Tomsk State University
Department of History

634051 Russia, Tomsk, 34, Lenin Ave., room 30

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Rescue excavations at the Timiryazevo archaeological site

In September–October 2014, LSAR archaeologists held excavations at the unique archaeological complex of Timiryazevo, near the city of Tomsk. To this day, the complex impresses by the number of diverse archaeological objects and sites – old settlements, burial mounds, and places of worship that have existed here over five thousand years now (from the Neolithic period to the arrival of the Russian population in the region in the early 17th century). Unfortunately, many of the old settlements and necropolises fall under the construction of the elite village of Sneghiri, therefore, a decision had been made to hold rescue excavations before power shovels would appear in the area.

These excavations have become the most large-scale carried out in the region of Tomsk for the last twenty five years. Kaydalovka-I has been studied, a settlement abandoned around 2,000 years ago by representatives of the Kulay culture. At the site, in addition to some richly decorated ceramic vessels, there have been two well-preserved stone axes found along with a sharpening stone.

The other part of the excavations miraculously revealed a medieval home located between two modern foundations. According to preliminary estimates, the home is dated between the 14th and the 17th centuries, judging by ornamental patters on clay vessels found therein. There were traces of the old fire found as well – the home had been completely burnt. Interestingly, there was also a clay oven ‘chuval’ present in the home.

Finally, the lengthiest and most labour-intensive archaeological work was done at the unique, internationally known medieval necropolis – the Timiryazevo burial mound I which, undoubtedly, is a historical and cultural phenomenon in the archaeology of Eurasia, the meaning and significance of which have yet to be comprehended. The Timiryazevo burial mound is one of the largest medieval necropolises – over 700 visible only burial mounds have so far been recorded here, whereas the excavations showed that the majority of ritual objects are hidden underground and cannot be visually detected in the landscape. This means that the exact number of burial sites is currently impossible to establish, nevertheless, it is clear that in the early Middle Age this sacred space had long served as an important place for burial and funeral rituals.

We have excavated just a small area in the south of the Timiryazevo burial complex that runs the risk of becoming a construction site in the near future. The number of artifacts will exceed several thousands. Now in our hand are unique findings that shed light on medieval ritual actions, among them are Chinese coin of the Western Wei (581–618 years A.C.) and bronze grivna; bronze images of a human head with tattoos on his cheeks and mythical animals on his head; dozens of miniature copies of iron objects made specially for burial rites (knives, adzes, arrowheads, hooks, needles, etc.); richly ornamented miniature vessels put in pits as a part of funeral rituals, and so on.

At the burial site, different rites used to coexist that dealt with bodies of the dead: some of them were burnt elsewhere and the burnt bones would be compactly put in the pits, others would not get burnt but put in the burial pits instead, with their heads laid towards the East. The complexes studied have been preliminarily dated between the 5th and the 8th centuries A.C. and belong to the upper-Ob archaeological culture.

During the excavations, cutting-edge 3D fixation techniques were used, namely, laser scanning and terrestrial photogrammetry.

A huge pool of data has just started to be processed at the Laboratory, however, it is already clear that this necropolis’s burial and funeral sites of such an amazingly informative value are difficult to interpret and demand meticulous work to be done, for further interesting and weighty publications.

The excavation findings are soon to be on display.

Olga Zaytseva,
LSAR senior research fellow

The project "Man in a Changing World. Identity and Social Adaptation: Past and Present" is funded by the Russian Government
(grant #14.В25.31.0009)
© Laboratory for Social and Anthropoligical Research, 2013

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