Еxhibition "Gold of the North Caucasus" Еxhibition Gold of the North Caucasus

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Recent Investigations of the Ulski Kurgans

Archeological study of the Ulski kurgans, long considered to be classical Scythian monuments of the northern Caucasus, reaches back to the end of the 19th century, when they were first excavated by Professor N.I. Veselovski. The majority of specialists considered and still consider them to be funeral structures for Scythian warriors and as such the continuation of the Kelermes kurgan tradition, and date them to the Achemenidian period (VI-V cent. B.C.). This point of view was challenged by A.M. Leskov in 1982, when he excavated the only kurgan untouched by N.I. Veselovski's trenches (kurgan 10). This kurgan was proven to be a shrine and not a funeral complex. (Leskov 1985) Similar shrines, known to have existed since the Proto-Meotian Period, are typical for the Meotian archeological culture (Erlikh, 2001; Kantorovich, Erlikh, 2006).A.M. Leskov and L. K. Galanina suggested (1996) kurgan 10 to be a cult structure, just like the Great Ulski Kurgan (kurgan 1, 1898), located in the western part of the kurgan group. They suggested that construction of the Ulski kurgans started in the East and moved westwards, and that the earlier structures were meant for burials and located in the eastern part of the kurgan group

This summer (2007), our excavation team, funded by the Russian Scientific Fund (grant № 07-01-18003е), for the Humanities, decided to investigate the easternmost Ulski kurgan. Our investigations revealed the remains of a tent-like structure on top of a ritual hearth, which had been covered with wood and cane in the areas of the kurgan undisturbed by Veselovski. The remains of four horse sacrifices were discovered in the western part of the hearth. Shards from three hand molded vessels and the bones of an animal were uncovered in the northern part, where Veselovski's trenches had done no damage. The structure's construction is quite similar to that of kurgan 10 (1982) and could also be part of a ritual complex.

A sample of golden application plaques and one separating bead were found in the trench fill left by Veselovski.

These finds are exactly like those discovered in 1909 in kurgan 2, which are now in the Ermitage. They included two now famous terminals shaped like the head of a bird of prey. One of our finds this year is quite significant - a plaque shaped like a mountain goat in a reclining position with its head turned to the back. The same kind of plaque, manufactured using the same stamp, was found in kurgan 2 in 1909. Therefore it is very likely that this is the kurgan we have been excavating, in spite of the fact that Veselovski speaks of excavations in the vicinity of the Great Ulski Kurgan, and its find complex can be dated to the second half of the 6th cent. B.C.

Based on the above, we can conclude that ritual complexes/shrines were located in both the western and eastern parts of the Ulski kurgan group. It is probable that all the Ulski kurgans were in fact not burial structures. A.M. Leskov's theory that the kurgans were constructed from east to west could not be confirmed. The earliest kurgan in terms of its inventory is kurgan 1 (1908), dating to the beginning of the 6th cent. B.C. It was apparently located in the center of the group and remains to be located.

 
     
 
     
 
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Шамба Георгий Кучиевич
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