Ural Federal University: Legendary Arkaim, Sintashta, Emder – discoveries of our archaeologists

e continue the series of publications devoted to the 100th anniversary of the Ural Federal University. This time on the eve of the Day of Archaeologist we will tell about the Ural school of archaeology, one of the leading in Russia.

The fortified settlement of Arkaim relating to the 22nd-17th centuries B.C. is perhaps the most famous archeological monument among the so-called Country of Cities, a “necklace” of ancient settlements on the territory of the South Urals. According to generally accepted estimates, Arkaim is a “quasi-urban” of early Iranian or Indo-Iranian ethnos. Opening of Arkaim in 1987 was due to the experience, which the Ural archeologists gained while studying a similar ancient complex of monuments of the Bronze Age – Sintashta.

Extensive, an area of up to 15 thousand square meters, Sintashta complex includes a fortified settlement, several mounds and burial mounds, which recreated the appearance of prehistoric settlement – the defensive walls and moats, quarters residential buildings, temple and burial buildings. Here they found the oldest of the known chariots, dated horse bones from 2026 BC.

The Sintashta complex was discovered in 1968 by the archeological expedition of the Ural State University (now UrFU), headed by Associate Professor of History Vladimir Gening and his student, a graduate of the UrFU History Department Gennady Zdanovich. Their monograph “Sintashta” will become a desk book for researchers of the Eurasian steppe heritage of the Bronze Age. Almost 20 years later Zdanovich will begin a detailed excavation of the Arkaim, which is 30 km from Sintashta, and in the early 1990’s he will manage to create the world-famous museum-reserve “Arkaim”.

“The work of Vladimir Fedorovich Gening and Gennady Borisovich Zdanovich gave completely new insights into the population of the Southern Urals of those distant times. Before the scientists appeared the tribes, which, coming here, radically changed the local ethno-cultural landscape, brought new, in particular, metallurgical technology. And since any ore deposit has a unique chemical composition, historians were subsequently able to trace the distribution of metal products and establish diverse connections between population groups throughout Northern Eurasia,” says Sergey Koksharov, head of the Department of Archaeology and Ethnology at UrFU.

Vladimir Gening is an outstanding theorist and practitioner in the fields of archaeology, ethnography, and the history of primitive society. While teaching at the History Department of the Ural State University from 1960 to 1974, Gening was the founder of the Ural Scientific Archaeological School, and in time Ural State University became the leading center for Ural archaeology.

Vladimir Gening was the one who opened a specialization in archaeology at the faculty, created a permanent Ural archaeological expedition, and put the training of archaeology students, both in classrooms and laboratories, and in the “field”, on a scientific basis. From the walls of the faculty came specialists who were fully prepared to work independently.

Under Geninga’s supervision the first large-scale archeological research and excavations were made in the territories of the Urals, Trans-Urals and Western Siberia – in the basins of Ishim, Iset, Tavda, Tura, Tobol rivers, in separate districts of Chelyabinsk, Kurgan, Tyumen, Omsk regions as well as in Udmurtia. Their archaeological maps were made, the chronology of thousands of monuments of different periods – from the Neolithic, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age and to the late Middle Ages was established, dozens of new archaeological cultures and cultural types were allocated, their genesis and interaction was shown.

The students had an opportunity to present the results of their research activities at serious scientific conferences of regional and all-Union scale as well as in professional scientific collections. For this purpose Vladimir Gening initiated the edition of the collection “Questions of Urals archaeology”, which is published up to now and is known in the whole archaeological community of our country.

After Vladimir Gening moved to Kiev, Valentina Kovaleva headed the Ural school of archeology. Another experienced representative of Gening’s scientific school is Bronislava Ovchinnikova, whose name is inextricably linked with the Novgorod expedition of our university, which has been carrying out more than 40 years and is recognized as one of the best in the country.

Nowadays, students of the Ural Archaeological School work not only in Ekaterinburg, but throughout the Ural-Volga region, in Russia and abroad. Meanwhile, the activities of the Department of Archaeology and Ethnology at Ural Federal University are still focused on studying the heritage of our distant ancestors, starting from the Paleolithic.

“For a long time it was believed that metallurgical and metalworking production on the territory of the modern Middle Urals and Northwest region appeared in the Late Bronze Age due to the settlement of Altai tribes down to the lower reaches of the Ob. Our experts have proved, that the origin of metallurgy is connected not with them, but with ancient casters of Kama region, and the first centers of metallurgical production appeared a few centuries earlier,” Sergey Koksharov explains.

Samples of ancient metallurgy products (axes, arrowheads, spears, etc.), found, for example, on the Shaitanskoye lake, 65 km from Ekaterinburg, are presented in the exhibition of the Museum and Exhibition Complex UrFU.

Another area of the department’s activity is studying samples of primitive ceramic crafts on the territory of the Ural-West Siberian region. Painstaking research has allowed to specify that the most ancient of them are dated the end of 7 millennium BC, instead of two millennia earlier, as it was considered before. Ceramic production indicates a transition to a settled way of life. It is logical that the first settlements with walls, ramparts and moats also belong to the same period.

“Our department has also awakened interest in the heritage of the Ostyak-Vogul chiefdoms, which in the medieval period of Russian exploration of the Urals and Siberia posed a serious threat to Russian troops and used to defeat them. Monuments left by the Ostyak-Vogul tribes of the 11th-16th centuries AD on the territory of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug abound in items – weapons, craft tools, household goods, and jewelry – from Eastern Europe, the Golden Horde, and Volga Bulgaria. This indicates extensive production, trade and cultural ties of the inhabitants of the Ugra taiga,” describes Sergey Koksharov.

Sergey Koksharov is the discoverer of the legendary “Siberian Troy” – the capital of one of such chiefdoms, the city-fortress Emder. The discovery, together with Alexei Zykov of the Institute of History and Archaeology of the Urals Branch of RAS, was made in 1994, 70 km from Nyagan, on a high promontory of the river Endyr. Before archeologists appeared a majestic picture: several rows of protective ditches and ramparts, burial grounds…

Finally, the most important activity of the Department of Archaeology and Ethnology of Ural Federal University is long-term studies of the Great Shigir Idol – the most ancient wooden sculpture known to mankind. In 1890, it was found in the vicinity of modern Kirovgrad, about 75 kilometers from Ekaterinburg. Recent studies have shown that the age of the Shigir idol – 12100 years. It is 2,5 times older than the most ancient constructions – the Egyptian pyramids – and refers to the end of the Ice Age and the beginning of global warming. Scientifically speaking, the period of transition from the Upper Paleolithic to the Mesolithic and the modern geological era, the Holocene. These results have caused a sensation in the scientific world.

The idol is made of a freshly cut whole trunk of Siberian larch, machined with polished stone chisels and chisels (this was another sensation: previously it was believed that polished tools appeared several millennia later, during the Neolithic period, the New Stone Age).

The almost 3.5-meter high idol is decorated with eight anthropomorphic images, crowned by skeletal figures, as well as numerous ornaments. The purpose of these elements has not yet been established. But if before they were taken as nothing more than decorations, the modern researchers of the Shigir idol suggest that the “guises” and ornament can reflect the system of mythological ideas (chronology of creation, model of the universe, hierarchy of spirits – hypostases of the surrounding world: water, plants, animals, etc.) or serve as a map of the area. Sergey Koksharov admits that in front of us is an undeciphered language or a reflection of the sequence of events, conveyed by the imposition of some images on others.

“Chevrons – downward pointing corners carved above anthropomorphic ‘portraits’ – may indicate other, hidden anthropomorphs. This artistic technique is found in earlier, Paleolithic depictions on bone and stone dating back to the Ice Age. One of the anthropomorphic images on the Shigir idol, female, is a direct parallel to the drawing from the Ignatievskaya cave in the South Urals. Thus, the connection of works of art from two periods – Paleolithic and Mesolithic – becomes clearer. Perhaps we are dealing with artistic manifestations of different generations of the same population. But if before the global warming people concentrated on the objects of hunting, which were depicted in caves, then with the onset of warming in their worldview, apparently, there was a fundamental change, and they began to resort to the depiction of man,” suggests Sergey Koksharov.

In any case, the unsolved mystery of the Shigir idol so far suggests to us that a complex mythological picture of the world, intelligent creative activity and material processing technologies were inherent not only to sedentary farmers, but also to our more ancient ancestors – gatherers and hunters.

“No silicon, no pottery!”, Sergey Koksharov wishes all his colleagues on the eve of Archaeologist Day. Which in translation from the professional terms means “no fluff, no feathers!” (“break a leg!”).