Historians Study Burial Sites of the South Ural “Amazons”

In the process of working on the RFBR-grant projects headed by Doctors of Sciences (History) Aleksandr Tairov and Nataliia Berseneva, historians are studying the archaeological monuments of the South Ural region. Among the recent studies are the sites with female skeletons buried with their weapons. Upon the results of the research, an article has been published in a top-rated scientific journal Archaeology, Ethnology & Anthropology of Eurasia (Q1).

Female skeletons buried with their weapons discovered at burial grounds of different Northern-Eurasia livestock-herding cultures of the early Iron Age have been the subject of continuing discussions among the Russian and foreign scientists for almost 100 years now. Research fellows of the SUSU Eurasian Studies Research and Education Centre are looking for answers to a multitude of questions. 

“The main question is whether Herodotus telling about the Amazons truly meant women of the early nomad tribes? Do archaeological monuments hold proof of that? Do the weapons buried with female skeletons prove that these were female warriors? Do we deal here with social realia (a class of women who directly participated in combat), or did the weapons buried with female skeletons symbolize other types of relationships (gender, status, or hierarchy relationships)? The archaeological monuments of the South Ural region, burial mounds of the early Iron Age, are a full-value source for studying of this issue,” says Doctor of Sciences (History) Nataliia Berseneva

As part of the research, a big database was collected with regards to the early nomads of the South Ural region (over 500 burial sites), which covered all the burial grounds of this period (equipment, anthropological identifications, characteristics of the burial structures, etc.). The scientists determined the criteria for selecting the burial sites for analysis and studied 24 South Ural burial sites with female skeletons buried with their weapons. Such burial sites in the South Ural region mostly contain quivers with arrows, while bladed weapons can be rarely found. The majority of women buried with their weapons (over 2/3) died young (at the age of 25–35). The scientists could not find any stable relationship between the age of a dead woman and a weapon category. In order to identify the dynamics of the relationship between the age of a dead woman and presence of a weapon, research within certain age groups is required.

“Female skeletons buried with their weapons were discovered at burial mounds of all status levels: from modest mounds to “regal” ones. This partly answers the question frequently asked by researchers: were the “Amazons” a certain social class, or a permanently active paramilitary force? Obviously, the early nomad women buried with their weapons in the South Ural region did not belong to either category. They varied in social status and belonged to different social classes, from common nomads to elite members of the society. Big number of such skeletons were found in couple or group mounds, which even included children skeletons,” says the researcher. 

But what exactly did the weapons buried with women symbolize: their profession, social status, or participation in combat? The archaeological materials do not provide a categorical answer. The scientists have concluded that women of the early Sarmatians knew how to handle range weapons, and some probably also used cold arms. The life of nomad livestock herders was full of dangers, so the weapons handling skills increased the chances of survival both for women and their children.

The epoch of the early nomads of the South Ural region is still practically unexplored in the context of reconstructing the life of the ancient societies. Studies in this field allow to fill up one of the most serious blanks in the history of both the Chelyabinsk Region and the whole South Ural region. The research results are of big importance in terms of popularizing and visualizing the knowledge about the Ural region’s history, and can be used for preparation of academic courses for school pupils and students, for organization of exhibitions, public lectures and history-theme parks.

South Ural State University is a university of transformations, where innovative research is conducted in most of the priority fields of science and technology development. In accordance with the strategy of scientific and technological development of the Russian Federation, the university is focused on the development of big scientific interdisciplinary projects in the field of digital industry, materials science, and ecology. In 2021 SUSU became the winner in the competition under the Priority 2030 program. The university acts as a regional project office of the World-class Ural Interregional Research and Education Centre (UIREC), which is aimed at solving the tasks of the Science and Universities National Project.

Mass media about us:

Izvestia: Stylish Bow: Scientists Prove that Amazons Lived in the Urals

Ren.TV: Scientists Discovered Remains of Ancient Amazons in the Urals

Natalia Berseneva, photo Aleksandr Tairov
Event date: 
Friday, 10 March, 2023 - 10:00
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