There is an important concept of archaeological culture in science that helps to study a huge variety of available archaeological sites. The archaeological culture is a totality of sites from one territory and epoch, having specific, peculiar characteristics. Normally an archaeological culture is named either by the place of the first find, or by its major or typical feature.
Case 1 and the adjacent collection of earthenware presents the settlements and burial grounds of Tripoli culture forming in the Northern Black Sea region in IV—III millenniums B.C., at the dawn of the Metal Age.
The exposition contains a great amount of earthenware crockery with bright patterns painted in red and black. This is «painted ceramics», very typical for the world’s ancient cultures. Very popular is the motif of a flying or streaming spiral with a special meaning attached to it – infinite and immortal time. Particularly interesting is a bottomless double vessel resembling binoculars. Such vessels were supposedly used in farming rituals.
Female statuettes wearing bull masks are on display in the central part of the case. Their puddled clay has cereal grains mixed in it. Evidently this is how they would describe the fertility goddess. Laying these figurines on their altars, ancients tried to ensure a good harvest and livestock litter.
On a separate plane-table is a small adze-axe and punches of characteristic greenish colour. This is how copper and bronze typically look. Those items are among the most ancient metal finds of the IV millennium B.C. on the territory of Eastern Europe. Metal originates from the ancient European Carpathian-Balkan metallurgical centre whence it spread over to the Volga banks and the Caspian Sea (case 2).
A large section of the exposition (cases 3-8) introduces the antiquities of the early Bronze Age (IV—II millenniums B.C.) originating from ancient metal mining and working centres – steppes, Caucasian and Ural foothills. The objects in case 3 were found in the burials of Kuban and Terek basins. The Maikop culture is the most outstanding one in IV—III millenniums B.C. It has been suggested of late that its bearers had migrated to the Northern Caucasus from Asia Minor, having brought with them the traditions of copper and bronze mining and working. In those days Caucasus became a prominent metallurgical centre, having exerted a great influence on the development of this industry in neighbouring northern lands.
Exhibited in the case are miscellaneous metal objects from wealthy tumuli of the near-Kuban and Stavropol territories, which belonged to the local elite. Among them are axes, daggers, arrowheads, spears, knives and copper and bronze ornaments (for example, staff-like pins) and a great number of cultic finely wrought items – a bronze cauldron, forks (one of them featuring human figurines). At the dawn of the Bronze Age craftsmen commercialized many metalworking techniques such as cold and hot forging and welding. They also knew the right proportions of mixing copper with various additions for raising the quality of end products.
Standing out against the background of bronze items is the gold and silver jewellery -pins, beads, pendants. Articles from precious metals are found only in nobility’s tombs.
In the very centre of the case one can see two bronze loops (cheek-pieces). They were designed to put together elements of the horse bridle: the bit, cheek and head-belts, rein. It is believed that already by the third millennium B.C. a semi-nomadic and nomadic pastoral economy had developed in Southern Europe, where the horse played a special role.
The case 4 displays objects from one of the most ancient cattle-breeding cultures of the Great Steppe – «drevneyamnaya» so called by the distinctive method of burying in a pit filled up with dirt topped by a barrow. Bone knick-knackery (mallet-like pins with fretted ornament, sometimes of impressive size) ranks high in the funeral inventory. Their purpose is still unclear. Some scholars think these pins are not just articles of clothing, but also cultic objects that represented the World Tree and served as protective amulets.
It is important to note that these pins are made from cattle bones. Bearers of the drevneyamnaya culture were the first on our territory to switch to cattle-breeding economy and to feed their herds in the steppe belt.
In the II millennium B.C. the «drevneyamnaya» culture was replaced by the catacomb one. A recess or a catacomb was made in the wall of a grave where the deceased would be placed. Items of this culture are demonstrated in case 5. Placed in its centre is an earthen model of the kibitka – a house on wheels used by nomads as they moved over the steppe from one pasture to another with their herds. The kibitka’s carpeting and even the nails used to fasten it to the framework are well seen. Very often such models would substitute a real kibitka in the grave, for it was to accompany man to the realm of shadows. The tribes of catacomb culture that finally settled down in steppes were gradually switching to the nomadic lifestyle.
Left of the kibitka are typical household articles of the nomadic stockbreeder: an earthen funnel for straining milk, an arrow straightener, many arrowheads and bronze broad-blade knives. The reason for the abundance of metal is that in ancient centres of metallurgy – Urals and Caucasus – bronze (an artificial alloy of copper and other metals) smelting at lower temperatures was mastered. This development promoted the wide spread of metallurgical works, even among shepherds. The most characteristic funeral article for steppe cultures is the censer (to the right of the case) used for heating nomad’s tents and for burning a sacred fire during funeral ceremonies.
Also presented in the case are huge battle-axes (in the right part of the podium) that apparently symbolized the chief power and hemispherical umbo pendants usually used as embellishment of the warrior’s armour. Those articles testify to the rise of the military elite, professional warriors under command of a leader who would organise the guarding and seizure of pastures and long campaigns aimed at grabbing costly and prestigious things.
Case 7 features a set from the famous Sintashtin burial ground in the Trans-Ural region. These are unique objects coming from the burials of priests, warriors and ordinary community members – numerous spears, daggers and knives. It is here that tombs containing horses and battle chariots were excavated. Special bone cheek-pieces meant for rigid fastening of the bridle – two large polished plates with a hole in the centre and big spikes on the back – provided for effective chariot steering. Thus a truly great event happened at the outset of the II millennium B.C. in the steppe belt – a battle chariot was invented whereas the horse was turned into a rideable animal.
In case 9 there is presented a hoard found near Borodino village of the Bessarabia province in 1912. The Borodino hoard dates back to the heyday of the Bronze Age (in the middle of the II millennium B.C.) and contains mainly arms – silver and bronze spearheads, perfectly ground nephritic axes, mace tops from soap stone, a bronze dagger with a gold cover plate. In the centre is a beautifully wrought silver pin with gold encrustation. Expensive materials used for making those articles and the highest skill of ancient craftsmen point to their ceremonial and ritual nature and to the fact that they could have been owned by a leader of tribal nobility.
Noteworthy is the fact that the hoard items belong to different cultures, hundreds and thousands kilometres away from each other, spears are quite typical for the Volga-Turbinsk burial ground, maces originate from Northern Caucasus, the pin and the dagger are distinctive for the Aegean-world civilization while nephrite had been brought from Sayany. They could have come into possession of one man – most likely, as a result of successful military campaigns. The Borodino hoard most vividly reveals the main achievements of the Bronze Age, the era of human society’s accelerated development caused by population’s mobility, especially in the Great Eurasian Steppe Belt, that was conducive to the brisk interaction of cultures.
The next large section of the exposition (cases 10-13) introduces us to the final stage of the Bronze Age that falls on the second half of the II millennium B.C.
Items of the Srubnoe and Andronovo cultures (cases 11-12) that spread over to the vast territories of steppes and forest-steppes in European and Asian parts of the country are of particular importance.
Case 11 features extensive material from settlements and burial grounds highlighting the everyday life and customs of that region’s tribes – farmers, cattle-breeders, metallurgists and warriors: bronze sickles and mower knives, a stone mould and a crucible for metal pouring; numerous instruments for bone and woodworking. Here also battle-axes and spearheads are placed while in the centre there is a small pot with a battle chariot depicted on its wall. A copy of this drawing is placed on the wall opposite the case.
Case 12 presents smelters’ hoards. Foundry craftsmen would bury most valuable things in the ground in case of danger: stone moulds, copper blooms, rejects, finished but yet inwrought products. Such hoards are found in those places where metal was mined and wrought. Owing to those finds, Caucasian, Ural and Altai metallurgical centres were brought to light.
Exhibited in the centre of the case is one of the most famous hoards found in Sosnovaya Maza not far from Saratov. Besides Celt axes and daggers, the hoard included 54 mower knives cast in one mould. Such a great number of similar objects, obviously made for sale, is an evidence of robust exchange.
Case 13 introduces the district of Altai and Minusinsk Hollow throughout the whole Bronze Age. Objects of the Kurasuk culture, one of the most striking and distinctive ones in that region, are in the right part. Wide and diverse is the set of bronze items, arms in particular. Quite interesting is a plate with bent side staples – a sort of «steer» for a rider of the battle chariot. To avoid holding the rein with both hands, a charioteer would tightly wind the rein round the plate’s staples and firmly hold it in his left hand, leaving the right hand empty for rattling his arms. Near the case is a stone slab from Khara-Khaya burial ground in Khakasia. Such slabs were usually used to construct funeral boxes with sacred images later applied on them. One can see a nomadic tent image on this slab with harnessed horses, which would bring the deceased to the burial site. On the opposite wall there is a megascopic view of this plotline. The same slab is placed near case 11. A sun deity is depicted on a huge slab originating from Khakasia and placed between cases 11 and 12.
Case 14, presenting a collection of wooden items of the Gorbunov peat-bog in the eastern Trans-Ural region, is something special. People lived in pile dwellings in this district, rich in shallow lakes, driving planking in the sludgy lake bottom. In the course of time lakes would turn into marshlands and then into peat-bogs, where miscellaneous wooden articles remained intact due to anaerobic environment.
The case features a children’s bow and a boomerang-like implement. Many items have to do with hunting and fishing – oars, a piece of wood whose shape and motley colouring resembles a duck. Exhibited on a separate plane-table is the tackle: a harpoon, birch-bark floats for nets and plummet bags. A broad wooden plate with a hole was used for netting.
All these things were found on the site of the sanctuary. In the centre of the complex is an idol figure, the forest’s host. At his foot and overhead are ritual vessels. Microscopic traces of a sacrificial animal’s blood were found on the back of an elk-vessel.
The abundance of wooden articles witnesses to the great role of this material in the life of hunters and fishers inhabiting woodlands. Quite remarkable is the undamaged state of things that have come up to our days not as fragments, but as a whole; they greatly enriched our view of the Bronze Age tribes and their everyday life.
Exhibited in central cases 15-17 are objects from forest-belt cultures of the early and middle Bronze Age, originating from the Dnieper region and the territory between Volga and Oka rivers. In the second half of the III – first half of the II millenniums B.C. tribes belonging to corded ware and battle-axe cultures spread to the vast European territory.
Case 16 contains the antiquities of the so-called Fatyanovo culture, famous mainly for its burials. Notable among funeral things is specifically shaped ceramics – «bomb-like» vessels. Also interesting are models of the objects that accompanied the deceased, including wheels that indicated the familiarity of local population with wagon-carts. There are also many stone, predrilled axes often described as battle-axes. A hole is drilled in the broad middle part. This new hitherto unknown and effective weapon could serve both as an emblem of power and a religious attribute.
With the arrival of new tribes productive economy took root in all parts of the woodland belt, and copper working skills were being mastered.
Antiquities of the so-called Seiminsko-Turbinsk culture, displayed in case 18, point to the fact that the population of the woodland belt had become acquainted with metal early enough. A Turbinsk burial ground excavated not far from Perm contained a great number of warrior’s graves with weapons. Among the arms are arrowheads, trapeziform Celt axes and daggers. They were manufactured using a special thin-walled casting technique, which enabled to make more perfect and handy arms and bushing implements as compared to stalked ones.
Altai that became a large metallurgical centre in the early II millennium is thought to be a homeland for the bearers of Seiminsko-Turbinsk culture. Armed prince’s bodyguards, moving farther west to the forests of Western Siberia and Eastern Europe, introduced the native population both to more perfect forms of articles and to advanced bronze-casting technologies. On their 4,000 km way from Altai to the Dniestr River they left big burial grounds and hoards.
On a separate shelf in the same case one can see a hoard found not far from Galich of the Kostroma region. The included articles were supposedly attributes of a shaman cult. An idol figurine is particularly impressive: this is a sort of ritual dance, his face covered by a sombre mask. A dagger-knife is also interesting: its handle is crowned with the head of a snake with open jaws – the knife was likely meant for ritual sacrifices.
Finno-Ugric tribes inhabited the forest belt of our country from the Ob River to the Baltic lands while the territory of the Great Steppes, Caucasian foothills, Altai and the forest-steppe was populated with numerous Iranian tribes in the Bronze Age that had a powerful impact upon their neighbours, woodland residents. The late Bronze-Age things from the Oka basin (cases 19-21) are the clear evidence to this fact. Case 21 presents antiquities of lakeside Meshchera from the first half of the II millennium B.C. Exhibited here is a typical set of objects for Neolithic forest-belt tribes: round-bottom ceramics with a grooved-crested ornament, flint knives and arrowheads, bone articles. Displayed in the neighbouring case 20 are also objects from the Oka basin, pertaining to the second half of the II millennium B.C though. Remarkable changes occurred in everyday life of those tribes: many bronze items, arms in the first place, came into being; bronze sickles testify to the familiarity of indigenous population with farming; crockery is decorated with multifarious solar symbolism: a key pattern, swastika, rhombuses with a dot. Items made from precious stones point to the formation of tribal elite. Archaeological sites reveal permanent and close interaction between different tribes, quite typical for the Bronze Age, which resulted in the emergence of new cultures with their specific features.