Surprising toys in the ancient grave
A burial containing mysterious tiny figurines were discovered in the grave of an infant which, according to archeologists, dates back 4,500 years. One of the theories says that the figurines may have been used as rattling toys or charms to ward off evil spirits.
Live Science reports that the discovery was made on the northwest shore of Lake Itkul in the Minusinsk basin of Russia by researchers of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Khakassian Research Institute of Language, Literature and History. The remains of the infant were found in a birchbark cradle. It suggests that the child was less than one-year-old at the time of death. On his or her chest archeologists discovered eight miniature horned figurines representing human-like characters and heads of elk, boar, birds and an unknown carnivore.
The figurines were carved from deer antlers and painted with red ochre. Some of them, according to Andrey Polyakov and Yury Esin, have internal cavities and could produce sounds like modern rattles. It is thought that the figurines would have been attached to a cradle. Another idea for their function is that they were toys prepared to protect the infant from evil powers, which is fairly typical in cultures of this period.
But, according to the archeologists, they also cannot rule out the possibility that the figurines were placed in the grave to ensure successful transition of the deceased child to the next world.
The infant's kurgan
The infant was not buried in a separate grave, but were found within a burial mound known as a kurgan. The baby was buried with several other people and, according to dating and the location of the discovery, it is clear that they belonged to the Okunev Culture. Apart from one child, the other people who were buried in this kurgan were early herders.
The people of the Okunev culture represented their animals and daily life in rock art. Some of the figures look realistic but they may also have venerated anthropomorphic deities. The artwork shows domesticated animals, especially bulls, but also carts and wagons. The depictions may be connected with complex mythology and rituals of people who lived in this part of the world during the Bronze Age.
Example of an ancient burial mound (kurgan) in Russia (public domain)
The Okunev culture
The Okunev Culture is dated to the first half of the second millennium BC. It was localized around Minusinsk Hollow of southern Siberia in Russia. The name of this Bronze Age culture comes from the Okunev settlement in southern Khakasssia. It is a place where the remains of this culture were discovered by Sergei Teploukhow in 1928.
The characteristic burial structures are the best preserved representations of the Okunev culture. The burial structures were composed of small, rectangular surface enclosures made of stone slabs which were placed vertically in the ground. Within these enclosures were graves that were also lined with stone slabs.
The Okunev culture was preceded by the Afanasevo culture and succeeded by the Andronovo culture. There are the similarities between some of the objects from the Okunev burial grounds and objects found in different sites like the ones near the Ob River and the Lake Baikal.
The Okunev people had mastered processing of copper and bronze manufacture from which they cast blades, daggers, axes and spear-heads, fishing hooks and other tools and ornaments. These people made tools using the stone, bones and metal. They are also famous for unique art which included stone statues with human faces and images of birds and beasts engraved on bone plaques or hammered out on stone slabs.
Stones with Okunev's culture petroglyph (first half of 2nd millennium BC) in the National museum of Republic of Khakassia.
The rare headgear
Another intriguing detail discovered in the kurgan was the unique headgear found on the infant, which would have once been tied on with leather laces. The headgear consists of 11 small size copper plaques. Ten of them are made of oval copper plates, not bigger than a half inch (1.5 centimeters) across.
Apart from this unexpected headgear, archeologists also found an earring on the left side of the infant's skull.
Featured image: Infant discovered in 4,500-year-old burial mound with eight intricately carved figurines. The infant also wears headgear made from 11 copper plaques sewn together. Credit: Image courtesy Yury Esin.
By: Natalia Klimczak