Kurgan (курга́н) is the Russian word (of Turkic origin) for a tumulus, a type of burial mound or barrow, heaped over a burial chamber, often of wood.
The distribution of such tumuli in Eastern Europe corresponds closely to the area of the Pit Grave or Kurgan culture in South-Eastern Europe.
Kurgans were built in the Eneolithic, Bronze, Iron, Antiquity and Middle Age, with old traditions still smoldering in Southern Siberia and Central Asia. In time and space Kurgan Cultures are divided into a multitude of archeological cultures, most famous among them are Timber Grave, Pit Grave, Scythian, Sarmatian, Hunnish and Kuman-Kipchak cultures.
A plethora of placenames that include the word "kurgan" spread from Lake Baikal to the Black Sea.
Kurgan type barrows were characteristic of Bronze Age
peoples, from the Altay Mountains
to the Caucasus
, and Bulgaria
. Sometimes, burial mounds are quite complex structures with internal chambers. Within the burial chamber at the heart of the kurgan, members of the elite were buried with grave goods and sacrificial offerings, sometimes including horses and chariots. Kurgans were originally in use in the Russian Steppes but later spreading into eastern, central, and northern Europe
in the third millennium BC.
Frequently the monuments of these cultures are grouped territorially and coincide with the zone of Scythian-Saka-Siberian monuments. For Scythian-Saka-Siberian monuments they are preceding cultures, have a number of the common features, and sometimes common genetic roots. The Pazyryk, an ancient people who lived in the Altai Mountains lying in Siberian Russia on the Ukok Plateau, near the borders with China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia have also be associated with these spectacular burial mounds. The archaeological site on the Ukok Plateau associated with the Pazyryk culture is included in the Golden Mountains of Altai UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Scythian-Saka-Siberian classification include monuments from 8th c. BC to the 3rd c. BC. This period is called Early or Ancient Nomads epoch.
"Hunnic" monuments are dated from the 3rd c. BC to the 6th century AD, and Turkic ones from the 6th century AD to the 13th century AD, leading up to the Mongolian epoch.
In all periods, the development of the kurgan structure tradition in the various ethnocultural zones can be distinguished by the presence of common components or typical features in the construction of the monuments. They include:
- funeral chambers
- surface and underground constructions of different configurations
- a mound of earth or stone, with entrance or without
- funeral, ritual, and other traits
- the presence of an altar in the chamber
- stone fence
- the location of a sacrificial site on the embankments, inside the mound, inside the moat, inside the embankments, and in their links, entryways, and around the kurgan
- the presence of an entryway into the chamber, into the tomb, into the fence, or into the kurgan
- the location of a fire pit in the chamber
- a wooden roof over or under the kurgan, at the top of the kurgan, or around the kurgan
- the location of stone statues, columns, poles and other objects; bypass passages inside the kurgan, inside tombs, or around the kurgan
- funeral paths from the moat or bulwark.
Depending on combination of elements between the common components, each historical and cultural nomadic zone has its architectural peculiarities. The structures of the earlier Neolithic period from 4th - 3rd millenniums BC, and Bronze Epoch until the 1st millennium BC in comparison with the Early Iron Age from the 8th c. BC to the 3rd c. BC display continuity of the archaic forming methods driven by the common ritually-mythological ideas.
Pre-Scythian-Saka-Sibirian kurgans are of the following types: kurgans with surface and underground wooden or stone tombs constructed on the surface or underground and then covered with kurgan. The kurgans of Bronze culture, practically across all the Europe and Asia had to be analogous with the housing. The methods of house construction applied in the construction of the tombs. Kurgan Ak-su - Aüly (12th - 11th cc. BC) with a tomb covered by a pyramidal timber roof under kurgan has space surrounded by double walls serving as a bypass corridor. This design has analogies with the following kurgans: Begazy; Sanguyr, Begasar, Dandybay, under-kurgan cysts construction. These building traditions survived into the early Middle Ages, to the 8th-10th cc. AD. The Bronze Pre-Scythian-Saka-Sibirian culture developed in close similarity with the cultures of Yenisei, Altai, Kazakhstan, southern and southeast Amur regions. In the 2nd millennium BC appeared so-called "kurgans-maidans". On a prepared platform were made earthen images of a swan, a turtle, a snake, etc., with and without burials. Similar structures were found in Ukraine, in South America, and in India.
Some kurgans had facing or tiling. Kurgan Recruitment in Ukraine under soil filling has 29 big limestone slabs set on the end in a circle. Externally they were decorated with carved geometrical ornament of rhombuses, triangles, crosses, and on one slab are schematical figures of peopled. Kurgan is dated by the 3rd millennium BC. Its reconstruction showed that over an ornamented cornice up to 2м in height rested a wooden cone of thick logs, and the earthen kurgan was not above, as usually, but on the inside, under the cornice and logs.
The Scythian-Saka-Sibirian kurgans in the Early Iron Age are notable for their grandiose mounds throughout all Euroasian continent. The base diameters of the kurgans reach 500 m in Siberia (Great Salbyk kurgan of the settled Tagar culture), in the neighboring China they reach 5000 m (kurgan of the first emperor of China in the 3rd c. BC near city Sian) (Mason, 1997: 71). The height of the kurgans reached astronomical marks: Great Salbyk kurgan is 22 - 27 m, i.e. the height of the 7-story building; the kurgan of the Chinese emperor is over 100 m. The presence of such structures in Siberia testifies to a high standard of living and construction culture of the nomads.
In the Bronze Age were found kurgans with stone reinforcements. Frequently some of them are believed to be Scythian burials with built-up soil, and embankments reinforced with stone (Olhovsky, 1991).
The most obvious archeological remains associated with the Scythians are the great burial mound (kurgans), some over 20 m high, which dot the Ukrainian and Russian steppe belts and extend in many great chains for many kilometers along ridges and watershed. It is from them that most has been learnt about Scythian life and art.
The tradition of kurgan burials touched not only the peoples who buried most of all of their deceased in kurgan structures, but also neighboring peoples who are known as not having a kurgan burial tradition among general population. Various Thracian kings and chieftains were buried in elaborate mound tombs found in modern Bulgaria, Phillip II, the father of Alexander of Macedon, was buried in a magnificent kurgan in present Greece, and legendary Midas, a king of ancient Phrygians, was buried in a kurgan near his ancient capital of Gordion
The Kurgan hypothesis postulates that the Proto-Indo-Europeans were the bearers of the "Kurgan" (Yamna) culture of the Black Sea and the Caucasus and west of the Urals.
Marija Gimbutas introduced her Kurgan hypothesis in 1956, combining kurgan archaeology with linguistics to locate the origins of the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) speaking peoples. She tentatively named the culture "Kurgan" after their distinctive burial mounds and traced its diffusion into Europe. This hypothesis has had a significant impact on Indo-European research. Those scholars who follow Gimbutas identify a "Kurgan culture" as reflecting an early Indo-European ethnicity which existed in the steppes and southeastern Europe from the fifth to third millennia BC. Marija Gimbutas Kurgan hypothesis is opposed by Paleolithic Continuity Theory, which associates Pit Grave and Sredny Stog Kurgan cultures with Turkic peoples, and Anatolian hypothesis which denies Indo-European origin advocated by M. Gimbutas Baltic version of Chalcolithic Invasion Kurgan hypothesis, and is also opposed by Black Sea deluge theory. In Kurgan Cultures, most of the burials were in kurgans, either clan kurgans or individual. Most prominent leaders were buried in individual kurgans, now called "Royal kurgans", which attract highest attention and publicity.
Some excavated kurgans
- The Ipatovo kurgan revealed a long sequence of burials from the Maykop culture ca. 4000 BC down to the burial of a Sarmatian princess of the 3rd century BC, excavated 1998–1999.
- Kurgan 4 at Kutuluk near Samara, Russia, dated to ca. 24th century BC, containing the skeleton of a man, estimated to have been 35 to 40 years old and about 152 cm tall. Rose, M., " Cudgel Culture", , Archaeology , March/April, 2002. Resting on the skeleton's bent left elbow was a copper object of a length of ca. 65 cm with a blade of a diamond-shaped cross-section and sharp edges, but no point, and a handle, originally probably wrapped in leather. No similar object is known from Bronze Age Eurasian steppe cultures, and the object has been compared to the vajra thunderbolt of Indian Indra.
- Maikop kurgan, 3rd millennium BC.
- Novovelichkovskaya kurgan of ca. 2000 BC on the Ponura River, Krasnodar region, southern Russia, containing the remains of 11 people, including an embracing couple, buried with bronze tools, stone carvings, jewelry, and ceramic vessels decorated with red ocher. The tomb is associated with the Novotitorovka culture nomads.
- Issyk kurgan, in southern Kazakhstan, containing a skeleton, possibly female, ca. 4th century BC, with inscription on a silver cup, with 4.000 gold ornaments, with Scythian animal art objects and headdress reminiscent of Kazakh bridal hats, discovered in 1969.
- Kurgan 11 of the Berel cemetery, in the Bukhtarma River valley of Kazakhstan, containing a tomb of ca. 300 BC, with a dozen sacrificed horses, preserved with their skin, hair, harnesses, and saddles intact, buried side by side on a bed of birch bark next to a funeral chamber containing the pillaged burial of two Scythian nobles, excavated in 1998.
- Ryzhanovka kurgan, a 10 metre high kurgan 125 km south of Kiev, Ukraine, containing the tomb of a Scythian chieftain, 3rd century BC, excavated in 1996.
- Solokha kurgan, in the Zaporizhia Oblast of Ukraine, Scythian, early 4th century BC.
- Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak, near the town of Kazanlak in central Bulgaria, Thracian kurgan of ca. the 4th century BC.
- Aleksandrovo kurgan, a Thracian kurgan of ca. the 4th century BC.
- Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari, Bulgaria, a Thracian kurgan of ca. the 3rd century BC.
- Håga Kurgan, located on the outskirts of Uppsala, Sweden, a large Nordic Bronze Age kurgan from ca 1000 BC.
- Pereschepino Kurgan, burial memorial of Great Bulgaria Khan Kubrat (Kurbat) from ca 660 AD.
- Noin-Ula kurgan, , located by the Selenga River in the northern Mongolia hills north of Ulan Bator, a tomb of Uchjulü-Chanuy (8 BC - 13 AD), head of the Hun confederation.
Kurgans in Poland
Kurgan building tradition is alive in Poland. The Polish word for kurgan is kopiec
. The next one for Pope John Paul II
is hotly debated
Some excavated kurgans in Poland:
- Unetice culture#Burials 14 kurgans form 2000 - 1800 BC (more PL}
- Trzcinica http://teams.karpaty.edu.pl/trzcinica/ogolnie.htm
- Krasnik Neolitic(stone age) kurhans http://www.krasnik.lubelskie.pl/pliki/hist_mogila2.htm
- 'Na Plesniku' http://monika.univ.gda.pl/~literat/grafika/mogily.htm
- Trawiasta Buczyna hundreds of stone kurhans 1200-1000 bc
- Skalbmierz 4000bc http://www.kwiatek.krakow.pl/skalbmierz/main2.htm
- Zambrow http://www.ugzambrow.pl/zdjecia/kurhan_z_xi_w_pod_cieciorkami.jpg
- more http://forum.gazeta.pl/forum/72,2.html?f=12217&w=22873085&v=2&s=0
- Jawczyce Described by Bishop Nankerus 1322 ad. Late kurgan from XI c ad. Old man with arm. Excavated by Sikora from UJ.
- Łubno, pow. Sieradz "Trzciniec Culture" ~1500 BC contains man and woman buried at the same time. "she follow him to the grave"
- kurgans inhumation Łubna-Jakusy (51,59035;18,49461), kurgan cremation Guciów (50,57859°;23,08208° of Trzciniec culture ~1500 bc
- Krakus Mound
- 'kopiec Wandy' daughter of Krakus
- Piłakno near Mrągowo digout in 1988 "west balltic kurhan culture"
- Bełchatow pagan Polish "church" on top of kurgan Odkrywca nr1(25) 01.2001
- 'Kopiec Tatarski' Przemyśl Triangle shaped, 10 m mound, narowest angle facing east. Dig in 1869 by T.Żebrawski found bones and late coins. Digs in 1958 by A. Kunysz found on northern side skulls and bones and medieval ceramic. On the top was erected around 1534 'Templum s. Leonardi' destroy in WW2.
- Kopiec Esterki XIV c erected by Casimir III of Poland for his decesed love.
- Kopiec Władysław III of Poland after 1444 in Varna
- Kopiec Kościuszki build 09/15/1820 another 2 in Olkusz for 44 anniversary in 1861. Destroy in 1964 and rebuild in 1917. 3 in Busko.
- Union of Lublin Mound
- Kopiec Adam Mickiewicz 1898
- Kopiec Wyzwolenia 07/20/1930
- Piłsudski Mound
In Russia, the memorial connotation of the word "kurgan" has survived through the centuries, and in the post-World War II
period was resuscitated as an architectural device in building World War II memorials, such as Glory Kurgan
(commonly translated as Mound of Glory
), Mound of Immortality
, or "Mamayev Kurgan
References and notes
- "Proto-Türkic rune-like inscription on silver cup (Issyk Inscription)" by A.S. Amanjolov, in "History Of Ancient Türkic Script", Almaty 2003
- "In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology and Myth" by J. P. Mallory, ISBN 0-500-27616-1
- "The Kurgan Culture and the Indo-Europeanization of Europe: Selected Articles Form 1952 to 1993" von Marija Gimbutas u.a., ISBN 0-941694-56-9
- "Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture" ed. James Mallory, D. Q. Adams, ISBN 1-884964-98-2
- D. Ya. Telegin et al., Srednestogovskaya i Novodanilovskaya Kul'tury Eneolita Azovo-Chernomorskogo Regiona. Kiev: Shlyakh, 2001. Reviewed by J.P. Mallory, JIES vol. 32, 3/4, p. 363–366.
- "Reconstruction Of The Genofond Peculiarities Of The Ancient Pazyryk Population (I-II Millennium BC) From Gorny Altai According To The mtDNA Structure" Voevoda M.I., Sitnikova V.V., Romashchenko A.G., Chikisheva T.A., Polosmak N.V., Molodin V. I http://www.bionet.nsc.ru/bgrs/thesis/99/.
- O.Ismagulov 'Population of Kazakhstan from Bronze Epoch to Present (Paleoanthropological research)', Science, Alma-Ata, 1970