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Surprise Finds on the Steppes Volume 52 Number 6, November/December 1999
by Karen Rubinson

[image] View of the Bronze Age settlement of Kizilskoye from Russian military helicopter (Karen S. Rubinson) [LARGER IMAGE]

Excavations in Russia's Chelyabinsk Province in the southern Urals have demonstrated that the traditional Western view of the Eurasian steppes as home to only horse-riding nomads without permanent settlements is wildly incorrect.

These findings, highlighted at a recent international conference held in Ekaterinburg and Chelyabinsk focusing on a group of 17 fortified settlements associated with the mid-to-late Sintashta-Arkaim culture (ca. eighteenth-sixteenth centuries B.C.), are helping Russian and Western archaeologists develop a new understanding of Bronze and Iron Age cultures in Eurasia.

The culture is little known outside of Russia, since excavations have been conducted in Chelyabinsk Province for only the past two decades. Home to numerous nuclear weapons facilities and the world's largest steelmaking factory, the province was off-limits to foreigners between 1947 and 1992.

Finds from these settlements include bronze knives and sickles, arrowheads, and handmade pottery, as well as the famous chariot burials of Sintashta (see "Birth of the Chariot," March/April 1995). Evidence of grain cultivation, the herding of horses, sheep, and cattle--still practiced in the region today--and large settlements with ramparts and moats show that the "nomads" in the region had much in common with their contemporaries in the Near East. Their metallurgical tradition in the second millennium B.C. can be traced from the ore-rich Urals to northwest China.

© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America