The Center for the Study of the Eurasian Nomads (CSEN)

Following is an abstract from the lecture presented by
Dr. Ludmila Koryakova
Ural State University
The Institute of History and Archaeology, Ural
Division of Russian Academy of Science
at the
University of California, Berkeley
April 9, 1998

Sintashta-Arkaim Culture

Several years ago archaeologists considered all sites of the second half of the 2nd millennium B.C. as belonging to the Andronovo culture. Within the last decade, two additional, and yet more ancient cultures were discovered in Eurasia that have several characteristics in common. These were named "Petrovka" and "Sintashta." Located in the southern Ural region, they are dated to c. 2000-1600 B.C. (Gening, Zdanovich 1993, Zdanovich 1995, 1997) The former occupied the eastern region (Tobol -Ishim), and the latter the southern area. Previously, Sintashta settlements had been excavated but they had not been understood because of their difference from the classical Andronovo culture. Moreover, because the complexes contained some features belonging to the Abashevo culture, the original researchers had initially included them into the Abashevo sphere.

The most diagnostic feature of the Sintashta settlement site is its closed fortification that consisted of ramparts and ditches, enforced by a fence or wall built from unfired clay bricks and wooden frames. The site plan was based on either a round or rectangular form. The fortified area included from 6,000 to 30,000 sq. meters. Towers and other constructions protected the entrances and the accesses to water (Zdanovich 1995). The houses were 25-130 sq.meters, rectangular and had pit-storage, open fire hearths, wells. Some also included metallurgical furnaces.

Sintashta Burial

Why had the individuality of Sintashta sites and their associated artifacts not been recognized earlier? And why are the sites still the subject of dispute? The crux of this matter is that frequently the more ancient deposits had been destroyed by subsequent layers of occupation. It was possible to understand the Sintashta settlement only after a another site had been investigated more recently.

The Sintashta sites have been referred to as "The Land of Towns " (Gening, Zdanovich 1993, Zdanovich 1995). The cultue had occupied the territory along the eastern slopes of the Ural Mountains. The fortified settlement studied in most detail is Arkaim. Occupying 20,000 sq. meters, it was discovered in 1987 by the team headed by G. Zdanovich during salvage excavations before the construction of a dam. The excavation revealed that the settlement had been burned and, therefore, many details were preserved. The population, however, had vacated the city before the fire and took all their possession with them.

Arkaim Settlement Site

Arkaim had two protective circular walls and two circles of standard dwellings separated by a street around a central square. The external wall, 160 m in diameter and 4 m wide, was built from specially selected soil that had been packed into timber frames before being faced with adobe bricks (Zdanovich 1997). On the interior, houses abutted the wall and were situated radially with their doors exiting to the circular internal street.

Many interpretations have been suggested in relation to this site - a military fort, proto-city, or a ceremonial and religious center. The latter hypothesis appears reasonable, if we bear in mind that the sets of artifacts excavated were not characteristic of everyday usage. More plausible are the nterpretation put forward by researchers who regard sites such as Arkaim as combination of administrative and ceremonial centers. Possibly this was a location where about 1,000 to 2,000 people­aristocracy (and craftsmen) gathered periodically to perform rituals.


The lectures were sponsored by:
The Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads
The Archaeological Institute of American, San Francisco Chapter
The Doreen Townsend Center for the Humanitites, Center for Slavic and East European Studies, Department of Anthropology, Indo-European Languange and Cluture Working Groud, Archaeological Research Facility
University of California, Berkeley
(Created April 26, 1998)