Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Summer Sacrifice Volume 54 Number 6, November/December 2001
by Chris Hellier

[image] This young woman was interred with a pillow of flowers. (Courtesy InformNauka) [LARGER IMAGE]

By analyzing soil, pollen, and animal remains from four Bronze Age kurgans, or burial mounds, on the north Caucasus steppe, a team of scientists led by archaeologist Natalia Shishlina of the State History Museum in Moscow has been able to reconstruct the annual life-cycle of Bronze Age nomadic herdsmen in the region. The team was able to identify the main burial season, as well as summer and winter pastures.

One mound showed that a grave had been dug in early spring, after the frozen ground had been thawed with fire. The grave, however, remained open until April or May, when it was covered with hornbeam and elm logs. In early summer a 15-year-old girl was sacrificed near the burial ground and interred with a floral pillow comprised of carnations, roses, and wormwood. "Such [sacrificial] ritual is very rare," says Shishlina. "We have only three examples of human sacrifice from the area for the Yamnaya culture (3000-2300 B.C.); they were probably ancient Indo-Europeans."

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America