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
(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).