Burial Mound of Scythian Warlord from Southern Urals found on the Don

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The unusual Scythian burial dated to the 4th century BC was discovered by archaeologists of the Southern Research Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Don State Technical University. However, instead of a resident of the Don steppes, the leader of nomadic tribes from the Southern Urals was buried in it.

Burial Mound of Scythian Warlord from Southern Urals found on the Don
Archaeological excavations of the Scythian burial mound
[Credit: Don State Technical University]



The burial mound complex, which is three meters high and 50 meters in diameter and located between the Don and Kagalchik rivers, has been known to scientists since 1976. However, it became possible to start full-scale excavations only in September 2020.

Burial Mound of Scythian Warlord from Southern Urals found on the Don
Archaeologists search the partially remains with a metal detector
[Credit: Don State Technical University]

Scanning the mound with geophysical equipment showed a large number of burials dated to various historical periods on the site. Around the mound archaeologists found a deposit with bronze objects and a polished stone axe of the Cimmerian period (8th-7th centuries BC). However, the main find awaited archaeologists at a depth of 5.5 meters – the central burial of a Scythian warlord (4th century BC). Unfortunately, the burial was plundered in ancient times, so scientists have found only a skull and five amphorae.

Burial Mound of Scythian Warlord from Southern Urals found on the Don
Archaeologists carefully uncover the skeletal remains
[Credit: Don State Technical University]



But the accompanying burials were intact; that’s where the warlord’s bodyguard and horse were buried. The warrior, a man about two meters tall, was killed during the burial ceremony. A golden chain was found on his remains, and a set of weapons lay at his side: a sling, a quiver with arrows, two spears, dart tips, and an iron sword with a hilt wrapped in gold foil. Despite the fact that the sword blade is poorly preserved, archaeologists managed to establish that the weapon was typical for the nomads of the Southern Urals. There was also a Greek  lekythos for incense or oil.

Burial Mound of Scythian Warlord from Southern Urals found on the Don
The golden chain of the Scythian warlord’s bodyguard
[Credit: Don State Technical University]

The burial of a horse – an animal sacred to the Scythians – was located higher. The horse’s head was adorned with a cast deer-shaped nosepiece. Such an artefact is typical for the ancient inhabitants of the Urals or mountain Altai, while the Scythian nomads of the Black Sea mostly had flat, two-dimensional representations.

Burial Mound of Scythian Warlord from Southern Urals found on the Don
The bronze cauldron with horizontal handles 
[Credit: Don State Technical University]




Another find was an unusual bronze cauldron with horizontal handles. However, Scythian cauldrons usually have vertical handles, while side handles are typically found on the hollow-ware of Southern Urals.

Burial Mound of Scythian Warlord from Southern Urals found on the Don
The bronze cauldron and amphorae deposited in the grave
[Credit: Don State Technical University]

Sergey Lukyashko, Ph. D, professor from the Don State Technical University, commented on the find: “As we can see, this burial is not typical. Here we see many eastern artefacts, but also objects from the Greek world. We have a hypothesis, that these people have come from the east, however, we cannot say for certain judging by just this one burial.”

Burial Mound of Scythian Warlord from Southern Urals found on the Don
The Scythian burial mounds and the team
[Credit: Don State Technical University]

The artefacts and the warlord’s remains will be sent for anthropological research to the Institute of Archaeology (Russian Academy of Sciences), where the scientists will determine the man’s age and place of birth.

Source: RAN Paleoethnological Research Center [December 01, 2020]

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