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Cudgel Culture Volume 55 Number 2, March/April 2002
by Mark Rose

[image] Third-millennium B.C. cudgel has links to hymns written 1,000 years later. (Pavel Kuznetsov) [LARGER IMAGE]

Discovery of a unique copper cudgel at Kutuluk, a group of burial mounds near the central Russian city of Samara, proves a long-suspected link between the Yamnaya people of the steppe and the tribes that migrated to India in the second millennium B.C. The Yamnaya culture, named for its characteristic burials in rectangular pits (yama is Russian for pit) beneath kurgans or mounds, is found throughout the steppe north of the Caspian and Black seas and west of the Ural River.

Pavel Kuznetsov of the Institute of History and Archaeology of Povolzhye made the discovery while excavating Kurgan 4 at Kutuluk. The kurgan, about 69 feet in diameter, has been radiocarbon dated to 2500-2300 B.C. Its main burial held the skeleton of a man, estimated to have been 35 to 40 years old and about five feet, eight inches tall.

Resting on the skeleton's bent left elbow was a 25-inch-long copper object. Its blade is diamond-shaped in cross-section, with sharp edges, but the end is not pointed. Traces indicate that the five-inch-long handle was wrapped, probably with a quarter-inch-wide leather strap.

Kuznetsov knew of no similar objects from Bronze Age Eurasian steppe cultures, but found a striking parallel in the Rig-Veda, an ancient Indian collection of hymns to the gods compiled ca. 1500-1200 B.C. in the Punjab region of India and Pakistan. It mentions repeatedly the vajra the weapon of Indra, one of the most important deities:

Oh, Indra, getting your support
Let us take cudgels,
And will gain a victory over all the rivals

According to the Rig-Veda, the vajra was four sided and had a cow-skin strap. It was called "golden vajra" and "glistening vajra." The Kutuluk artifact is the only object ever found corresponding to the vajra, a metal weapon used to deliver heavy blows. Even the leather wrapping of the handle is similar. It is likely, Kuznetsov concludes, that the Kutuluk artifact was a ritual weapon like the legendary vajra.

The Kutuluk grave is substantially older than the Rig-Veda, and probably represents a society that was ancestral to the people who compiled the hymns. Archaeologists have long thought that the Yamnaya people spoke an early Indo-European language and that their offshoots migrated to India and elsewhere (see "Tracking the Tarim Mummies," March/April 2001). Identification of the Kutuluk cudgel as the vajra of the Rig-Veda confirms that belief.

© 2002 by the Archaeological Institute of America