K.V. Chugunov (The State Hermitage Museum, St.Petersburg, Russia), H. Partsinger, A. Nagler (Germany Archaeological Institute, Berlin, Germany)

Impact of the Environment on Human Migration in Eurasia. Ed. E.M.Scott, A.Yu.Alekseev and G.Zaitseva. NATO Science Series IV. Earth and Environmental Sciences – Vol. 42. Dordrecht, Boston, London 2004. P. 1-7


The study of the burial mound Arzhan-2 is a result of joint investigation, conducted by the Central Asian expedition of the State Hermitage and the Eurasian Department of the German archaeological Institute. The site is situated in the mountainous and steppe Uyuk hollow, in the northern part of the Republic of Tyva. Here the outstanding burial mounds are concentrated, some of them of especially large size. In the early 1970-s one of the largest ones – namely Arzhan – was investigated by the expedition headed by M.P. Gryaznov. The kurgan was heavily robbed, but the materials obtained raised heated debates among specialists, which are still in progress. It is not strange because the main problem – the dating of the complex either to the boundary of IX-VIII centuries BC, or to the later time – has a key significance for the early iron age archaeology of the Eurasian steppe. The problem solution enables a new consideration of the role of Tuva and Central Asia on the whole in Scythian type cultures genesis.


The burial mound Arzhan-2 located 9 km from the investigated Arzhan, is 80 m in diameter and 2 m high. Numerous stone ring-shaped structures and other ritual objects have been revealed around it. The main reason that just very barrow has been selected for investigation was the fact that its ground structure had been destroyed by the road built nearby. The excavation of the burial mound was started in 2000 and finished in 2003.
Four-year investigations showed that in spite of some robbing attempts in ancient time and later destruction of the kurgan, all the burials related to the main complex remained intact. It was mainly conditioned by unusual planigraphy of the site, where the major tomb was located not in the center, but was well shifted to its northwestern side. Beside the primary burial 11 graves more for 17 persons, a 14 horses burial place and two complexes containing horse outfit have been studied.
The main burial was set up in a double chamber of larch constructed like a log house, placed into a deep pit (4,5 m), filled with clay. The chamber had double ceiling of logs and to the moment of excavation the earth has not penetrated inside. Due to this fact a special microclimate emerged in the chamber, promoting well preservation of all wooden artifacts as well as other vegetative remains. But on the contrary, it was also the reason for poor preservation of other organic materials (including bones of skeletons).
Numerous artifacts found in the grave were made in the Scythian Siberian animal style. The great majority of them were made of gold. All weapons, accompanying buried persons, were made of iron. Some objects – an “acinaces”, knives, a battle-axe and even arrowheads were decorated with gold ornaments. Before now objects made of iron were considered to appear in the region of Tuva rather late – not earlier than second half of the VI century BC. Besides, among objects of art there were some, belonging to the same period according to common views on animal style development. These were the reasons for preliminary dating of the site to just that time (Chugunov et al., 2002, p.183; Partsinger, 2002, p.73).
Good preservation of some organic materials in the tomb allowed starting the work on the radiocarbon dating of great number of samples, first of all wooden items and seeds. The burial chamber itself (especially the inner timber) was kept so well that it was possible to put it out of the pit. At present the dendrochronological scale for the site is worked out at the laboratories of the German Archaeological Institute and the Institute for Archaeology and Ethnography of the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. However, apart from the natural scientific methods, the complex under study should be considered in terms of archaeological data, available at present time in both Tuva and joining regions. Despite the unique character of the most items from the primary grave, a number of artifacts associates with the local early-scythian cultural tradition.


Before Arzhan-2 investigation, the sites with special burial rites and attendant items, containing typologically archaic articles, were known in Tuva. These burials were united in the aldy-bel culture and referred to VII-VI centuries BC (Grach, 1980).
In the aldy-bel common burials of Tuva the specific articles – earrings with grain-covered cone caps, some of them having enamel inlays – were repeatedly found (Semyonov, 1999). Due to identical earrings, found in the accompanying tombs of Arzhan-2, the number of these artifacts in Tuva has been doubled. Gold and bronze pectorals are also available in the aldy-bel sites, though with no decoration. For instance, they were found in some female graves of burial ground Copto (Chugunov, 1998).
The correlation with aldy-bel burials is also observed in burial structures of Arzhan-2 accompanying graves. The slab chambers of the last correspond to the aldy-bel tradition, where they were one of the most usual ways of interment.
To identify the cultural affinity of the complex within the region a fragment of a belt with bronze frame-shaped plaques (Fig.1-1) is the most representative. It has analogies in the materials of two aldy-bel burials in Central (Fig.1-3) and Western (Fig.1-2) Tuva (Vinogradov, 1980; Semyonov, 2001). Plaque decoration of another belt from one more aldy-bel barrow is identical with gold ornaments from the primary tomb of Arzhan-2 (Fig.1-4).
A considerable number of weapons found in the male burials, including bronze socketed battle-axes, knives and arrowheads, is of great importance for the dating of Arzhan-2. Arrow-sets with various types of heads – socketed tetrahedral, tetrahedral-two-blade, tanged thrilobate, bullet-like made of horn – are of particular significance (Fig.2). Individual kinds of bronze arrowheads, found in Arzhan-2, have not occurred in Tuva before, but they have analogies in the western regions of the Scythian world (Fig.2-8). Iron arrowheads with encrusted gold ornaments from the primary tomb had three-edge heads and special method of fixation with short sockets and two clamping blades to press shafts in between. This special kind of fixation is known for bronze specimens coming mainly from Tuva and found as individual specimens in the sites of Kazakhstan, Aral sea region and Pamir (Chugunov, 2000a, p.165, 166). The bronze arrows from aldy-bel burial ground named Saryg-Bulun (kurgan 2, grave 5) provide the closest analogue for these artifacts (Semyonov, Kilunovskaya, 1990, p.43, Fig.4-6,8, 9; Chugunov, 2000, Fig.2-5,6). They are similar for their leaf-like head contour and clamping way of fixation as well as curvilinear decoration on the edges. Beside the clamping arrows, found in the quiver from Arzhan-2 “tsar” tomb, there were bullet-like exemplars made of horn and tetrahedral rhombic in section arrowheads, made of iron. Despite the unusual material, in terms of typology all these arrows are limited by the early-scythian period. The peculiarity of the main tomb quiver-set is complete absence of tanged arrowheads in it. At the same time the accompanying tombs of Arzhan-2 present roughly equal quantity of socketed and tanged bronze arrowheads, which is in complete agreement with aldy-bel arrow-sets (Chugunov, 2000a, p.165).
Of crucial importance for placing Arzhan-2 on the chronological scale is the horse outfit, separate elements of which, as far as we know, were transformed very quickly just in the beginning of the early nomads epoch. Three pits, containing harness fittings, and a pit with bridle ornaments only were discovered in the kurgan. Besides, one bit with stirrup-like endings was placed on the ceiling of the paired male burial, located under the mound stone fence.
The main complex of horse outfit was found in the burial of 14 horses. Every horse was places bridled. One of the horses had a stirrup-shaped bit with additional rings and three-hole cheek-pieces. 13 other bridle-sets were rather standardized: they were bits with rectangular endings and special projections to fix the bits into cheek-pieces and matching cheek-pieces with long central loops (Fig.3-1, 2).
In 2003 one complex more with horse outfit was discovered. It was placed as a ritual treasure between vertical slabs of the mound fence facing. It consisted of 49 articles – a bit, cheek-pieces, belt plaques, saddle-girth buckles et al., most of them decorated with feline predator images. The type of the bridle is the same as 13 sets mentioned above. Only the cheek-pieces differ from those found in the horse burial – they are flat and have loops instead of holes. Large saddle-girth buckles, including one with a horseshoe design, are typical for the early-scythian cultural complex.
The cheek-pieces and the bits of special kind, typical for Arzhan-2, were the first finds of that type in Tuva as well as in the Sayano-Altay region in general. As it is known, in Arzhan-1 another kind of cheek-pieces – three-hole ones of various types were found (Gryaznov, 1980). In the aldy-bel burials the cheek-pieces of Ó-shape to be used with stirrup-shaped bits are mainly available. Three-hole cheek-pieces (Semyonov, 2001, p.170) and two-hole ones (Grach, 1980) have been found as individual specimens. As for the bits with fixing projections and the matching cheek-pieces, they were found at the sites of tasmolin culture of Central Kasakhstan and in the early-sakas burial grounds of the Aral sea region. The date of such type of the bridle refers there to the end of VIII – VII centuries BC (Gorbunova, 2001, p.193, 194). Considering that the whole body of materials from Arzhan-2 correlates with the aldy-bel culture, the predominance of this special type of bridle can not be explained by chronological reason only. The fact can suggest the tight contacts (probably of ethnogenetic character) between Tuva and Kazakhstan during the early-scythian time. One of the stone vessels from the main burial, the so-called “beak-shaped censer”, testifies the same direction of links. Stone vessels of the same shape were found in the complexes of Tagisken and Uygarak in the lower current of the Syr-Darya river (Vishnevskaya, 1973, table XXIV-4, 5; Itina, Yablonsky, 1997, Fig.22-6, 55-10, 65-7). Connections between Tuva and Kazakhstan during the early-scythian period are attested by many other materials, including those coming from the territories situated between these regions. As an example one can give the buckle from Gilevo-10 burial ground (Fig.1-5), which has been studied recently on the line between the steppe Altay region (“Altaysky kray”) and Kazakhstan (Shulga, 2002, p.187, Fig.2).


In conclusion we would like to stress on the subjects of art and show by an example the prematurity of relative chronology determination based on their stylistic peculiarities. Depicts of horses with their legs folded underneath the bodies were traditionally considered as a later tradition as compared to deer standing “on tiptoe”. But in Arzhan-2 both images decorated one and the same artifact – the headdress of the male person from the primary tomb. Examination of the art phenomenon from Arzhan-2 is still ahead and other complexes, may be undiscovered yet, are likely to be dated according to these materials.

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