Graves: the Kurgan people left rich treasure-graves containing gold, silver and precious stones. These important graves are set aside in separate cemeteries, and the bodies are committed in timber or stone houses. One body of a man was dressed in a garment onto which gold ornaments had been sewn: 68 lion images, 19 bulls and 38 rings. (This sounds reminiscent of the Scythians who succeeded the Kurgans in Russia; they too wore garments decorated all over with small gold plaques, like beads but flat and stamped with tiny images.) Necklaces of animal teeth were common. Sun images were also commonplace. Also found were stag figurines with enormous antlers, ornamented with concentric-circle motifs; these were probably linked to rock engravings of stags with supernatural antlers. Also found were horse-heads carved from stone, mounted on rods and used as scepters. (Note: this last re scepters was the archeologist's interpretation; the garment hung with metal and horse-wand sounds shamanistic to me. In fact, wands surmounted by horse-heads are a well-known accouterment of Mongolian shamans, who also make a point of sewing metal objects and ribbons onto their ceremonial garments. The more metal the better was their rationale, ie the heavier the garment, the more desirable it was; as for the wands with horse-heads, modern shamans use them as drum-sticks and also as "magic horses" for spirit journeys.)

Braziers were found in Kurgan houses and grave-houses: these burned charcoal and also cow's-dung. Ashes and charcoal were found in the graves: fires had been lit in the braziers inside the grave-houses. The charcoal deserves a special mention because while dung as fuel is free and easy to gather (and cow-droppings, pastoral peoples say, burns better than those of horses or sheep) charcoal has to be specially prepared; but dung burns with an acrid fume and people who live in homes heated by dung fires usually develop eye problems, while charcoal burns with little or no smoke and those who enjoy a charcoal fire are happier and healthier.

Red ochre was found in the graves . . . but then, red ochre and Indo-European graves go together, from southern Palestine to the coast of England. Also found were metal cauldrons . . . as per Scythian graves, where the household goods were buried with the dead chief. The graves of poor people contained only (usually) a ceramic pot, a flint tool, or nothing.

Also found in some graves were bones from the tails of sheep; the rationale is that the tails of Asian fat-tailed sheep were buried with the dead. The fat-tailed sheep themselves have been raised in middle Asia since before history began. Herodotus mentions them, and they were commonly kept by nomads from the Bedouin of north Africa right up into Siberia. Unlike European breeds, these sheep grow enormous tails, rather like the humps of camels; fat and marrowlike substances are stored in their tails, just as with the humps of camels, and the sheep themselves are better able to endure arid country. The tails themselves used to be cut off and kept to provide cooking fat, for the kitchens of Persian and Arabian women. And perhaps they still are to this day!

And since the harnesses of Kurgan horses were made from bone and leather, the graves of poor Kurgans contained only flint tools, and the only worked metal was sewn on people's clothing, one might conclude these people were still well in the grip of the Stone Age.

The mortuary houses themselves mimicked actual houses, being made of timber or of stone slabs. Husbands were frequently buried with their wives; sometimes an adult was buried with one or more children. Animal bones were found jumbled in pits near the graves; Kurgan graves north of the Black Sea usually included snake skeletons, sometimes up to ten of them. (Note: Edith Durham in her book High Albania mentions that many old graves in the Albanian mountains – one of the remotest places on earth – were frequently marked with pre-Christian symbols; suns and crescent moons combined with Christian crosses were common, and a serpent image which the Albanians told her represented courage and war, ie the snake was the mark of a hero!) Sometimes human bones were found jumbled in with the animal bones in the adjoining offering-pits. It was an Indo-European custom up to historic times for animals to be sacrificed at the grave, their flesh eaten and their bones then collected in skins and interred.

These grave-houses were covered by earth or stone mounds, and then topped with stone stelae. Each stela was carved with a crude human shape, male, holding a mace or axe in one hand; one figure holds a bow. In the graves of men, ornamental axes of antler, copper, stone, or semiprecious stone were found. Some of these axes were made from nephrite, serpentine, diorite, amber, or other materials obviously not meant for utility. The amber came from the Baltic region, and since mother-of-pearl and faience beads were also found in the graves, this certainly points to a thriving trade between regions.

The knucklebones of sheep were found in many graves (particularly the graves of children) throughout European sites. Knucklebones are a gaming device; in Indo-European languages there are correspondences between the knucklebone or astrogalus and words for dice. Plural: astragali.

And how do you play knucklebones with the astragali of sheep? Well, we have accounts of that too, as it happens. The Uzbeg nomads of southern Russia used to call it the Ashik-game (after ashik, the word for the anklebones of sheep) and played it after the manner of European dicing, with four anklebones or astragali. The upper part of the bone they called tava, the lower altchi, and the two sides were called yantarap. The player took all four bones in the palm of his hand, threw them up and got half of the stake wagered, if two tava or two altchi turned up; or the whole stake, if all four tava or altchi showed.

. . . Incidentally, the Venus figurines of the late Stone Age are not Kurgan. They pre-date Kurgan expansion into Anatolian, Aegean, and Balkan cultures. Seated goddesses of clay, alabaster or marble also appeared in the Ukraine and north Caucasus regions prior to the third millennium BC; these were borrowed from southern cultures in the Balkans and the Mediterranean. Equally, male and female figures carved from stone (called Babas) were apparently scattered across the Russian steppe, but they are attributed to the descendants of the Scythians, not to prehistoric peoples. According to old Russian chronicles, a famous statue named Slata Baba once stood near a river between settled Russia and the Siberian wilderness; what happened to it is not now known.

Source and some further reading:


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