Siberian Stonehenge and Invader Culture
Siberian Stonehenge and Invader Culture

Tyumen archaeologist - about what the graves can tell, about the Siberian counterparts of Stonehenge and the submission to the culture of the invaders.

Archeology is a fascinating work of rebuilding the life of ancient societies from the few remaining bones, shards, foundations of houses and horse bits. And what is useful in this case you can learn? Correspondent "Cherdak" talked with Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor of the Department of Archeology, History of the Ancient World and the Middle Ages of the Tyumen State University Natalya Matveyeva and found out that there is a lot to learn.

[Ch.]: In archeology, the most interesting thing is how, using a few artifacts in the earth, to restore a picture of what kind of society existed here in the past. Can you name the general principles that are guided by archeology and historians when reconstructing the past from material sources?

NM]:Yes, archeology differs from other historical sciences in its sources: they are destroyed, fragmented and altered. Metal is corroded, wood and furs are decayed, ceramics are broken, iron is destroyed, silver is oxidized, and so on. Accordingly, the proportions of materials and activities in ancient life were distorted. It is very important to analyze different groups of sources in context, to assess their location in space and in the depths of the monument, as well as in combination with each other. Archeology is, first of all, a very complex source study. Although the tasks are not limited to the analysis of sources, but it is on its basis that archaeologists strive to reconstruct the archaeological fact, for example, what it was - a dwelling or burial, rich or poor, whether he died violently or not. And already from the sum of archaeological facts and their comparison with chronology and other historical events, one can reconstruct a historical fact - it will become the property of historical science. That is, the work of archaeologists is multi-stage: from small things to historical conclusions. But the first part of the job is always more important.

[Ch.]: Do you mean establishing archaeological facts?

NM]:Yes, because it, the fact, then remains in science. The fact of excavation of a dwelling, military fortress or grave will never be in doubt. And who they belonged to and in what century - this can be disputed in 10 years, when, for example, new dating methods appear.

[Ch.]: So the main task of an archaeologist is to describe the source correctly rather than analyze it?

NM]:No, we set ourselves both tasks. Because if an archaeologist does not analyze and compare with historical facts, it will turn into a naked science of things. Then archaeological science will be uninteresting, there will be little intellectual work in it.

Natalia MatveevaPhoto courtesy of N. Matveeva

[Ch.]: What part of the culture of the ancient people can be reconstructed more or less accurately from the sources, and what part is absolutely impossible?

NM]:It depends on the source. For example, we studied the early Iron Age in Tyumen and adjacent regions of Western Siberia for many years. And if you choose monuments for excavations on clay - these are usually arable lands, where for thousands of years there was no forest, but there were meadows and black soil formed - then it is physically difficult to investigate them, since they are very dense. But on the other hand, they better preserve organic matter, and the remnants of destruction in them are clearer. You can see the rectangular pits of dwellings, outbuildings, each pillar stands in the place in which it was originally dug in, and even if only dust remains of it, it is easy to determine whether these are pillars or not.

And we managed to establish that the local population had estates of four or five dwellings with transitions from the living quarters to the vestibule, outbuildings, a corral for cattle, a barn for storing boats and nets.It turned out that this is a very complex architecture, known today, for example, in Georgia and among the southern Slavs. And when they began to unearth the burials of the same population, it turned out that they had a cult of the horse around them - they were horsemen, warriors. And there are many rich burials with imported things, prestigious items from distant countries - the Black Sea region and India. It turns out that the living and burial traditions contrast with each other. This means that their social culture was militarized, it was dominated by mobile cattle breeding and war. And the economic basis - dwellings, the structure of the settlement - reflected the more archaic preceding period of the Bronze Age, when in Siberia there was a settled livestock breeding and a culture of raising cattle for milk.

It turns out that ancient societies are very different from one another due to different reasons - climate change or political impact. And it turns out that different groups of sources provide fundamentally new information. Therefore, archaeologists are trying to explore not only settlements and burial mounds. For example, few people know how to look for sanctuaries, but tremendous attention is shown to them, because it is in them that the spiritual life and ethnic identity of the population appears most clearly.

[Ch.]: Why so few people know how to look for them? Are they hard to find?

NM]:Yes. Because the graves were dug on the basis of the idea that rebirth takes place in the earth. The archetype of the Mother of the raw earth is present in almost all the peoples of the globe, and certainly among all Europeans. And so they tried to dig a grave deep in the ground. And in rituals they aspired to the sky, to the gods, therefore all these sanctuaries are terrestrial. And their safety is worse, due to the fact that they are more destroyed. In the mountains, of course, sanctuaries are preserved - in grottoes, caves. But this is not typical for the Tyumen region.

[Ch.]: So, in principle, such sanctuaries can only be found where there were rocky areas?

NM]: Where the conditions are mountainous (and in stony ground, of course, the preservation of such objects is better), many original complexes have been discovered. For example, Stone Dyrovaty in the region of Nizhny Tagil on the Chusovaya river. This is a high cave by the river, into which a person cannot climb from below. People tied gifts to the arrow and tried to send an arrow into this cave in order to get into the “open mouth of the earth” and thus deliver gifts to some spirit of the mountains. This whole cave was filled with arrowheads.

Warrior equipment reconstructionAuthors: A.I. Soloviev and N.P. Matveeva

But it happens that sanctuaries are found on the outskirts of settlements, for example, the Eneolithic era (IV-III millennium BC). In the Tyumen and Kurgan regions, astronomical points were discovered, which are called henge. Almost everyone has heard of Stonehenge. Where there was a lot of available stone, they built stone hendzhi, and where there was no stone, they built wudhendzhi, that is, ring fences made of pillars. And here, in Siberia, it turned out that the same astronomical star-tracking posts were built of logs. These are pillars, dug in circles and oriented towards the rising of the moon, the rising and setting of the sun, the solstice, the equinox. In general, the calendar cycles were celebrated by all the peoples of the world in different forms. And among the Indo-Europeans, they turned out to be quite similar in meaning, although different in terms of building materials.

[Ch.]: From the wooden henjs, probably only holes remained. They themselves have not survived?

NM]: In addition to the pits, there are also ditches that separated the sacred zone from the profane. Traces of sacrifices of animals and people, food in whole vessels. In the settlements, they are mostly broken, because people walked on this garbage, and here they specially dug in, left many whole vessels for the gods. They were decorative, with complex cosmograms (schematic images of space objects - the structure of the universe - approx. "Attic"). And this is all here in Siberia.

In fact, the study of each epoch for many years can bring unique discoveries just by comparing data on settlements, dwellings, burial grounds - what groups of things they should differ and how these things should be located in space, what actions of people are talking about. As a rule, the layman thinks that the task of an archaeologist is to excavate, find an incredible, large, valuable thing. In fact, they are not looking for things themselves, but information about the relationship of things with actions, ideas and reasons for changing behavior. Things are only signs of human activity, and complex information can be hidden in them.

[Ch.]: There are many different archaeological cultures in archeology. What are the criteria for defining culture and how can one be distinguished from the other?

NM]: Everything that we study is called cultures, because peoples have disappeared and we cannot assign names to them, even if we wanted to. There were attempts in the 19th century and in the 20-30s of the last century: then it was believed that the specificity of pots and implements is a reflection of ancient peoples. Now no one agrees with this, because behind the unity of culture anything can be hidden - maybe ethnic similarity, or maybe the similarity of economic activities. For example, the Khanty and the Mansi are very close in culture. Or there may be a political community or a desire to merge with the ruling people, to submit in order to obtain the prospects for their physical survival. After all, Africans today do not want to develop African culture. They want to live in Europe and from childhood understand that Africa will not give them a chance of development and they have to go somewhere and accept a foreign culture. And on the costumes of many of our contemporaries there are inscriptions in English. It's not because of the violence of the mainstream culture.

Dismantling the grave, in the foreground - pits from the pillars of the burial chamberAuthor - E.A. Tretyakov

[Ch.]: Is it just because the neighboring culture is attractive?

NM]: Yes, it is prestigious, it gives a life perspective. Therefore, it happens that peoples of different origins borrow one dominant one. It was during the Roman Empire, the Turkic Khaganate, the Mongol Empire.

[Ch.]: How to determine that here one culture ends and another begins here?

NM]: Archaeological culture is a technical scientific term that archaeologists use on maps to determine the area of ​​distribution of the same forms of inventory: identical pots, graves, houses, and the like, that's all. And this means that there lived a population that had common traditions in material and spiritual culture.

[Ch.]: How then to determine that this people moved, or migrated, or mixed with others? Is this reflected in material culture?

NM]: Certainly. There are technical innovations that are simply borrowed from neighbors - iron axes, for example, or casting bronze in specific shapes. And people can, without changing either culture or worldview, borrow technology. Computers, on the other hand, have spread throughout the world without fundamentally influencing national identity. Things like this have happened throughout the ages. Borrowings were in great numbers, but some local traditions persist, despite them. For example, the custom to put the dead man's head at sunset or sunrise, in a big or small hole, to put equipment or not. These traditions are not associated with any benefit, or with progress, or with prestige, and they are ethnic markers of the peoples of antiquity. Therefore, if the markers of the spiritual essence of the people change, then we say that the people have dissolved, or disappeared, or migrated. In general, something happened.

[Ch.]: Do you study the Middle Ages of Western Siberia and the Urals?

NM]: At the moment, the archaeologist comes to excavations at the monument, but the X-ray apparatus does not shine through it to the depths. This year we came to a medieval settlement, which was specially chosen for excavations, assuming that it belongs to the early Middle Ages.But the excavations gave six times a more complex picture than we expected. It turned out that there were several periods of habitation both in the early Iron Age and in the Middle Ages itself at least three or four periods of habitation. Traces of the XI-XII centuries were revealed - and there were fires, and wars, and traces of unburied people who fought on the walls of the fortress against enemies. The complexity of a monument is always greater than you can predict. And this is good.

[Ch.]: So, if you find a complex monument that goes beyond one era, then you simply describe all the eras in which it exists?

NM]: Yes, all archaeologists do this, this requirement is one of the main principles of archeology: comprehensiveness and completeness of research. Whether this era is interesting to me or not, we must know, understand and study it in detail on a par with other monuments that are part of the range of our scientific plans. Gradually, you become interested in everything to which you have worked, what you have understood and what you have figured out.

[Ch.]: Is there a complete picture of what happened in the Urals and Siberia in antiquity and the Middle Ages today?

NM]: It was never possible to achieve a centralized and systematic study of various territories, since the archeology of the European part began to develop earlier, from the 19th century. Before the revolution, this was done by the Imperial Archaeological Commission. Accordingly, Siberia lagged behind. But when its industrial development began, it was accompanied by outstanding expeditions and discoveries. Specifically, in Western Siberia, where we work, the study period began only with oil and gas, that is, an abrupt increase in archaeological data has been taking place since the 70s and continues to this day. For example, in the south of the Tyumen region, good excavations of settlements and burial grounds were carried out in the zones of laying oil and gas pipelines.

It turns out that the regions have been studied selectively, not in a continuous manner. And consolidated works on archeology of Siberia have not yet been published, and it is not known when they will be, although such a work was conceived by the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Certain periods of history have been reconstructed by individual specialists, for example, the Tomsk archaeologist Lyudmila Chindina wrote several books on the early Iron Age and the Middle Ages of the lower Ob and Pritomye regions. In Omsk there was a researcher Vladimir Matyushchenko - he discovered many brilliant monuments of the Bronze Age. There are generalizing works on Baraba, Altai, Priamurye, but there is no consolidated picture, and in the near future it will not appear, most likely.

[Ch.]: Why?

NM]: Because we have taken a course towards organizational changes in Russian science on the Western model. The Western model implements models of competition, individual success, and personal discovery. It is not well suited for generalizing material from larger topics or regions.

[Ch.]: Is it just not profitable to do generalizing materials?

NM]: So after all, they will not demonstrate your personal merit. In generalizing works, the collective effort of many generations of scientists always naturally results. After all, a physics textbook reflects more than just Newton or Einstein. And the one who writes this textbook does not create a name for himself.

[Ch.]: You teach mathematical methods in historical studies. What are these methods and how are they applied now?

NM]: Mathematics in historical disciplines can be applied where there are massive sources - population censuses, poll taxes, census tales, election results in the United States, for example. In Soviet history, this is office work, minutes of party meetings, documents of the State Planning Commission. And this is especially good for political and economic history to draw informed conclusions and ensure verifiability. Quantitative history appeared in the 60s of the XX century and quickly became part of the historical sciences. There are many such methods for different data.They can be measured in kilograms, tons, people or other parameters, or be qualitative characteristics - for example, there are metal items in the grave or not. It's amazing how brilliant the results can be obtained this way. For example, the study of thousands of Scythian burials with ordinary pots, bones and pieces of iron made it possible to identify several groups of the population, including slaves, the rich, the poor, and the well-to-do class. People differed in their social status. No written language has survived from society, but we can reconstruct some elements of social life. I find such research offers great opportunities.

[Ch.]: Among your occupations is paleoecology. What is this area and what does it do?

NM]: Paleoecology is a large area that unites not only historians, archaeologists and ethnographers, but also specialists in biology, botany, and geology. The history of man has always been associated with the natural environment, solar radiation, temperature, moisture-drying climate. Technical innovations and inventions are also often provoked by natural disasters, commodity crises and others. And we are discussing various aspects of the reconstruction of the natural environment according to archaeological data, because, for example, the soils of ancient monuments are the same ancient archive of the history of the earth for soil scientists, geologists, geographers, as for us.

Soil geographers need archaeologists because they date their monuments fairly accurately. And we need geologists, zoologists and botanists to determine, for example, what layer it is, did it form once or did a person come here several times? What we are seeing are the remains of one or three dwellings? Were they built in the same place? Is it a diversity of cultures or the development of one culture for a long time? These findings, supported by interdisciplinary research, are much more substantiated than mere speculations of archaeologists based on their liberal arts education. If we operate only with humanitarian knowledge, we will transfer the development models of some peoples, which we know from modern times or from written sources, for example, the Romans or Mongols, to the behavior of disappeared peoples. And so we can proceed from various facts of the past itself and can explain it as a complex system. This topic also includes the physiological adaptation of the population. What diseases, what life expectancy, what demographic parameters, the presence or absence of traces of social violence in groups, the nature of the diet and many things are reconstructed on the basis of archeological data.

[Ch.]: Are there trends in archeology? For example, is it fashionable now to use some methods or are some topics becoming relevant?

NM]: Certainly. There are always leaders and achievements that you want to be equal to, adopt a methodology that would allow you to achieve special evidence and authority in the scientific community. Interdisciplinarity has such authority lately. In the West, it is considered a necessary condition for excavation. It is imperative to invite palynologists who identify plants by pollen, carpologists who study seeds, zoologists who identify wild and domestic animals. Each specialist has a large arsenal of possibilities, which gives his vision of the material, and the cooperation of such efforts allows us to understand society as a whole, and not just establish that this is a village of some people. You can reconstruct the dynamics of their lives, and interaction with neighbors, and the relationship between people in the team.

On the example of our own works of recent years on the Great Migration of Peoples, we can say that due to drying out, the south of Western Siberia, which is now called the forest-steppe, was a steppe. And it was a nomadic area.Nomads from the territory of Kazakhstan and the South Urals constantly infiltrated here and fought with the local population. It took the traditions of these nomads not always willingly, because we see from the burials that there are a lot of chopped wounds, including on the skulls, people executed, broken spines and the like. That is, military violence is reflected. And at the same time, the inventory shows the borrowing from the same conquerors not only of jewelry and weapons, but also of decor, and even such a tradition as changing the shape of the skull. The head was bandaged for children in the cradle so that it took on a tower-like shape. Among the nomads, this was a sign of social superiority, and the conquered population adopted the traditions of cultural submission to newcomers. And that same population is now being tested for DNA to determine which groups of nomads took part in the conquest. This kind of interdisciplinarity is a trend, and I think it is very successful.

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