This page is currently under construction. It is intended to become an English-language portal on Scythian archaeology. Related subjects include archaeology, museums and heritage, especially in the British Isles and Europe. Correspondance is welcomed on the archaeology of the Iron Age steppe zone.
Eurasian Nomadic and Scythian Links
Scythians or Scythic tribes?
The terms 'Scythian', 'Sauromatae', and 'Sarmatian', are frequently used as ethnic names, however they are also correlated with specific archaeological cultures, and specific time periods. 'Scythian' is used here to refer to the Middle and Late periods of the Scythic tribes of the Black Sea steppes during the sixth to third centuries BC. 'Sauromatae' refers to the Scythic culture of the Volga-Don steppes, during the sixth to fourth centuries, while Sarmatians is used to refer to their successor culture, the Early Sarmatian or Prokhorovo culture of the fourth to second centuries BC. The Sarmatian culture continues into the Middle and Late periods, however these periods are characterised by a change in material culture, including the appearance of Graeco-Roman goods such as fibulae, and the phasing out of 'animal style' on weaponry, which may indicate a lack of cultural continuity. 'Saka' refers to the eastern Scythic cultures, such as the Tasmola culture of the Altai region, during the seventh to third centuries BC. The collective term 'Scythic' will be used to refer to the cultures of the 'Scythian world' in general.
Scythic material culture
The characteristic material assemblage identifying a Scythic tomb consists of the 'Scythian triad' of weapon, horse harness, and animal art, however this may only be indicative of the mounted elite, leading to problems in identifying other members of the Scythic society. Other characteristic finds include looped bronze mirrors, bronze cauldrons, triangular three-lobed bronze arrowheads, iron-tipped spears, short swords and daggers of the 'Akkinades' type, whetstones, 'Kuban' helmets, scale armour, domestic tools and whetstones, personal adornment, and pottery vessels containing food offerings.
Scythic social organisation
The Scythians, Sauromatae, Sakas and Sarmatians all belonged to the Nomadic Cattle Breeding cultural-economic type. Moshkova states that Scythic social organisation was based on the clan-tribe. Clan-
tribes were linked, possibly by shared descent, into "tribal unions" which were unstable but powerful and belligerent. This view seems to be
confirmed by information given by Herodotus and contemporaries, although use of the term 'tribe' may imply a more egalitarian social system than was actually in place. Attempts to identify individual tribes and especially to equate these with tribal groupings identified with Herodotus seem fraught with difficulty, and is perhaps best avoided.
Ritual and Burial in the Iron Age Eurasian Steppe Zone: This dissertation discusses the archaeology of status, ritual and gender, and the application of ethnographic information to the reconstruction of past societies. It presents a model of Scythic society in the seventh to third centuries BC derived from ethnohistorical, ethnographic, and archaeological evidence. It uses presence-absence analysis to evaluate grave inclusions from three Iron Age Scythic cemeteries in the Eurasian steppe zone in order to discover whether ritualist interments can be
identified. The cemeteries studied were Pokrovka 2 and Pokrovka 8 (excavated by Davis-Kimball 1990-92) in the Southern Ural arid steppes, and Pazyryk (excavated by Rudenko 1979) in the Altai mountains. Grave inclusions which have been chosen for study included those which have been linked by previous studies to ritual graves, and those which appear to be linked to ritualism in the ethnographic literature. Phi coefficients have been used to assess the correlation between grave inclusions, and between grave inclusions and the age and sex of associated skeletal material. The significance of these conclusions has been measured using Fisher's Exact Test. Cluster analysis has been performed to highlight these findings. The results of these analyses are interpreted with reference to the ethnographic and ethnohistorical data. The conclusions reached were that there were several identifiable status assemblages including warrior, high status, and lower status, however there was no conclusive evidence for ritualism in these cemeteries. A
possible ritual assemblage was associated with high status at Pazyryk suggesting that ritual powers had been subsumed by the temporal leader. Further data and a larger sample size would be required to truly answer the research questions.
Further results from the 1995 excavation season at Pokrovka, when published, may help to address the problem of the small sample sizes in this study. Visit
(Centre for the Study of Eurasian Nomads) for an interim report and more details on the Pokrovka site.
Last update: 28/12/01