The Chronology of the Mariupol-Type Cemeteries of Ukraine Re-Visited. (Notes & News)

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The transition from foraging to farming, and the chronology of the Neolithic and Eneolithic periods in Ukraine have, to date, been studied by limited radiocarbon determinations and typological seriation. Recent radiocarbon determinations have shown that the earlier chronologies were limited in scope (e.g. Jacobs 1993; 1994; Lillie 1998a; 1998b), and in light of the new analysis presented below, the chronology must be substantially revised. In this context, the presence of long-lived cemeteries, termed Mariupol-type, located along the lower Dnieper river in Ukraine, clarify the regional chronology.

The absolute age of the Mariupol-type cemeteries is central to the chronology of Neolithic and Eneolithic monuments in the East European steppe zone. The majority of the Mariupol-type cemeteries are located in the Podnieprovie steppe region--Nikolsky, Vilnyanka, Vovnigi I and II, Marievka, Lysaya Gora, Yasinovatka, Vasilievka, along with a number of Epipalaeolithic and Mesolithic cemeteries and individual interments (FIGURE 1) (Telegin & Potekhina 1987). Several similar burial grounds were excavated upstream in the Dnieper system at sites such as Dereivka, and in the Orel' River basin at Osipovka and Hospitalny hill, as well as in the Sea of Azov Littoral at Mariupol and in the Crimea at Dolinka (Telegin 1991). They are also found in the Chir river basin (the Lower Don region) (Yakovlev 1901). The cemeteries of Siezzheie in the Povolzhie region (Vasiliev 1981: 6-11), as well as burials in the Northern Caucasus at Staro-Nizhnesteblievskaia village (Shatalin 1984), can be assigned to this group of cemeteries on the basis of their finds.


Almost all of the cemeteries of this type that are located in the Ukrainian steppe zone belong to the Nadporozhie variant of the Dnieper-Donets ethno-cultural community (Telegin & Titova 1998). In contrast, the material culture recovered from the Siezzheie cemetery has formed the basis for the identification of a discrete cultural entity, the Samara culture, in the Povolzhie region (e.g. Telegin & Titova 1993).

The main feature of the Mariupol-type cemeteries is inhumation burial in the supine position with arms straightened and the hands either near the pelvis, or resting on it. The skeletons are usually heavily contracted indicating that the dead were obviously tightly swaddled or squeezed into narrow graves. Graves were either individual, double or multiple in nature. Collective burial-vaults comprising several dozen or even in excess of 100 graves have been found at sites such as Mariupol and Dereivka. The skeletons are usually abundantly covered with red ochre, and the orientation of the dead varies (Telegin & Potekhina 1987).

All of the burial grounds of Mariupol type can be regarded as cemeteries in the traditional sense in that they are discrete areas set away from settlements, solely for the deposition of the dead (cf. Brinch Petersen & Meiklejohn in press). In terms of construction, the graves comprise two types, stage A burials, which occur predominantly in small rounded-oval pits, and the later stage B burials, which occur in large square areas of multiple interment.

A rich variety of artefacts have been found near the skeletons and within the burial areas. These comprise ornaments made of bone, animal and fish teeth, various worked and polished stones, as well as stone tools, and more rarely, bone tools that imitate the stone artefacts (Telegin 1991: figures 12 & 13). At a number of the later burial grounds a large quantity of broken pottery and potsherds have also been found.

The appearance of ceramics in the artefact inventories of this region is often used to denote `Neolithization'. However, this categorization appears in contrast to the more conventional (western) understanding of `the Neolithic' as a significant shift from `wild' to `domesticated' resource exploitation. …