Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Inside a Scythian Burial Mound

When archaeologists recently began excavating a small burial mound in southern Russia they had low expectations. But to their surprise, they found two gold vessels, as well as an array of other gold objects, that made up one of the most elaborate Scythian hoards ever discovered. Below are images from the excavation showing the context of these spectacular finds. To read a full-length article on the site, go to "Rites of the Scythians."

  • The Scythians built monumental grave mounds, or kurgans, all across the Eurasian steppe, an expanse that they dominated for most of the first millennium B.C. The gold artifacts were buried under this 12-foot-high hilltop kurgan, known to archaeologists as Sengileevskoe-2. (Andrey Belinski)
  • The kurgan was violated by grave robbers centuries ago, but the looters missed a stone-lined chamber under a thick layer of clay. Though a few small human bones were found in the chamber, archaeologists think the kurgan wasn't the final resting place of a Scythian noble or warrior. Rather, it may have been a cenotaph, a memorial or tomb to honor someone whose body lay elsewhere. (Andrey Belinski)
  •  Inside the chamber, archaeologists discovered the two gold vessels nested together and placed upside-down. Beneath the vessels were still more gold objects, including armbands, a ring, and three smaller gold cups. In all the gold weighed more than seven pounds. (Andrey Belinski)
  • Likely produced by a Greek goldsmith, the scenes on the exterior of this vessel depict griffins attacking a stag and a horse. The workmanship is on par with and extraordinarily similar to that of another gold artifact, a gold breastplate found in 1971 nearly 300 miles from Sengileevskoe-2. (Andrey Belinski)