Amulet of Fangs and Garnet Necklace

SUSU scientists presented a collection of women's jewellery − from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages.

Scientists from South Ural State University traced how the fashion of ancient beauties changed. The objects for study were objects found at archaeological excavations in the Southern Urals.

Jewellery in the burials of the ancient Urals dates back to the Stone Age: these are stone pendants, amulets made of animal bones and fangs. However, the set of jewellery became more diverse and complex in the Bronze Age (3rd-2nd millennium BC). It is not difficult to guess that the products were then made of bronze, but in addition to the alloy, they also used paste (opaque) glass and gold foil, which was used to wrap metal jewellery. The collection of the People and Technologies of the Urals University Museum includes an anthropological reconstruction of the external appearance of a Bronze Age woman with a full set of jewellery.

"Jewellery was worn as amulets on open parts of the body bordering on clothing: on the neck, wrists, and hands," says archaeologist, Head of the People and Technologies of the Urals educational museum and exhibition complex at SUSU Iuliia Vasina. "The accessories themselves were divided into zones: head accessories, which were divided into ear, oblique and temple accessories, as well as neck, chest, wrist, and waist accessories. Very often, where ethnography can be traced, we see that collars, cuffs, and hem were also decorated with ornaments that served as a barrier from evil spirits. The presence of a ring on the hand was especially important − the ancestors believed that it made the hand energetically pure; for example, among the Turkic peoples, a woman without rings on her fingers was not even allowed to cook."

Ancient women paid special attention to their hair. It was believed that it accumulated feminine strength, and therefore they put a braid décor on their hair − leather or textile ribbons decorated with bronze clips, which were attached over the braid. Braid decors (as well as decorated leather belts around the waist) were worn by young married women − with them they covered their hair from the eyes of strangers and protected those around them from their influence. Girls wore temple pendants − rings of one and a half turns, which were attached to the headdress; the ears were decorated with hoop earrings, the neck with glass beads, to which bronze cross-shaped pendants could be attached. Rings with spiral curls at the ends were put on the fingers, and bronze bracelets were put on the wrists. Little girls were given only glass beads around their necks, fang amulets and bronze bracelets.

Jewellery played an important role in all rituals of a woman’s life cycle associated with childhood, girlhood, marriage and the birth of children. Each stage of a girl’s growing up was emphasized by a specific set of jewellery, which increased as she grew up, and as she grew older, it again became minimal. Most likely, this was the case in the Bronze Age.

In the early Iron Age (7th century BC − beginning of AD), due to climate change, the Southern Urals were abandoned by the tribes who had settled there for ten centuries. In the 1st millennium, they were successively replaced from the east by nomadic Iranian-speaking tribes (Sakas, Sauromatians and Sarmatians), whose descendants would inhabit the South Ural steppes until the 18th century.

In the burial grounds of the Early Iron Age era, university archaeologists find things from distant territories − evidence of long-distance contacts of these nomads and their military campaigns. For example, glass and stone beads were found in the female burials of the Kichigino I burial ground. Here you can also find the so-called "warty" beads with protrusions. According to SUSU scientists, such items could have entered here from the territory of Phenicia.

"These were tribes of conquerors who went on campaigns. Perhaps this woman received such jewellery as a war trophy from her beloved. Caravans also travelled through the Southern Urals, carrying goods from the Black Sea region; traders could also exchange them along the way for livestock products," says Iuliia Vasina.

The neck jewellery found during the excavations of the burial ground, a hryvnia, was made in the Scythian-Siberian animal style characteristic of the nomads of that time. This is a product bent one and a half turns from a bronze rod wrapped in gold foil with cast boar's heads on both ends. Archaeologists suggest that the boar could have been a totem animal for nomads, serving as a symbol of health and fertility for them, and a hryvnia with its image could decorate the neck of a priestess.

At the beginning of our era, new nomads came to the Southern Urals − the Xiongnu, who, mixing with the local Sarmatians and Ugric tribes, gave birth to the legendary Huns who participated in the defeat of the Roman Empire. It was with the movement of the Huns to the west that the era of the Great Migration of Peoples began, which lasted until the 7th century.

During this Hunnic period, a fashion for gold jewellery emerged in the Southern Urals. In a female burial, archaeologists find gold figured elements that were used to trim the cuffs, collars and hem of dresses, shoes and handbags (3rd century Magnitny burial ground). The Hunnoks had bracelets made of coloured faceted beads, which were made from transparent glass. In the same burial, researchers discovered pyrite beads, as well as a necklace in the Hunnic polychrome style made of yellow gold, inlaid with burgundy garnet. A bronze clasp with enamel inserts found nearby, a fibula, came here from Rome. Scientists believe that similar jewellery found in the South Ural steppes was a military trophy and possibly a diplomatic gift.

In the 6th century, early Turkic-speaking nomads came to the South Ural steppes, bringing to the new lands the fashion of wearing silver earrings, bracelets, rings and...coins as jewellery (excavations of the Ingala sanctuary complex). At a later time, silver coins would become an obligatory part of the Turkic women's costume and a kind of family bank, which the woman was entrusted to take care of. She wore all the family wealth as a chest decoration and, at the same time, a silver amulet against evil spirits.

In the 9th to 11th centuries, women of the Ugric tribes living in the Southern Urals still had braids in their costume, although in the form of metal sticks, temple pendants that transformed from rings into bells, silver bracelets, earrings of new shapes, rings with glass inserts and beads made of coloured glass (excavations of the Uelga burial complex). The appearance of accessories is noticeably evolving, which means that the aesthetic function of women's jewellery becomes as significant for ancient nomads as its protective function.


Ekaterina Bolnykh
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