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Amber ornaments found in the Copper Age burial.     Source: Petrozavodsk State University

Unique Copper Age Burial Discovered By Russian Archaeologists

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A sacred looking “Amber Burial” has been found in Russia. The Copper Age grave is so laden in amber buttons and other items made from the rare resin rock, and steeped in ochre at the burial site, that nothing like this has even been discovered before.

The prehistoric Copper Age burial site, loaded with a hoard of rare grave goods , has been discovered in Petrozavodsk, along the western edge of Lake Onega in the Republic of Karelia, in north-western Russia.

A narrow oval hole contained the body of an ancient hunter that had been ritually covered in red ochre and flint chips. Archaeologists have announced that this special grave contained a hoard of rare solid amber ornaments that have never before been found in Eastern Europe.

Archaeologist at the Copper Age burial site. ( Petrozavodsk State University )

The archaeological expedition was led by Associate Professor Aleksandr Zhulnikov and a team of students of Petrozavodsk State University. According to a university press release the researchers were looking for undiscovered ancient encampments along the western shore of Lake Onega when they discovered the rare Copper Age burial site of a prehistoric man. Not only was he discovered with flint tools, but also “140 Baltic amber buttons, pendants, discs.”

Comparing the amber ornaments with those found on encampments in the Eastern Baltic Sea Region, the unique grave is estimated to be approximately 5500 years old.

Copper Age burial's ochre paint layer ( Petrozavodsk State University )

Here Lies A Big Boss Of The Ancient World

The group of archaeologists knew they had hit an ancient jackpot when they started discovering heaps of amber buttons, all laid face down in a row. It became slowly apparent that the amber ornaments had originally been sown onto the edge of a leather sheet that covered the deceased man.

The article in Archaeology News Network highlights the fact that “the amber buttons were so densely spaced that they formed two tiers.” Considering contemporary graves in the Eastern Baltic Sea region generally hold only a few amber pieces it is being speculated, with a high-degree of confidence, that this was one seriously important man.

Not only have there only been a handful of amber ornaments found at other sites, but amber has never before been discovered at burial sites but only at encampments, making this a unique find.

Amber was, and still is, a valuable commodity. This is because amber is formed from resin exuded from tree bark that hardens and forms a seal. But all this begins back in the Early Cretaceous period, about 150 million years ago.

Today, the highest values go to those pieces of amber with clearly visible insect inclusions , as we all know from Jurassic Park. But serious cash is offered for the rarer color specimens, like those discovered in the grave. Again, this buried man must have been a real mover and shaker in the ancient world.

Rows and rows of amber pendants were discovered at the Copper Age burial site. ( Petrozavodsk State University )

Giving Origins To The Copper Age Hunter

How did the archaeologists know the buried person was a man? This was concluded when they discovered a single carefully crafted flint spearhead nearby the grave. In other examples, this inclusion is not found in female, but only in male burials. Furthermore, evidence was unearthed of “unusual burial rituals.”

After the man had been slid into the tight hole, small chips of flint tools were sprinkled on top of his body. The archaeologists think this was a “votive offering,” where the tiny flakes symbolized whole working knives and spearheads.

Aleksandr Zhulnikov said there are no known flint sources in Karelia, so the ancient people who buried the man must have “acquired the tools” through some form of exchange, or trade. Moreover, the size and quality of the amber discovered in the so-called “Amber Burial Site” indicates a connection between the ancient people of Karelia with the tribes of the southern shore of the Baltic Sea,” commented the lead archaeologist at the excavation.

The researchers concluded that the buried man was “clearly of high social standing.” This could only have been the case with the discovery of the 140 large, amber ornaments of Baltic origin. Around 3,500 BC this man had possibly forged a long-distance trading route and had become a key importer of a stone (amber) that was closely associated with the passage to the perceived afterlife. Thus, he had come to the western shore of Lake Onega to exchange amber for slate cutting tools, to cash in on a culture obsessed with the glowing golden rock, “of their gods,” apparently.

Top image: Amber ornaments found in the Copper Age burial.     Source: Petrozavodsk State University

By Ashley Cowie

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