HOME English version

Abstract : Programme : Organizing Committee : Participants : Travel to Sibiu: Travel in Sibiu : Poster

7 th International Colloquium of Funerary Archaeology

Al 7-lea Colocviu internaţional de arheologie funerară

Topic : “The society of the living – the community of the dead” (from Neolithic to the Christian era)

Tema: „Societatea celor vii”- „comunitatea celor care dorm” (din neolitic la epoca creştină)

Sibiu 6-9 october / octombrie 2005

“House of the Dead” in the Funeral Rites of European Scythia“House of the Dead” in the Funeral Rites of European Scythia (abstract)

Sergei Skory (Kiev - Ukraine)

Frequently, in antiquity, burial structures may be defined as being copies of, or as having similarities to, various stationary or mobile dwellings (kibitkas, covered carts etc.), reflecting a way of life. Ethnographic parallels and linguistic observations explain this fact in the common concept that the tomb is the last dwelling place of a man, and hence, the structural similarity of the ‘house of the dead’ and the ‘house of the living’. Often this correspondence is expressed not in complete copying in burial structures of dwellings, but by the presence in tombs of specific features peculiar to dwellings – according to the well-known principle pars pro toto.
The burial structures of the Scythian epoch as a whole, and in the European part of Scythia in particular (where the territory is usually considered to be within the confines of the Steppe and Forest-Steppe zones of the Northern Black Sea coast), are no exception. Scythian ‘houses of the dead’ according to the presence of different features can be divided into two basic types:
1) The first type is represented by graves that copy residential structures in their general appearance. Among them are:
(a) So-called ‘marquees’ (radial constructions made from blocks or logs, as a rule above a ground pit). These are generically connected to the most ancient burial structures of the steppe nomads, reflecting the idea of mobile dwelling – of a marquee or yurta – and there are the contributions made by local tribes to Scythian funeral ritual. ‘Marquees’ are partially known in the Steppe and Forest-Steppe zones of the Northern Black Sea coast during all Scythian epoch (VIII/VII – IV/III centuries BC), but are more characteristic of the archaic period. Some most impressive ‘marquees’ were excavated in the Chervona Mogila barrow at the Tyasmin river basin and in the barrows near the village of Steblev at the Ros’ river basin.
(b) The burial structures of underground catacomb-graves with an arch that apparently copies the vault of the covered carts of Scythian nomads. In the Steppe of the Northern Black Sea coast, chambers with such vaults are known in many catacomb-graves of the V-IV centuries BC. Some chambers investigated in barrows near the village of Glinnoye (Tiraspol region) at the Lower Dniester river basin make a special impression. Their construction included not only arches but, in bas-relief, the horizontal and vertical beams of a frame of the covered cart. The researchers of these barrows truly considered these chambers as ‘imitation’ of the covered cart of the nomad’.
(c) The burial structures as pits (often of significant area) with entrance dromos and gable roof, where the walls are timbered vertically and quite often floors are timbered too. Such constructions are reminiscent of the stationary wooden dwellings of the settled population. They are known in the Forest-Steppe zone during the whole Scythian epoch, especially on the Right Bank of the Dnieper, although a few of them are also located on the left bank (Vorskla river basin).
2) The second type is represented by graves having distinct features that are typically found in residential constructions. Among them are:
(a) Frequently found details of a domestic interior such as clay plaster on walls, floor and ceiling of the underground chambers of Scythian catacombs; drapes on walls, ceiling and floor; floor coverings of leather or reed matting etc. The attachment to the tomb walls of special metal hooks for clothes, weaponry or harness etc, also reflects this practice. These features of residential constructions are mostly known in the Steppe Scythian tombs (especially of representatives of the elite), but are also noted in the burial monuments of the Forest Steppe. They reflect the life of both the settled and the nomadic populations of the European part of Scythia.
(b) Small pieces of furniture represented for example, by finds such as a wooden stool (the barrow near village of Zelenoye, the lower Dnieper), a chair (the barrow Besh-Oba IV, Crimea), five wooden equal-sized stumps which probably served as stools, (Great Ryzhanovka barrow, southern part of the Dnieper Right Bank Forest Steppe), wooden flooring with pieces of fabric and a thick layer of grass (quite often with grass pillows). They can often be found in burial places of the Scythian elite and usually served as a bed.
As an example of a standard ‘house of the dead’ which combines features of the first and second types, and hence, are most similar to residential constructions of the Scythian epoch, it is now possible to attribute two graves of Scythian nobility: in the above-mentioned Great Ryzhanovka barrow (first third of the 3rd century BC) and in the barrow Besh-Oba IV (middle to third quarter of the 4th century BC).


International Union for Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences


The 30th comission

"Lucian Blaga" University Sibiu

Research Centre:

„BRUKENTHAL” National Museum


History Museum (MNBS)

Directia judeţeană pentru Cultură, Culte şi Patrimoniul Cultural Naţional Sibiu



For further information, please contact:

Prof.univ.dr. Sabin Adrian Luca: E - mail: sabinadrianluca@hotmail.com

Dr. Valeriu SIRBU: E - mail: valeriu_sirbu@yahoo.co.uk