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RA 6B: Communicating power - a study of kurgan burials

The landscapes of the western and northern Black Sea region are known for their impressive and rich burial mounds, in Russian kurgans, often equipped with amazing gold objects unparalleled in most parts of the contemporary ancient world. Visually, the kurgans dominate the flat steppe country left as they were by the Nomads as eternal markers of their presence in the land. Thousands of these mounds were localised up the rivers of Dnieper and Dniester.

The kurgans were also present in what is normally considered the Greek urban or suburban landscape e.g. at Apollonia Pontike, Istros, Nymphaion, Kytaia, and Pantikapaion. They were set on high peeks in the landscapes surrounding certain territories, e.g. of a polis, a phenomenon especially evident in the Greek poleis of Eastern Crimea. They were also placed along the main roads leading into the polis, e.g. Olbia, and in some cases there were even sectors in the local necropoleis with burial mounds, e.g. at Istros and Panskoe.

In the Roman period, they were found even inside the city as evidenced by the two kurgans near the Olbian Agora. Who were buried in these mounds? Greeks, Barbarians, or both? In the homeland of the Greeks, burial mounds were almost exclusively connected with pre- and protohistoric elite burials, and in particular with heroic burials. They constituted local memory markers connected with the appropriation of the territory. In the Black Sea region, the semiotics of the burial mounds may have been inversed. Here, it was generally (but not exclusively) the Nomadic elite that were buried under large mounds. This ambiguity of one of the most potent symbols of land possession has never been investigated in the Black Sea region. In previous research, the subject has been addressed either from a Nomadic point of view, e.g. the study of Scythian burial customs, or from a Greek point of view, e.g. the presence of Greek goods such as wine amphorae and drinking equipment in Scythian burials. The proposed study will not focus on individual kurgans, as is normally done, but on the mounds and their presence in the landscape as markers of territory and hence as part of a complicated language of power. The following questions will be addressed: How were the kurgans placed in the landscape and in relation to the Greek poleis? What can be said of the investment of resources by analysing construction and size? What is the chronological relationship between kurgans in clusters? When and why did the kurgans become a part of the burial customs in the necropoleis of the so called Greek poleis? What did it mean to the inhabitants in the Greek polis to have the urban landscape dominated by such prominent features as Barbarian kurgans? Did the associations of the kurgans in the landscape influence Greek sacral activities? Did Greeks attempt to appropriate land marked by Nomadic burial mounds by placing their sanctuaries in the same areas as we see at Djangul’ at the western Crimea?

Finally, an analysis will be conducted on the burials within what a priori would be determined Greek territories in order to determine the identity or ethnicity of the deceased. The empirical data constituting the basis for the study will be collected from the western and northern parts of the Black Sea region with special attention to three areas functioning as paradigmatic case studies: (a) the chora of Kallatis on the west coast (RA 3D), (b) the sacred area of Djangul´ in western Crimea (RA 3C), and (c) the territory of a polis in the European part of the Bosporan Kingdom (RA 7). The study will mainly be based on existing publications, modern satellite picture and measurements as well as on new measurements conducted in the field.

Responsible: Tatyana Smekalova

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