Secrets of the Maikop barrow

(ORDO NEWS) — In 1897, Professor Nikolai Veselovsky, a Russian archaeologist and orientalist who specialized in the history and archeology of Central Asia, discovered one of the greatest archaeological finds of recent history in a small town called Maikop.

The Maikop mound, or leader’s tomb, contained untold ancient riches and trophies from a previously unseen Bronze Age civilization.

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The Maikop catacomb had a large central chamber, divided into three rooms of different sizes, in each of which there was a body lying in a crooked position.

The largest of these tombs was for the main occupant, who was adorned with richly decorated clothing, hundreds of semi-precious stones, a set of weapons, a bronze cauldron, and several polished earthenware pots.

One of the most exquisite items was the black fur coat, the earliest fur garment found in Eastern Europe. The unusual tunic was made from the fur of gopher, a species of squirrel endemic to the region, and it is estimated that 25 to 30 skins were needed to make it. Silver pins on clothes and a huge amount of silver and gold indicated the high status of the owner.

The treasures were so great that by 1898 the entire collection was transferred to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and prepared for display to the tsar and his family at the Imperial Archaeological Commission, where it became the main exhibit. In the next century, much became known about the mysterious Maikop.

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Since the initial discovery in 1897, the age of the Maikop civilization has quickly become the subject of heated debate. Archaeologists have mostly been torn between the date of the 3rd millennium BC or the 4th millennium BC.

Early theorists, working without radiocarbon dating, usually established time frames by comparing the artistic styles of other ancient civilizations.

In 1911, Tallgren proposed a date of 2000 BC, comparing the silver vessels found at Maykop with Priam’s treasure, a horde of gold coins excavated in 1873. But by the 1920s, an even earlier date had been proposed.

Rostovtsev, finding similarities with the art of Ancient Egypt, refuted Tallgren’s arguments, calling Maikop objects “more primitive” and “much more ancient.” In addition, Schmidt, after analyzing newly discovered artifacts found in the early dynastic royal cemetery at Ur, joined Rostovtsev in proclaiming the date of the third millennium BC.

During the period from the 1930s to the 1950s, many archaeological excavations in the Caucasus region contributed to the development of understanding of the Maikop culture and, in particular, its relationship with other primitive societies.

They showed that Maykop was not connected only with the Kuban region, but occupied the entire North Caucasus.

In 1956, Alexander Jessen analyzed the available materials and agreed with previous assertions that Maikop art bears resemblance to Priam’s hoard and the art of Ancient Egypt.

As a result, he proposed to attribute the early Maykop period to 2300-1900. BC, and later by 2100-1700. BC. His concept, despite relying on evidence from less than 20 graves and only one settlement, was widely accepted in scientific circles for several decades.

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Along with this, Munchaev’s extensive research in the 1950s and 1960s firmly established the coexistence of Maikop and Kura-Aras, an early South Caucasian kingdom that is usually dated to 2800-2100 BCE. BC. In addition to this, Safranov in the 1970s placed Maikop in the archaeological period Trypillya-2, which was conditionally dated to 2600-1700. BC..

However, Andreeva, using the same methods as Safranov, came to a strikingly different verdict. She argued that Maikop art resembled pottery from the Le Havre XII-VIII period in northern Mesopotamia, strongly suggesting a date of the 4th millennium BC.

Over the next few years, the schools of the 3rd and 4th millennia carried on their debates in scholarly articles, journals, and lectures.

But with the advent of radiocarbon dating in the early 1980s, new and valuable information about the Maikop culture appeared. In 1983, Kavtaradze, during the first radiocarbon study in the Caucasus, proposed a date of the 4th millennium for the Kuro-Araxes, who were previously considered contemporaries of Maykop, refuting Munchaev’s thesis about the 3rd millennium.

Closer to home, in 1991, the first radiocarbon dating of the Maikop sites was carried out on the bones of animals found in Galdzhugal, in the Terek valley.

Korenevsky’s data recommended a date of the 4th century millennium, which further strengthened the connection between the Kuro-Araxes and the existence of the Maikop culture in the late Trypillia period in the area, and several studies in the 1990s further supported his hypothesis.

Thus, radiocarbon dating finally determined the dating of Maikop by the 4th millennium BC. – a controversial issue that has been simmering for almost 100 years.

The school of the third millennium turned out to be greatly weakened, especially since their conclusions were based only on a comparison of art objects, which ignored the archaeological context.

Despite this, the similarity of objects from the Great Cemetery in Ur with Schmidt’s Maikop items remained a convincing statement. And yet, if the dates of the 4th and 3rd millennium are correct, this suggests that Maikop lasted for a staggering 1,500 years.

The homogeneity of the Maikop materials proved that this was impossible and suggested a shorter chronology of existence, since a longer chronology would inevitably contain objects with greater diversity and divergence.

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Over the years, two distinct Maikop periods have been recognized, namely pre-Maikop and Maikop.

In 1929, the first evidence of the pre-Maikop period appeared at archaeological excavations in Agubekovo. Additional finds in the 1950s and 1960s allowed academicians Formozov and Stolyar to assert that settlements similar to Maikop existed in the 5th millennium BC.

After that, in the south of the Kuban, in the steppes of the Lower Kuban, in Kislovodsk and the Terek valley, many pre-Maikop settlements were discovered.

The archaic objects found in these areas were clearly distinguishable and usually characterized by ovoid bodies without handles, pointed and rounded bottoms, gray, red and brown colors, mother-of-pearl decorations and notches along the rim.

Further research revealed a unique set of pre-Maikop treasures that has no analogues in other Maikop items. Obsidian tools, stone bracelets, polished stone axes, clay figurines of humans and animals, and cruciform mace heads have been reliably dated to the 5th millennium BC.

Additional radiocarbon analysis of animal bones from Svobodny, Yasenova, and Mesoko again indicated a date in the second half of the 5th millennium BC.

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In addition, the collection of burials from the Lower Kuban and the Stavropol plateau, including flint tools, rare ceramics, small items of personal jewelry made of stone, bone, copper and shells, clearly illustrates a society that preceded the Maikop.

Signs of a typical Early Bronze Age burial at Upper Akbash, where the corpse was crouched on its side with hands in front of its feet, also confirmed the date of the 5th millennium.

Pre-civilization it is considered that the Maikop culture lived in the foothills of the Western and Northern Caucasus and the steppe lowlands of the Lower Kuban, Manych, Terek and Stavropol.

The unique type of burial distinguishes the Maykopians from their other Bronze Age neighbors. The body was usually laid on its side, hands in front of the face, and a layer of earth was poured on top. Personal belongings and valuables were conditionally located next to the deceased.

In 2004, Korenevsky, using ceramic evidence, divided Maikop into 2 types. Galyugay-Sereginsky was distinguished by the predominance of simple spherical and pearl vessels with rounded bottoms, jugs with short necks, goblets with thin necks, cone-shaped clay objects and vessels made of precious metals.

The second type is Psekup and Dolinsk, which can be identified by more complex forms of ceramics and decoration, such as squat round forms, decorated, patterned and polished, and a noticeable absence of spherical forms created by their compatriots from Galyugay-Sereginsky.

Korenevsky suggested that Galyugay-Sereginsky belongs to an earlier phase, while Psekupskoye and Dolinskoye belong to the eastern and western branches of Maykop, which separated at a later stage.

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Most commentators believe that Maykop was influenced by the Middle East. This idea was first proposed by Alexander Jessen in the 1950s in connection with the ubiquitous distribution of foreign imports in Maikop barrows.

Reinforcing this new line of thought was Safranova, who in the 1970s advanced the view that the Maikop culture could have descended from the Aramaeans of Harran, a semi-mythical people said to have inhabited Ciscausia in what is now Northern Syria.

She argued that materials from the Chuera collection dating back to 24,000 BC have strikingly similar details to Maikop handicrafts.

More recent research linking Maykop to the Sumerians, the earliest known civilization in southern Mesopotamia, is by Trifonov, Petrov, and Savelieva, who reanalyzed the scepters found in the Leader’s Tomb, presenting them alternatively as pipes for collective drinking of beer.

They compared the pipes to ancient Sumerian drinking vessels, often made from long, hollow reeds, and when they analyzed the remains, they found traces of barley starch granules.

Also, in an arrangement similar to the practice of early royal funerals in the Middle East, the pipes were placed closest to the body to emphasize the importance of the feast in funeral processions.

Some have gone further, arguing that Maikop was not only intertwined with the Near East, but also had significant influence in the ancient world.

In 2008, Ivanova-Big drew attention to numerous Maikop artifacts that reflect the advanced stage of Middle Eastern societies. She called for “a change in the chronological perspective, allowing Maikop to be seen as an independent center of innovation.”

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Her call was answered in 2019 by Hansen, who, in an attempt to shatter the grand narrative that all prehistoric technological advances originated in Egypt and Mesopotamia, pointed to Maikop as an important intermediate point for formulating and spreading new ideas.

His new approach argued that the success of Egypt and Mesopotamia was due to their adaptation of methods developed in peripheral areas such as the northern Caucasus, where the Maikop people lived.

Previously, early theorists recognized a strong Mesopotamian trend in Maikop subjects, but generally attributed it to direct Mesopotamian influence on Maikop.

Using later radiocarbon dating of the Chief’s Tomb, Hansen showed that the crypt was built around 3700-3500 BC. BC, which is a thousand years older than previous estimates, implying that it was the Maikopians who influenced the Mesopotamians.

He showed that the Tomb of the Leader is the oldest evidence of the presence of metal vessels and the earliest use of the iconography of the lion in the heraldry of the ruler, showing that the preliminary steps towards the formation of the state were taken by Maykop already in the first half of the 4th millennium.

To this it should be added that similar copper tools found in the Tomb of the Leader were also found in Mesopotamia and as far as the island of Crete.

The relationship of knives, swords and axes in Maykop, Mesopotamia and Crete speaks in favor of Maykop as an important intermediary in the dissemination of technology in the 4th millennium BC.

Maykop’s influence has been discovered even further than Crete. In Golitsche, Germany, an amazing discovery was found: Maikop weapons, bows and quivers, identical to similar weapons from the Novosvobodnaya site near Maikop.

Thus, the Maykop people influenced the development and dissemination of technology in the 4th millennium BC, being a major player in the innovation system, which included the East, the Caucasus and Central Europe.

Undoubtedly, the wealth of the Caucasus region in ores, pastures and timber proved to be extremely attractive to the developing urban centers with which Maykop was inextricably linked.

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Andrew Sheratt described Maykop as “the world’s first ancient barbarian society” that operated on the periphery of the urban centers of the Middle East. Indeed, Maykop played an important role in the spread of lifestyle and technology in the steppe region.

Acting as an intermediary between East and West, they were also an integral part of the technological revolutions of the 4th millennium BC, which included the wheel, the wagon, the domestication of donkeys, sheep and horses, and the cultivation of olives and wine.

Several innovations in metallurgy and wool have been attributed to Maikop, who was not only an effective transmitter of knowledge, but also a pioneer in his own field.


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