Age (the Protomeotian Group of monuments)


The Introduction presents a brief geographical overview of the region in question, located in present-day Krasnodarsky Krai (the Krasnodar Region) and the Republic of Adygea.

A large part of this region, with its various landscape zones, ties into the left bank of the Kuban River. Finds from the Hajohsk kurgans, which date to the 1st half of the 7th cent. B. C, suggest that the climate here was possibly somewhat dryer at the beginning of the Early Iron Age. These kurgans stood 600m above sea level, in a broadleaf forest zone. Yet scientists found pollen typical for the steppe zone in the burial soil from these kurgans (Alexandrovsky, 1997). Climatic changes led to migrations into this zone or sub-zone. These were probably the main factor leading the local population's change in lifestyle and, subsequently, the formation of a new culture. The migrations took place against the backdrop of growing aridity in the Black Sea steppes at the end of the Bronze Age. This unique ecological catastrophe, which, according to some researchers, occurred at the very beginning of the 1st mill. BC (Mahotortyh, Ievlev, 1991), led to a sudden drop in agricultural settlements (up to 10 times less) and forced part of the population to turn to pastoralism (Vanchugov, 1990; Berezanskaya, Otroschchenko etc, 1986). Another part of this steppe population probably migrated to neighboring regions better suited for agriculture and animal-husbandry. One of these areas, or "ecological niches", was apparently the area off the Kuban River's left bank (i.e. south of the Kuban River).

This explains how Protomeotian structures originated during the transitional period from the Bronze to the Early Iron Age and can be termed the main "working hypothesis" of this publication. The process itself was, of course, much more complex, as can be seen by the many components of these structures and the multi-faceted character of the material associated with them.

Chapter I takes a look at the research history of the Meotian archeological culture, the difficulties involved in its periodization and, especially, in defining a concrete Protomeotian Period.

Chapter II, "Acquiring Iron and the Transition to the Early Iron Age in the Mediterranean and Circumpontic Zone", takes a look at the process of transition to the Early Iron Age in various parts of the Old World.

The technological characteristics of ancient iron wares, based on archeo-metallurgical data, play a deciding role in understanding this transition. A generalized look at the analytical results provided by a series of iron objects from Prescythian monuments in various regions of southern Eastern Europe allow us to distinguish various cultural/historical traditions existing during the early stages of iron smithing.

The Eastern European tradition developed in the steppes and forest steppes of the Black Sea region. It was based on the use of iron or soft raw steel. There are no signs of artificially produced steel and thermal treatment in this area all the way up to the Scythian Period.

The Transcaucasian iron working tradition is characterized by cementation and thermal treatment even in its early stages.

Archeo-metallurgical analyses of ancient iron goods from the Northern Caucasus showed that the transition to the Iron Age in this area took place from the 9th-7th centuries BC and included both the iron working technologies already mentioned. Thus, the Transcaucasian tradition can be seen as characteristic for the eastern variant of the Koban culture (e.g. the Serjen'-Yurt cemetery), a fact confirmed by ties between this region and present-day Eastern Georgia. Additionally, metallographic data indicates that the Eastern European tradition of using pure iron was predominant in the western variant of the Koban culture (e.g. the Klin-Yar cemetery in the Kislovodsk Hollow).

The Protomeotian monuments of the Northwest Caucasus are especially interesting. The "Predgorny" (foothill) version of this group (e.g. the Fars cemetery) displays a solid Transcaucasian tradition of using high-quality steel obtained by deliberately cementing partially-finished and finished products. At the same time, pure iron wares were used in burial structures in the Transkuban plains (e.g. the Pshish cemetery, Psekups, the Kubansky cemetery). Iron wares also appeared in the Black Sea steppes as early as the Belozerka Period (10th-9th cent. BC).

Such traditions confirm the direction cultural ties were following at this time in the Northwest Caucasus microregions mentioned here. Transcaucasian imports, especially from the Northwest Colchis area, are characteristic for structures in the foothills. Structures in the plains are associated with the Black Sea steppes (e.g. the Chernogorovka culture) and Central Europe.

We have thus ascertained that the Iron Age in the North Caucasus, characterized by the bonding of both iron-working traditions, definitely ensued in the Early-Scythian Period (e.g. the Kelermes cemetery).

Chapter III, "Late Bronze-Age Monuments in the Northwest Caucasus", takes a look at both the general problem of studying the Late Bronze Age in this area as well as at monuments immediately preceding the appearance of Protomeotian groups of monuments in this area. In summing up our investigations of Late Bronze Age structures in the Northwest Caucasus, we can conclude that the substrate in which proto- Meotian monuments were erected appears somewhat amorphous at this time. Only 13 secondary graves in the Mikhailovsky cemetery can definitely be dated to the end of the Transkuban Bronze Age. However, it is not possible to attribute them to a particular cultural group based on the information available at this time.

In terms of the substrate, the outgoing Bronze Age settlements in the region tying in with the Kuban left bank - the Kobyakovo (Krasnogvardeiskoe) settlements - and such settlements with bronze manufacture (e.g. the Pshikuihabl and Pshish I settlements, etc.) can more certainly be seen as the central variant of the Protomeotian monuments. As far as the graves connected with settlements are concerned, nothing can able concluded due to the fact that all burial structures found here belong to the transitional period to the Iron Age (the Protomeotian group). Apparently, funeral rituals in the late Bronze Age were different, and the appearance of Protomeotian flat graves should be seen as an innovation of the aforementioned transitional period.

Chapter IV, "Monuments of the 'Transitional' Period to the Early Iron Age in the Northwest Caucasus (the Protomeotian Group of Monuments) and their Local Variants", deals with Protomeotian structures throughout the Transkuban region, from the Black Sea coast in the west to the Kuban midriver in the east, currently numbering over 30 graves and including over 500 burial complexes and over 10 household structures. The term "Protomeotian culture" frequently used by scientists is not quite correct. The difference between the respective local groups is too great. It is more likely that we area looking at a new form, at the molding of a new archeological culture. Therefore, it is preferable to refer to these monuments as the "Protomeotian group" (Erlikh, 2002a, p. 26). This group's development and the coaction of its various archeological components ultimately led to the formation of the Meotian archeological culture. The Protomeotian monuments can be divided into three local variants: the coastal-Abinsk variant, the central (steppe) variant and the Predgorny variant (see Erlikh, 2000, 2000a). The few early Scythian complexes found along the right Kuban bank are apparently related to the Chernogorovka steppe culture.

Structures of the coastal-Abinsk type can be further divided up into two 'branches': those of the Black Sea coast and those in the Abinsk District of Krasnodarsky Krai.

The best examples of the central Protomeotian variant, to be found in the flatlands along the left Kuban bank, are undoubtedly the late-Belozerka and Kobyakovo monuments. This can be best observed in the Krasnogvardeiskoe I and II settlements. However, the finds belonging to this group are of a complex assemblage. The ladles and jugs/cups constituting the pottery complex are undoubtedly of the Belozerka and Kobyakovo types. The jewelry finds include Caucasian elements (bracelets) and elements from the steppes (pins with protuberances) and find analogies in the Noa culture. Horn-shaped cheek pieces resemble forms from the Belozerka steppes. These finds, representing the central variant, demonstrate the stable ties that existed with Central Europe and the northern Black Sea steppes.

The "Predgorny" variant can be found between the flatlands and foothills as well as in the foothills along the Fars and Belaya Rivers and their tributaries. Typical for this variant are graves without proper mounds. The grave filling usually contains stones, sometimes the grave itself is covered with stones. Proper kurgans only appear in the late stage ( e.g. the Klady and Hadjoh cemeteries). Additionally, a series of graves built into Bronze Age kurgans were found in the Fars/Klady cemetery.

Chapter V deals funeral rites of Protomeotian monuments.

In Chapter VI the author look at the Protomeotian cult places (sanctuaries) and settlements.

Chapter VII deals with the material culture of the Protomeotian group of monuments - ceramic and bronze pottery, weapons, harnesses, chariot details, ornaments, etc.

Chapter VIII "Protomeotian Bronze: Tradition and Innovations" takes a look at the chemical composition of bronze items of the Northwest Caucasus from the transitional period to the Early Iron Age.

Chapter IX deals with the relative and absolute chronology of Protomeotian monuments. The long enduring cemeteries of the "Protomeotians" and the fill of bridle equipment (which had undergone significant changes over the course of time) from their burials are exceptionally important in constructing a respective chronology of the entire Southern area of Prescythian Eastern Europe.

The Fars/Klady cemetery (Leskov, Erlikh, 1999) serves as a model for foothill monuments, as does the Pshish I cemetery for the Central (Steppe) version.

A comparative analysis of the material from these monuments reveals four separate phases of the Prescythian Period.

1. The pre-Novoczerkassian/early Chernogorovka phase. The pre-Novoczerkassian element is characterized by bridle equipment from foothill monuments, the early Chernogorovka element by bridle equipment from steppe monuments. A number of similarities amongst the finds show these phases to be contemporary. This period corresponds to the early Chernogorovka Period of the steppes along the northern Black Sea. In Central Europe this period can be compared with the upper archeological horizon of a field of burial urns (B2/B3) or with horizon V hoards (see K. Pare).

2. The "Preclassical/transitional phase. Bridle equipment in the burials of this period is characterized by specific "Preclassical" cheek-pieces. Overall, we can see that individual complexes among the burials of this horizon show both pre-Novoczerkassian/early-Chernogorovka characteristics as well as later "classical" Novoczerkassian ones. Using the complexes of the Chernogorovka steppe culture, we can hypothetically attest to the contemporaneity of this horizon to the mid-Chernogorovka one, to which complexes such as Vysokaya Mogila grave 2 belong. In Central Europe this horizon is contemporary to the transitional complexes from На В3 к НаС1 or from horizon V(hoards) to horizon VI (see K. Pare) and possibly also to the beginning of НаС1.

3. A certain disappearance of archeological differences between foothill and early Protomeotian monuments takes place in the "classical" Novocherkassk phase. The appearance of "classical" Novoczerkassk antiquities, including wheel constructions, in the steppes and forest steppes of the Northern Caucasus region can be regarded as a "splash of Northern Caucasian color" corresponding to the ancient migration period in Transcaucasia and Asia Minor (Erlikh, 1994)

In Central Europe this horizon corresponds to complexes relating to the На С1 period (early and late) - horizon VI with the hoards (see С. Pare). We can also include the Pr?gy and D?nakoml?d complexes as well as other monuments in this group.

4. "Early-Zhabotin" Period. Directly preceding the early-Scythian phase. The essence of this period is the appearance of early-Scythian artifacts together in a Novoczerkassian context. This phase is characterized by kurgan burials of the Protomeotian elite - Hadjoh, Uaskhitu, "Klady k. 48" and other sites.

A number of extraordinary kurgan complexes from those of the Ukranian forest steppes can be associated with this horizon: this would include the Kvitki and Ol'shana kurgans, in addition to the Zhabotin 524 kurgan. In the Ural Mountain region the Gumarovo complex corresponds to this horizon, in Bulgaria the Enje-Zarev Brod. The "Early-Zhabotin" horizon in Central Europe should accordingly be dated contemporary to the late HaС1 (НаС1a) horizon, to which researchers relate, for example, the F?g?d complex.

An absolute chronology of Prescythian horizons in Eastern and Central Europe definitely serves as a keen discussion topic. In our opinion, all the periods we have differentiated can be fitted within a certain interval - from the end of the 9th through the first half of the 7th century BC

Chapter X, "The Historical Role of the Protomeotian Period", deals with general questions concerning the role and importance of Protomeotian monuments within the context of Southern Eastern European cultures and the Meotian cultural heritage in the Northwest Caucasus during this period.

The author takes a look at ties between Protomeotian structures and their surroundings. These can be divided up as follows:
  1. Ties with the Northern Caucasus;
  2. Ties with the Eastern European and forest steppes;
  3. Transcaucasian ties;
  4. Ties with Central Europe;
  5. Contacts along the Black Sea coast.

The author takes a look at the Protomeotian "cultural heritage" and new Meotian innovations in the subsequent Meotian-Scythian Period. It is the author's intention to demonstrate that many elements of the Meotian burial cult considered to be typical "Scythian" by researchers of Kuban history did in fact appear in the Protomeotian Period. Additionally, the author takes a look at qualitative changes in Meotian culture taking place during the Meotian-Scythian Period. These include the extension of cultural borders, changes in pottery wares, military items and other areas. In spite of certain adaptations between the Protomeotian and Meotian-Scythian Periods, it can be assumed that substantial differences did exist. Therefore, it is not possible to group these periods together as some researchers have proposed.

In Part XI, titled "The Kuban Hearth of Early-Scythian Culture' or Meotian Culture", the author poses the following question: which people or peoples could have belonged to this culture? This is one of the most difficult and least productive questions for researchers in terms of positive proof due to the lack of direct or contemporary evidence, since all conclusions are reached based on a series of assumptions. In his 1994 paper, the author attempted to demonstrate that the cultures of Early Scythian and preceding Prescythian Periods are unique because, in terms of scientific research, they lie somewhere between their pre-history and history (Erlikh 1994, p. 3-17). Contemporary written sources for the period in question exist in the form of Akkadian texts. Unfortunately, these are very broken and bear no direct relation to the territory in question. Classical sources are more concrete, but "lag" some 200 years behind the events in question. The author believes that preference should be given to a pre-historical approach when studying these sources. At the same time, researchers should not exclude any coincidences with written sources (regardless how indirect or non-synchronous) revealed by their research.

Let us try to apply these coincidences to our topic:

4. Various components typical for the end of the Bronze Age in the steppe regions (the Zabotin and Belozeka steppes) played an important role in the birth of the Protomeotian group. Nonetheless, we have no grounds to associate these components with the historical Cimmerians.

5. A number of sources citing the Northwest Caucasian (and the Central Precaucasian) populations' knowledge of Assyrian and Urartian warfare are most probably able to tell us about military movements from the Pre-Caucasian territory into these areas. The latter finds parallels, to a certain degree, in Near Eastern sources reporting Cimmerian military maneuvers of the end of the 8th cent. BC. At the same time, A. I. Terenojkin's theory stating that the Cimmerians were a steppe people and bringers of cultural progress, being "the first to use iron on a widespread industrial basis as well as the first manufactures of refined iron (steel) weapons" (1976, S. 19), does not concur with current data. Current research, including the author's own, shows that it was the Caucasians, represented in particular by the Meotian group of monuments, that provided the steppe populations with metal bridle gear, and that the iron manufacturing tradition of the steppe peoples did in fact lag behind that of Transcaucasia, which also evolved in the foothills of the Northern Caucasus.

6. The appearance of an Early Zhabotin culture with certain elements belonging to the Eastern horseback culture of Sayan-Altai and Central Asia (e.g. bits with stirrup-form ends and an additional hole, certain animal style elements, bronze kettles, saddle-fasting buckles) serves as proof of a new wave of the horseback culture penetrating from the East. These facts concur with one of Herodot's explanations of the Scythians' origins.

7. The fact that the richer complexes in the Kelermes necropolis contained a large number of imported wares of Near-Eastern and Transcaucasian manufacture ties in with Herodot's account of the Scythians' return from their Near-Eastern maneuvers. Similarly, all burial and cult structures in this necropolis can be viewed as belonging to a single, local archeological culture which can be termed "Meotian" without containing a specific ethnological meaning.

This last point does not contradict the existence of an "Early Scythian cultural hearth" in the Northwest Caucasus (Galanina, 1997), as long as it is understood in terms of a traditional and widespread context defined by horse gear, weapons and objects decorated in the animal style, and not as a concrete, ethnical definition based on the Iranian language group of the Northern Black Sea steppes. In order to differentiate the terms "Meotian archeological culture" and "Early Scythian culture", the author suggests that the latter term, referring to the so-called "Scythian triad", be substituted by the broader "sub-cultural" term "Early Scythian complex". This same "sub-cultural" or "extra-cultural" term can be applied to both the earlier complex of the "New-Circassian hoard" type as well as the "New-Circassian complex". A similar, broader understand of the Northwest Caucasus shows it to be one of the main hearths of the "Early Scythian complex", in which 'Scythian' elements, characterized by elements of the triad, continue to develop to one degree or another up till the 4th cent. BC, and continuously take on local characteristics. This development, however, takes place within the framework of the local Meotian agricultural culture.

The conclusion includes a list of all major works cited.

Translated by Sudjata Chandrasekaran
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