Timber-grave culture (Srubnaya)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


A reconstructed hut of the Srubna culture.


 The burial mound is between the Ural Mountains and Ukraine's Dneiper River. It is thought to have been where members of the Srubna culture were buried. Srubna was a Late Bronze Age culture.


Bronze Age culture first identified by V. A. Gorodtsov (1900 to 1903) in the Seveski Donets area. Later, sites belonging to this culture were studied by Russian and Ukrainian scholars, including N. Ya. Merpert, O. A. Krivtsova-Grakova, and A. I. Terenozhkin and were identified in a vast area, stretching from the Middle and Lower Volga in the east to the lower Danube in the west and dated to c. 1600-1200 BC. The main characteristic of the culture is a rectangular timber burial chamber (or `srub', in Russian), 1.8-2.2 m long, 1.2-1.4 m wide and 0.4-0.6 m high, beneath a kurgan or mound. 

Stone cists were also common. The dead were usually laid in a contracted posture on their left side, the head facing east. The grave-goods are usually restricted to one, rarely two, ceramic vessels. The few richer graves that are known contain bronze knives, and ornaments such as rings, and wooden vessels with bronze inlays. Animal bones are often found in the graves (e. g. six bull skulls in kurgan no. 5 at Kamushevakha, near the town of Bakhmut on the Severski Donets). The barrows form small groups (numbering 5-10), usually along the edges of the plateaux. 

More than 100 settlements belonging to the Timber-grave culture are known in the Seveski Donets catchment alone; they are usually situated on dunes or on small hills along the river valley and consist of semi-subterranean houses of square or rectangular shape (e. g. 7 x 7 or 6 x 8 m) arranged in one or two rows. The remains of fortifications have been found in a few cases. The economy was based on stock-breeding, agriculture and metallurgy. The faunal remains consisted of the bones of cattle, sheep/goat, pig and horse. Flint and bronze sickles, pestles and quern stones are indicative of agriculture. At the site of Usovo Ozero (near Donetsk), G. A. Pashkevich (1991) has identified the grains of einkorn and club wheats, six-row barley, rye, oats and Italian millet. Metallurgy was particularly developed in the area close to the copper mines of the Donets Basin: near the villages of Klonovoe, Pilipchatino, Kalinovka and Pokrovskoe. These sites contained the remains of workshops, furnaces, slag, ingots, fragments of crucibles and clay moulds. 

Many scholars, e. g. A. I. Terenozhkin (1976) and B. N. Grakov (1977), identify the Timber-grave culture with the historically-attested `Cimmerians', who were said to live north of the Caucasus and the Black Sea in the period between 714 and c. 500 BC.

Very little is known archaeologically of the Cimmerians of the Northern Black Sea Coast. It has been suggested they may have comprised the so-called "Catacomb culture" of southern Russia, which appears to have been ousted by the "Srubna culture" that advanced from farther east. This parallels the Greek account of how the Cimmerians were displaced by the Scythians. However, the ouster of the Catacomb culture is carbon-dated to the 2nd millennium BC, several hundred years before the Scythians are recorded as having appeared in Asia; the conflicting timeframes are difficult to reconcile.

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