Podbolotyevo Cemetery in the Murom Oka Basin

The Podbolotyevo Cemetery has been explored by scholars for more than 100 years; its excavations gave start to academic studies of Finno-Ugric artifacts. The site was discovered in 1910 during construction of the Murom–Melenki highway and was excavated by V.A. Gorodtsov. In total 276 graves were explored and the cemetery was attributed to the Finnish Muroma who lived in the Murom Oka Basin before arrival of the Slavs.

Like 100 years ago, new excavations of the site in 2012 were launched because of a highway construction and continued throughout 2013–2014. The excavations opened a new page in the history of the Muroma mentioned in ancient chronicles; these excavations were the first over the past 40 years to have been conducted with the use of contemporary methods, detailed records of graves, specific features of the burial rite along with a number of science studies.

The cemetery occupies the hilly Ilevna River bank on the southern outskirt of the village Verbovsky (the Murom district); an unfortified settlement dating to the same age is located south of the cemetery behind two small ravines. Over three years 208 flat graves, including nine graves of horses and one grave of a dog, were explored.

Most graves are inhumated burials (around 91%), with the skeletons lying in a supine extended posture facing the north. Almost one tenth part of the burials has cremated bodies; the dead were cremated outside the grave; thereafter upon removal of ashes and charcoal, the cremated bones were deposited in the grave.

Funeral offerings include jewelry, implements and weapons. Female grave offerings are noted for an abundance of metal jewelry pieces, some of which are ethnocultural attributes of the Muroma population. The female grave set includes forehead bands, cloth pieces that were wrapped and twisted around the head, temporal rings of the Muroma type, lunar-shaped items, carrying pole-shaped ornament pieces used to adorn braids, etc. The female grave sets also include items typical for Volga Region-Finnish artifacts such as plated disc-shaped pectoral and openwork plaques, syulgams (brooches), spiral bracelets and finger-rings.

The male grave offerings are more universal and consist of items typical for the entire Volga Region-Finnish population such as iron axes, arrowheads, spear heads, knives, fire steels, and wick pipes. Jewelry finds include only bracelets, finger-rings and belt sets.

The graves are located in rows running from the west to the east, with the central elevated part of the cemetery noted for a high density of burials. Judging by the grave offerings analyzed, it is the earliest part of the site. It was here that V.A. Gorodtsov excavated graves with heraldic belt sets, cross-like fibulas similar to Ryazan Oka Basin and Bezvodnoye artifacts, which enabled the head of the first excavation to attribute the initial period of the cemetery operation to the 6th–7th centuries. Our excavations explored a number of early female graves that yielded earlier types of pectoral disc-shaped plaques and torcs. A belt ornamented with the finest silver mounts ascribed to early Byzantine types was found in male grave 205. As a whole, most graves explored in the central part of the cemetery date back to the 8th–9th centuries.

The western periphery is marked by less strict location of the graves. Flat burials in this part demonstrate consistent features of the Muroma funeral rites. Analysis of the artifacts (‘moustache’ rings with a broad band in the middle, Glazkovo type torcs, horseshoe-shaped fibulas with spiral terminals, slate spindle whorl, and coins) dates them to the 10th century. In addition to traditional Muroma flat graves, burials covered by a kurgan have been discovered as well.

Kurgans have been completely ploughed up and are traced by remains of kurgan ditches, which are filled with carbonaceous soil and are sunk into the ground. The ditches encircled rounded areas, with a flat grave located in the center. Ring gutters left by fences have been documented in two kurgans. The total number of kurgans examined on the cemetery periphery is eight. The dead in the burials covered by kurgans face the west or the north. A rather typical grave offering set has been identified for male graves; it includes axes, knives with narrow blades, kalach-type (C-type) fire steels, finger-ring-shaped temporal pendants, and lyre-shaped buckles. These graves contain artifacts and jewelry pieces that share stylistic similarities with the grave offerings found in Vladimir and Timirevo kurgans.

Flat graves with orientation to the west have been explored on the western edge of the cemetery in addition to the graves covered by kurgans. A female grave containing a set of imported jewelry stands apart from other burials. The set consists of temporal beaded
rings as well as temporal rings with S-shaped terminals, finger-rings with tied terminals and a horse-shaped pendant.

Along with the graves covered by kurgans these burials mark a new age and reflect major changes that occurred in the region at the end of the 10th – early 11th centuries. Changes in the burial rite signify advent of a new population in the Lower Oka Basin and development of a new community. These transformations are reflected in the new graves on the periphery of the Muroma-Finnish cemetery, which were left behind by the newcomers who had developed their own elements of the material and spiritual culture. Nonetheless, some burials have syncretic burial rites and grave offerings, which are suggestive of local population assimilation and its incorporation in the orbit of Rus.

O.V. Zelentsova,
S.I. Milovanov

Digital Version of the Booklet