Human remains have been found in many settlements and fortified settlements of the Scythian period in the forest-steppe zone of the Ukraine. Yet there are substantial differences between the nature of the finds and the circumstances of their positioning in the various settlements concerned. At some sites whole skeletons or parts of skeletons have been found in pits and in habitation levels. At others mainly (and sometimes even exclusively) human skulls or their fragments have been found. A picture of this kind was recorded, in particular, at the fortified settlement of Knÿshovskoe. This article examines the places where human skulls and fragments of the latter were found in the context of cultic and domestic buildings within the Knÿshovskoe settlement. Research was focused specifically on the positions of clay altars and the link between the latter and the anthropological remains within the site. Within the investigated area of the settlement, occupying half a hectare, 110 separate fragments of human skulls were found – 52 altars and 211 pits linked to various structures. Using spatial analysis based on gis-technology, a firm link was established between the clay altars, human skulls and also the skulls or skeletons of dogs, examples of cultic figurines, distaffs and clay cones. The areas in which altars and skulls were concentrated made it possible to regard most of these as having functioned simultaneously in a shrine. Analysis of each specific archaeological find of altars and skulls made it possible to single out certain “archaeological situations” demonstrating clear differences in specific cultic practices, a key component of which was the sacrificing of human heads. The shrine was being used no earlier than the second or third quarter of the 4th century bc. Establishing the existence of cultic practices involving human sacrifice could provide a crucial step towards an understanding of phenomena, occurring in the forest-steppe zone in the second half and at the end of the 4th century bc, which eventually led to the complete disappearance of the culture of the Scythian period in the forest-steppe and steppe zones at the end of the 4th century bc.
Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia – Brill
Published: Dec 15, 2017