The Ipatovo Kurgan on the North Caucasian Steppe (Russia)

Article excerpt

In the course of rescue excavations ahead of pipeline construction, a large burial burial mound (kurgan, in the Russian terminology) with a long history of use has been excavated near the small town of Ipatovo, some 120 km northeast of Stavropol (North Caucasus, Russia). The work was carried out by the `Nasledie' (Heritage) organization for monument protection and rescue excavation in the Stavropol region (a self-governing county twice the size of Belgium). Like all rescue excavations in Russia, the dig was paid for by the developer, in this case the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) which is building the 700-km long pipeline from the Caspian to the Black Sea, creating an archaeological section right across the North Caucasian landscape.

With a height of 7 metres, kurgan 2 of the Ipatovo barrow cemetery 3 was one of the biggest kurgans in the area. Its complete investigation in 1998-99 took two long field seasons, not only because of its sheer size, but also because of the complexity of the evidence which covers 13 phases of construction and use, from the 4th millennium BC to the later 2nd millennium AD (FIGURE 1).


The first phase may have been a grave of the Early Bronze Age Maikop Culture which was destroyed by later graves. The extant central grave is an unusual one: two young people were buried in a sitting position in a stone-lined grave (FIGURE 2). This is not the standard rite of the Maikop Culture, pottery vessels of which had been deposited in the grave, but close parallels for this rite are found on the Kalmyk steppe. Calibrated radiocarbon dates put the skeletons at 3616-3256 cal BC and 3350-2381 BC, respectively, although the archaeological evidence suggests contemporaneous burial of both bodies. The next two phases also belong to the Early Bronze Age, with two crouched inhumations without grave-goods, and two Pit-Grave inhumations of the first half of the 3rd millennium BC.


The main construction phases (5 to 10) of the barrow belong to the Catacomb Culture. The early phases include a wagon burial, with the skeleton deposited in an extended position; the complete wagon had been deposited next to the body, and wooden parts such as the wheels were substantially preserved (FIGURE 3). The latter gave a radiocarbon date of 2615-2337 cal BC. In addition, the grave had been furnished with a large number of bronze artefacts, including a hook, a knife and a medallion. Above this grave, the kurgan was built up into a large, flat-topped mound (FIGURE 1). …