Finds at Filippovka 1 Burial Ground (South Urals)

First excavations of kurgan 1 at the Filippovka 1 Burial Ground in the Orenburg Region were conducted between 1986 and 1988 by the Ufa archaeological expedition (the Bashkir branch, RAS) led by A.Kh. Pshenichniuk. The kurgan was located in the central part of the burial ground. The kurgan measured more than eight meters in height, and its diameter exceeded 80 m. The excavations of the central burial and hidden treasure pits located close to the central burial pit yielded a great quantity of items made of precious stones, including the famous figures of golden deer (26 pieces). After a number of exhibitions in Russia and abroad, and the publication of exhibition catalogs in Russian and foreign languages the results of the excavations became known all over the world.

Because of force-majeure events, the eastern tail of the kurgan mound, which is segment-shaped in the plan and is around five meters high, some 30 m wide and approximately 50 m long, remained unexamined; constant attempts were made to pillage it. The key task of the Institute expedition of 2013 was to re-examine this part of the mound to complete the study of this unique site that is now part of world cultural heritage and to prevent its complete pillage.

The excavations beneath the eastern tail of the kurgan revealed a passage with a large bronze cauldron placed on the floor and a grave pit undisturbed by looters, with a noble woman buried in it. She was dressed in funeral garments consisting of a long dress, a short shirt and a shawl. The cloth was not preserved, and all items of the garments were reconstructed based on the patterns consisting of decorative parts and plaques. The garments of the dead woman (the dress, the shirt and the shawl) were decorated with multiple plaques meant to be sewn onto the garments, depicting flowers, rosettes, a panther leaping on a saiga’s back, a coiled saiga; the total number of gold leaf-embossed plaques is 656. The ‘fringe’ of the shawl was made of golden chains composed of tiny cast parts. The shirt sleeves were embellished with multicolored gold and glass beads forming an intricate geometric pattern.

One corner of the shawl covered the face of the dead. The skull bore marks left by a red headband, to which temple ear-rings were attached. The woman wore a jewelry set consisting of temple ear-rings and ten gold cast rings, the bezels of the rings depicted the head of a stag crowned by antlers shaped as fantastic griffons. The woman wore coupled bracelets made of semi-precious stones and carnelian and overlaid with gold on her wrists.

Miscellaneous items were placed into the grave together with the body of the dead woman. Of interest are grave offerings that emphasize her likely ethnic affiliation. Such offerings include a gold pendant with a medallion in the center made of cloisonné multicolored glass and gold inlays. It features a world tree and simurghs, i.e. winged creatures in the shape of a bird that guard it. This scene is an exact reproduction of the image recorded in ancient Iranian mythology. The scene represents the ancient Iranians’ understanding of the world, which, in their view, was composed of three parts: the roots of the trees go down to the lower world; the tree trunk and its top denote the middle world guarded by two simurghs, or, possibly, by one bird that flies around the tree. The simurgh inhabiting the upper world is shown frontally, with outspread wings over the entire scene. Another similar motif is depicted on the disk of a silver mirror. It also reflects ancient Iranian concepts of a three-part world.

A large set of items is linked to religious cults. It includes finds associated with the attributes of contemporary shamans. In addition to the pendant and the mirror described earlier, this set includes a belt with small bronze bells, a box with large beetles buried alive and a tattooing kit to make colored tattoos containing special stone palettes for grinding and mixing pigments, leather pouches with multicolored pigments and gilded needles.

A number of items are related to everyday life and cults, i.e. silver phialae, glass and silver tiny ‘bathroom’ flasks, wooden boxes decorated with gold plaques and handles.

All these items provide scientific information on likely ethnical attribution of the early nomads from the Southern Urals region, distinctive features of their material and spiritual culture, their main cultural links, the social status and the role played by women in early nomadic communities, and create a sound basis for historical reconstructions of the ethnocultural situation prevailing in the European steppes in the Early Iron Age.

Traditional archaeological methods and radiocarbon dating have placed the burial within the range of the 4th century BC.

L.T. Yablonsky

Digital Version of the Booklet