A new era began in the history of mankind in the First millennium B.C. after iron had entered everyday life. Unlike copper that was extracted in the few mining areas, iron as part of marshore is found almost anywhere. This is why the launch of iron mining and working promoted the rapid development of society and the rise of distinctive cultures that played an outstanding part in history. The earliest written sources (mainly Greek ones) describing the tribes and peoples, inhabiting the territory of our country, also go back to that time. In the works of ancient Greek historians many of them were first mentioned under their proper names.
Both the Bronze and Iron Ages were noted for unevenness in population distribution between over different natural-climatic zones. Woodland inhabitants remained traditionally settled, their major occupations being hunting and fishing, cattle breeding and rudiments of farming. The bearers of steppe cultures finally switched to a nomadic lifestyle and were very mobile.
Cases 1-4 present the Iron Age in the forest belt of the East-European part of the country. In the pier between entrance arches is a gravestone from the Ananyinsk burial ground of the VII—III centuries B.C. excavated in the Kama region. It features a man in a helmet; there is a neck-ring on his neck – a sign of power; a short sword is at his right side while a likeness of «gorytos» (a case for a bow and arrows) is at his left side.
Things from Ananyino burial ground are placed in the centre of case1. These are mainly arms – Celt axes, spearheads and short «akinaki» swords widespread in the Iron Age – and women’s jewellery. The greater part of weapons is made of bronze. An unprecedented boom of bronze metallurgy peculiar to the Ananyinsk culture of those days was already complemented with bimetal objects made from bronze and iron. Such is the bronze dagger handle with extant bits of an iron blade.
The unique objects, originating from the banks of Kama and Pechora, are two superb bronze pole-axes in the upper part of the case. Each of them is embellished with the head of a griffin – a mythical creature with the vulture’s head and animal’s body while the axe head is shaped as a predator’s head. This weapon served as a symbol of power and was used in the ritual practice of Ananyinsk tribes.
In case 2 there are antiquities of the Kama region pertaining to the next Pianoborsk culture that followed the Ananyinsk one. They were found on the Glyadenovskoye sacrificial place, where a great number of animal bones were discovered along with a multitude of vulture, serpent, animal images, often fantastic, cut out of bronze plates. Some plates were sewn on shaman’s clothes; others were brought as sacrifices. 19 thousand beads were found on the sacrificial place.
A ram figurine made from iron and adorned with gold stripes is something special among those items. Originally iron articles were brought to the forest belt as imported items; they were mainly rare armament or decoration samples.
Dyakov tribes living between the Volga and Oka rivers were among the first in the forest belt to obtain iron from marsh ore and to widely apply it. Their objects are presented in case 4. The Dyakov culture is remarkable for vessels with reticulate surface and numerous small sinkers – earthen and bone cone-shaped objects whose purpose is not quite clear. Among agricultural implements is a fragment of an iron sickle (on the central plane-table). Noteworthy is the abundance of fishing and hunting bony implements. A horn pendant depicting fantastical creatures is quite unique. Holes in its upper part imply that it would be hung on the shaman’s suit.
Numerous bone fragments and a horse statuette displayed in the case indicate that the Dyakov population was engaged in cattle-raising, horse breeding inclusive.
The next section of the exposition (cases 5-7, 17) is dedicated to the Iron Age in the Caucasus. Most items belong to the Koban culture whose bearers were distant ancestors of contemporary peoples inhabiting Northern Caucasus. On display in case 6 are objects, most typical for this particular culture: a rython – a kind of drinking vessel shaped as a horn and ornamented with a goat image; bronze axes covered with engraved solar signs. They all are wonderful specimens of bronze casting that reached the highest peak among Caucasian peoples in those days.
The bronze buckles of broad warrior belts are of special interest. They are embellished with an encrustation made from iron bits. At the dawn of the Iron Age those items were extremely expensive and prestigious and therefore in possession of wealthy men. Caucasus was the most ancient region in our country where people began mining and utilizing iron. It was from there that iron industry spread to other regions including remote ones.
cases 8, 13, 16
A large section (cases 8, 13, 15, 16) is devoted to the iron age of Altai and Minusinsk Hollow where outstanding and distinctive cultures were being formed in those days. The age of objects from the burial grounds of Hilly Altai, Berel and Katanda (case 16) is 2,500 years. Sacrificial horses, a richly adorned harness and arms were piled into a huge pit. Unusually graceful arc the figures of wooden horses; gold deer horns were inserted in special holes near the ears. Thus a single image joined together two main deities of many European peoples – the horse and the deer as bearers of the solar principle.
The last section of the room (cases 9-15) tells of nomads of the Great Eurasian Steppe. Towering on a special podium in the centre are the so-called «olennii kamni» (stones covered with images). These are numerous Stella, erected near sites and burials. Depicted in the upper part of «olennii kamni» is a deer deity closely related both to the realms of the dead and the living. The facets of «olennii kamni» normally featured celebrated ancestors and their feats while stones themselves symbolized the world axis around which the whole universe was spinning.
Exhibited in the cases are things from the near-Aral, near-Ural regions, also steppe and forest-steppe belts in the East-European part of the country. The antiquities of Scythians -the best-known nomadic people of the Iron Age (cases 9-10) are of special interest.
Scythians became world-famed thanks to Greek historian Herodotus who lived in the fifth century B.C. and was the first to mention them under their proper name, having described the wars between Scythians and Persian king Darius.
On display in case 9 is the burial set of the «Starshaya» Grave – one of rich Scythian mounds in the Middle Dnieper region going back to the VI-V centuries B.C. Arms, harnesses and items in an «animal style» are a specific set of things, typical of Scythian corporeal culture, their «visiting card», so to say. Most notable are short akinaki swords – the most efficient weapon of the mounted warrior – bone cheek-pieces topped by the heads and hoofs of the herbivore. In the centre of the case are gold plates that feature a panther tucking its forepaws away and overtaking a goat in a mighty leap. These were once metal-plates adorning a case for bow and arrows. Animals are main personages of Scythian art with its typical scenes of predators preying upon the hoofed. The «animal style» was typical for communities, where power belonged to the military elite. The Scythian culture became one of the most striking occurrences in the heritage of the nomadic world stretched over the Great Eurasian steppe.
Exhibited in cases 13, 8 are the antiquities of the Minusinsk Hollow. The burials of the Tagar culture (case 13) contain beautiful samples of bronze casting, for which the native tribes were so famous. Opposite, over case 8 is «A Big Boyar Painting» – a copy of a rock painting. Nomad’s «yurtas» (tents) and cauldrons – indispensable companions of nomadic and semi-nomadic lifestyle, typical of the population of steppes and foothills -are well seen.
During the first centuries the Minusinsk Hollow was populated with tribes of Tashtyk culture. Masks that were characteristic of the Tashtyk funeral rite are assigned a special place in case 8. At the present time 200 fragmentary and 55 whole masks are kept in the Historical Museum alone. The main feature of those masks is their portrait verisimilitude largely reconstructing the looks of ancient people once inhabiting Southern Siberia
Another unique item is great noble’s clothing sewn from rich fur and finely dressed leather (case 15). The fur is painted orange and green. The leather flaps were originally all covered with wooden plaques upholstered in gold foil. Unfortunately, very few of them remained intact, and only barely perceptible microscopic particles are left from the gold coating. The clothes of the interred would glitter in gold, huge shoulders imparting massiveness to the noble’s figure. The sleeves, too narrow to force in a hand would hang down on each side like wings. Two rows of plates along the back remind of a backbone while leather scraps and bands on the back imitate a scale.
One of the most famous items of the Koban culture is the Kazbek hoard found in the 19th century (case 17). It is mostly comprised of religious items: bronze figurines of the fertility god on chains; deer symbolizing the sun deity; a multitude of bronze bells and jingles that topped worship rods – wonderful works of art created by North-Caucasian founders. The hoard also includes gifts to gods – silver cups of Iranian works, iron weapon and harness elements.