Early Alans in the Kislovodsk Depression

The Kislovodsk expedition continued the study of archaeological artifacts in the Kislovodsk Depression, which is a unique natural region of the Caucasian Spars located in the central part of the North Caucasus. Systematic archaeological surveys under way since 1996 have doubled the number of unearthed archaeological sites, which is currently 900.

The main objective of field studies was to explore the settlement pattern in the Kislovodsk Depression in the 1st millennium AD. Thorough archaeological surveys examined fortified settlements of various types that in some cases are large ruins of towers and walls and in other cases are represented by signal and watch posts. At such sites land survey was conducted, test trenches were excavated, surface finds were collected.

Land use characteristics at different stages of this region exploitation were also explored. Soil and archaeological studies conducted together with the specialists from the Institute of Physical-Chemical and Biological Issues of Soil Science, RAS (Pushchino) identified three main types of agricultural land parcels that had preserved their contours in unique conditions of the region in question: 1) large terraces left behind by the Koban archaeological culture (9th – 6th centuries BC); 2) long and narrow strip fields (strip lynchets) dated to the early 1st millennium AD or the 10th – 12th centuries; 3) small regular rectilinear parcels of land with lynchets at the upper and the lower ends
(Celtic fields) dating to the Early Middle Ages (5th – 8th centuries).

In recent years the expedition has aimed to conduct comprehensive studies of the initial stage of the Alan population settlement in the Kislovodsk Depression. The study of aerial images and the use of geophysical methods have identified a large fortified settlement known as Podkumskoye 2 with a strong system of ditches and the Levopodkumsky 1 cemetery that contained catacomb burials surrounded by ditches, which are square in plan.

Several test trenches were excavated at the fortified settlement site; a midden two meters deep was cleaned up in one of the holes; it contained large quantities of ceramic sherds, animal bones and a chalcedony bead. The radiocarbon dates obtained reduce the occupation period of this site to the range of the 2nd – 4th centuries AD.

Catacomb burials covered with kurgans at the newly discovered cemetery Levopodkumsky 1 contained horse burials in the entry pits disturbed by ancient looters. Burial offerings preserved in the pits after pillage suggest that the first reliable traces of the Alan population arrival to the region in question date to the early 4th century. In addition to the catacombs covered with kurgans, a grave made in a two-chamber catacomb containing a burial dating to the middle of the 4th century was unearthed. It is remarkable that the individuals buried in the catacombs covered with kurgans substantially differ in their appearance from the population that left behind the flat (ground) grave in the two-chamber catacomb. In 2013 the excavations continued, a large ditch with two coffer dams on the northern and southern sides without any traces of burials was examined; apparently it had been used in the funeral rite. Scarce ceramic fragments that have survived contemporary ploughing, which has destroyed the upper layers of this funeral site, are assigned to the early stage of the Alanian culture and can be dated within the 2nd–4th centuries.

Of interest are results of further examination of the looted graves from the Volchyi Vorota cemetery that also contained catacombs covered with kurgans. One of them, completely pillaged by ancient and contemporary looters, nevertheless yielded a number of valuable finds dated to the second half of the 4th century. Artifacts discovered include silver tips of footwear straps, one gold and one bronze footwear buckles, a gold cover of the sword handle, bone arrowheads, fragments of a bone comb, a rock crystal bead, and fragments of a gold horse trapping item.

Materials from the studies conducted by the Kislovodsk expedition allow the scholars to place the time of the Alan population arrival to the Kislovodsk Depression to an earlier period, which is before the beginning of the 4th century, and link it to gradual penetration of the population groups, which represented the early period of the Alanian culture, from the northern areas.

D.S. Korobov,

V.Yu. Malashev,
A.V. Borisov,
J. Fassbinder

Digital Version of the Booklet