Domestication of the horse
Nordic Bronze Age
Painted Grey Ware
Northern Black Polished Ware
Peoples and societies
Religion and mythology
Copenhagen Studies in Indo-European
Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture
The Horse, the Wheel and Language
Journal of Indo-European Studies
Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch
Indo-European Etymological Dictionary
Kurgan 4th century BC, Fillipovka, South Urals, Russia. This
kurgan was excavated in a dig led by Russian Academy of Sciences
Archeology Institute Prof. L. Yablonsky in the summer of 2006. It is
the first kurgan known to be completely destroyed and then rebuilt to
its original appearance.
In English, the archaeological term kurgan is a loanword from East
Slavic languages (and, indirectly, from Turkic languages), equivalent
to the archaic English term barrow, also known by the
tumulus and terms such as burial mound. These are structures created
by heaping earth and stones over a burial chamber, which is often made
of wood. The term kurgan is the standard term for such structures
in the context of Central European, Northern European, Eastern
European and Central Asian archaeology.
The noun курга́н (Kurgán) is first attested in Old East Slavic
(also known as "Old Rus'ian"), which borrowed the word from an
unidentified Turkic language or languages. The modern Turkish word
is kurgan, which means "fortress" or "burial mound". Following its use
in Soviet archaeology, the word is now widely used for tumuli in the
context of archaeology.
The earliest kurgans date to the 4th millennium BC in the Caucasus
and are associated with the Indo-Europeans. Kurgans were built in
the Eneolithic, Bronze, Iron, Antiquity and Middle Ages, with ancient
traditions still active in Southern
Siberia and Central Asia. Kurgan
cultures are divided archeologically into different sub-cultures, such
as Timber Grave, Pit Grave, Scythian, Sarmatian,
Many placenames contain the word "kurgan".
1 Origins and spread
1.2 Cultural influence
2.2.1 Common components
2.2.2 Pre-Scythian-Saka-Sibirian kurgans (Bronze Age)
2.2.3 Scythian-Saka-Sibirian kurgans (Early Iron Age)
3 Archaeological remains
3.1 Excavated kurgans
3.2 Kurgans in Poland
5 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
Origins and spread
The earliest known kurgans are dated to the 4th millennium BC in the
Kurgan barrows were characteristic of
Bronze Age peoples,
and have been found from the
Altay Mountains to the Caucasus, Ukraine,
Romania, and Bulgaria. Kurgans were used in the Ukrainian and Russian
steppes, their use spreading with migration into eastern, central, and
Europe in the 3rd millennium BC.
The monuments of these cultures coincide with Scythian-Saka-Siberian
Siberian monuments have common features, and
sometimes common genetic roots. Also associated with these
spectacular burial mounds are the Pazyryk, an ancient people who lived
Altai Mountains lying in
Russia on the Ukok Plateau,
near the borders with China,
Kazakhstan and Mongolia. The
archaeological site on the
Ukok Plateau associated with the Pazyryk
culture is included in the
Golden Mountains of Altai
Golden Mountains of Altai UNESCO World
Siberian classification includes monuments from the 8th
to the 3rd century BC. This period is called the Early or Ancient
Nomads epoch. "Hunnic" monuments date from the 3rd century BC to the
6th century AD, and other Turkic ones from the 6th century AD to the
13th century AD, leading up to the Mongolian epoch.
Oleg being mourned by his warriors, an 1899 painting by Viktor
Vasnetsov. This burial rite, with the funerary tumulus, is typical of
both Scandinavian and Eurasian nomadic customs.
The tradition of kurgan burials was adopted by some neighboring
peoples who did not have such a tradition. Various Thracian kings and
chieftains were buried in elaborate mound tombs found in modern
Bulgaria. Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, was
buried in a magnificent kurgan in present Greece; and Midas, a king of
ancient Phrygia, was buried in a kurgan near his ancient capital of
Kurgan hypothesis postulates that the
the bearers of the
Kurgan culture of the
Black Sea and the Caucasus
and west of the Urals. The hypothesis was introduced by Marija
Gimbutas in 1956, combining kurgan archaeology with linguistics to
locate the origins of the Proto-Indo-European (PIE)-speaking peoples.
She tentatively named the culture "Kurgan" after their distinctive
burial mounds and traced its diffusion into Europe. This hypothesis
has had a significant impact on Indo-European studies.[note 1]
Those scholars who follow Gimbutas identify a "
Kurgan culture" as
reflecting an early Indo-European ethnicity, which existed in the
steppes and southeastern
Europe from the 5th to 3rd millennia BC. In
Kurgan cultures, most of the burials were in kurgans, either clan
kurgans or individual ones. Most prominent leaders were buried in
individual kurgans, now called "royal kurgans". More elaborate than
clan kurgans and containing grave goods, the elite examples have
attracted the greatest attention and publicity.
Burial mounds are complex structures with internal chambers. Within
the burial chamber at the heart of the kurgan, elite individuals were
buried with grave goods and sacrificial offerings, sometimes including
horses and chariots. The structures of the earlier
from the 4th to the 3rd millenniums BC, and
Bronze Age until the 1st
millennium BC, display continuity of the archaic forming methods. They
were inspired by common ritual-mythological ideas.
Inside view of the Thracian mound tomb at Sveshtari, Bulgaria
In all periods, the development of the kurgan structure tradition in
the various ethnocultural zones is revealed by common components or
typical features in the construction of the monuments. They include:
surface and underground constructions of different configurations
a mound of earth or stone, with or without an entrance
funeral, ritual, and other traits
the presence of an altar in the chamber
the presence of an entryway into the chamber, into the tomb, into the
fence, or into the kurgan
the location of a sacrificial site on the embankments, inside the
mound, inside the moat, inside the embankments, and in their links,
entryways, and around the kurgan
the location of a fire pit in the chamber
a wooden roof over or under the kurgan, at the top of the kurgan, or
around the kurgan
the location of stone statues, columns, poles and other objects;
bypass passages inside the kurgan, inside tombs, or around the kurgan
funeral paths from the moat or bulwark.
Depending on the combination of these elements, each historical and
cultural nomadic zone has certain architectural distinctions.
Pre-Scythian-Saka-Sibirian kurgans (Bronze Age)
In the Bronze Age, kurgans were built with stone reinforcements. Some
of them are believed to be
Scythian burials with built-up soil, and
embankments reinforced with stone (Olhovsky, 1991).
Pre-Scythian-Saka-Sibirian kurgans were surface kurgans. Underground
wooden or stone tombs were constructed on the surface or underground
and then covered with a kurgan. The kurgans of Bronze culture across
Europe and Asia were similar to housing; the methods of house
construction were applied to the construction of the tombs. Kurgan
Ak-su - Aüly (12th–11th centuries BC) with a tomb covered by a
pyramidal timber roof under a kurgan has space surrounded by double
walls serving as a bypass corridor. This design has analogies with
Begazy, Sanguyr, Begasar, and Dandybay kurgans. These building
traditions survived into the early Middle Ages, to the 8th-10th
The Bronze Pre-Scythian-Saka-Sibirian culture developed in close
similarity with the cultures of Yenisei, Altai, Kazakhstan, southern,
and southeast Amur regions. In the 2nd millennium BC appeared
so-called "kurgans-maidans". On a prepared platform were installed
earthen images of a swan, a turtle, a snake, or other image, with and
without burials. Similar structures have been found in Ukraine, India
and South America.
Some kurgans had facing or tiling. One tomb in
Ukraine has 29 large
limestone slabs set on end in a circle underground. They were
decorated with carved geometrical ornamentation of rhombuses,
triangles, crosses, and on one slab, figures of people. Another
example has an earthen kurgan under a wooden cone of thick logs topped
by an ornamented cornice up to 2 m in height.
Scythian-Saka-Sibirian kurgans (Early Iron Age)
Coloured lithograph by
Carlo Bossoli (London, 1856) of the
so-called "Tomb of Mithridates", kurgan near Kerch
The Scythian-Saka-Sibirian kurgans in the Early
Iron Age are notable
for their grandiose mounds throughout the Eurasian continent. The base
diameters of the kurgans reach 500 m (1,600 ft) in
Siberia (Great Salbyk kurgan (53°54′10″N
90°45′47″E / 53.9027959°N 90.7629436°E / 53.9027959;
90.7629436) of the settled Tagar culture); in neighboring
China they reach 5,000 m (16,000 ft)
(kurgan of the first emperor of
China in the 3rd century BC near Sian)
(Mason, 1997: 71). Kurgans could be extremely tall: the Great Salbyk
kurgan is 22–27 m (72–89 ft) (the
height of a 7-story building); the kurgan of the Chinese emperor is
over 100 m (330 ft). The presence of such
Siberia testifies to a high standard of living and a
developed construction culture of the nomads.
Females were buried in about 20% of graves of the lower and middle
Volga river region during the Yamna and Poltavka cultures. Two
thousand years later, females dressed as warriors were buried in the
same region. David Anthony notes, "About 20% of Scythian-Sarmatian
"warrior graves" on the lower Don and lower Volga contained females
dressed for battle as if they were men, a phenomenon that probably
inspired the Greek tales about the Amazons." A near-equal ratio of
male-to-female graves was found in the eastern Manych steppes and
Azov steppes during the Yamna culture. In Ukraine, the ratio
was intermediate between the other two regions.
The most obvious archeological remains associated with the Scythians
are the great burial mounds, some over 20 m high, which dot the
Ukrainian and Russian steppe belts and extend in great chains for many
kilometers along ridges and watersheds. From them much has been learnt
Scythian life and art.
Some excavated kurgans include:
Ipatovo kurgan revealed a long sequence of burials from the Maykop
culture c. 4000 BC down to the burial of a
Sarmatian princess of the
3rd century BC, excavated 1998–99.
Kurgan 4 at Kutuluk near Samara, Russia, dated to c. 24th century BC,
contains the skeleton of a man, estimated to have been 35 to 40 years
old and about 152 cm tall. Resting on the skeleton's bent
left elbow was a copper object 65 cm long with a blade of a
diamond-shaped cross-section and sharp edges, but no point, and a
handle, originally probably wrapped in leather. No similar object is
Bronze Age Eurasian steppe cultures.
Maikop kurgan dates to the 3rd millennium BC.
The Novovelichkovskaya kurgan of c. 2000 BC on the Ponura River,
Krasnodar region, southern Russia, contains the remains of 11 people,
including an embracing couple, buried with bronze tools, stone
carvings, jewelry, and ceramic vessels decorated with red ocher. The
tomb is associated with the
Novotitorovka culture nomads.
The Kostromskaya kurgan of the 7th century BC produced a famous
Scythian gold stag (now Hermitage Museum), next to the iron shield it
decorated. Apart from the principal male body with his
accoutrements, the burial included thirteen humans with no adornment
above him, and around the edges of the burial twenty-two horses were
buried in pairs. It was excavated by N. I. Veselovski in 1897.
The Issyk kurgan, in southern Kazakhstan, contains a skeleton,
possibly female, c. 4th century BC, with an inscribed silver cup, gold
Scythian animal art objects and headdress reminiscent of
Kazakh bridal hats; discovered in 1969.
Kurgan 11 of the Berel cemetery, in the
Bukhtarma River valley of
Kazakhstan, contains a tomb of c. 300 BC, with a dozen sacrificed
horses preserved with their skin, hair, harnesses, and saddles intact,
buried side by side on a bed of birch bark next to a funeral chamber
containing the pillaged burial of two
Scythian nobles; excavated in
The Ryzhanovka kurgan, a 10 metre high kurgan 125 km south of
Kiev, Ukraine, containing the tomb of a
Scythian chieftain, 3rd
century BC, was excavated in 1996.
The Solokha kurgan, in the
Zaporizhia Oblast of Ukraine, Scythian,
dates to the early 4th century BC.
Mamai-gora, kurgan on the banks of
Kakhovka Reservoir south west of
Enerhodar (near the village of Velyka Znam'yanka). Known as one of the
biggest tumulus in Europe. The height of the kurgan is 80 meters. Here
were found remains of people from Bronze Age, Scythians, Sarmatians,
Cimmerians and Nogai people.
The Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak, near the town of
Kazanlak in central
Bulgaria, is a Thracian kurgan of c. the 4th century BC.
Aleksandrovo kurgan is a Thracian kurgan of c. the 4th century BC.
The Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari, Bulgaria, is a Thracian kurgan of c.
the 3rd century BC.
The Håga Kurgan, located on the outskirts of Uppsala, Sweden, is a
Bronze Age kurgan from c. 1000 BC.
Kurgan is a burial memorial of the Great Bulgaria
Kubrat from c. AD 660.
Noin-Ula kurgan, located by the
Selenga River in the northern Mongolia
hills north of Ulan Bator, is the tomb of Uchjulü-Chanuy (8 BC – AD
13), head of the
Kurgans in Poland
Memorial of the Battle of Varna, which took place on 10 November 1444
near Varna, Bulgaria. The facade of the mausoleum is built into the
side of an ancient Thracian tomb.
Kurgan building has a long history in Poland. The Polish word for
kurgan is kopiec or kurhan. Some excavated kurgans in Poland:
Burial mounds of the
Unetice culture include fourteen kurgans dated to
Neolithic (stone age) kurhans
Tombs at Pleśnik
Trawiasta Buczyna — hundreds of stone kurhans dated to 1200–1000
Skalbmierz has kurgans dated 4000 BC.
Mounds at Jawczyce  were described by Bishop Nankerus in 1322.
Kurgan mounds dated to the
Bronze Age included a burial
of an elderly person, probably male. Some weapons and pottery
fragments were also found in the tomb.
Sieradz a tomb dated to the
Trzciniec culture of c. 1500 BC
contains a man and woman buried together.
A kurgan burial site at
Łubna-Jakusy and a kurgan cremation near
Guciów are examples of
Trzciniec culture of c. 1500 BC.
Krakus Mound is located in Kraków. Legend says it is the burial
place of Krakus, founder of the city.
Wanda Mound, burial place of the daughter of Krakus, is located in
Piłakno near Mrągowo, excavated in 1988, is an example of west
Baltic kurhan culture.
Bełchatow there is a pagan temple built upon a kurgan. Dating of
this structure awaited results of carbon 14 tests in 2001.
The mound called Kopiec Tatarski at
Przemyśl is triangular in shape,
10 meters in length, and pointing east. In 1869, T. Żebrawski found
bones and ancient coins. In 1958, A. Kunysz found skulls and bones and
medieval ceramics. a structure called Templum S. Leonardi was
constructed around 1534 on top of the mound; it was destroyed in World
Kopiec Esterki was erected in the 14th century by Casimir III of
Poland for his deceased wife.
Władysław III of Poland
Władysław III of Poland was buried after 1444 in Varna
Kościuszko Mound in
Kraków was completed in November 1823 as a
memorial to Tadeusz Kościuszko
Union of Lublin Mound
Union of Lublin Mound was completed in
Lviv in 1980. Artificial
mound in modern-day Ukraine.
Mound of Immortality was constructed to honor poet Adam Mickiewicz
Kopiec Wyzwolenia (Mound of Liberation) commemorates the 250th
anniversary of the passage of the Polish Hussars through the city of
Piekary Śląskie under John III Sobieski. It was completed in
Piłsudski's Mound in
Kraków honors Polish general and politician
Salbyk kurgan before excavation, 5th-4th century BC, upper
Enisey-Irtysh interfluvial. Salbyk kurgan is surrounded by balbals,
and topped with
Scythian royal Alexandropol (Ukraine) kurgan C14 dated 394–366 BC,
before excavation in 1852–6.
Engraving of Ukraine's Perepyat kurgan cemetery group before its
Undated unattributed unexplored kurgan on the west side of the Samara
Bend, Russian Federation, with a visible tunnel made by grave robbers.
Kántor-kurgan near the city of Szentes
Józsepi-kurgan near the Mindszent
Kurgans near Mindszent. One of them is covered by trees.
Animal sacrifice, Ashvamedha
Mamayev Kurgan, used during the Battle of Stalingrad.
Ukrainian stone stela
^ It also had some cultural influence; a character representing an
ancient culture was referred to as The Kurgan, in the hit movie series
^ "kurgan." Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged.
Merriam-Webster, 2002. http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com (14
^ Vasmer, Max (1953–1958). Russisches etymologisches Wörterbuch.
Heidelberg: Winter. p. 2424. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
^ a b Kipfer 2000, p. 291.
^ Mallory & Adams 1997, p. 339.
^ Akishev K.A., Kushaev G.A., Ancient culture of Sakas and Usuns in
the valley of river Ili, Alma-Ata, Kazakh SSR Academy of Sciences
publication, 1963 (pp 121 - 136)
^ "Ice Mummies:
Siberian Ice Maiden". PBS - NOVA. Retrieved
^ "Golden Mountains of Altai". UNESCO. Retrieved 2007-07-31.
^ The Funerary Feast of King
Midas @ UPM Archived February 4, 2007, at
the Wayback Machine.
^ a b Margulan A.N., "Architecture of the ancient period" in the
Architecture of Kazakhstan, 1956, Alma-Ata, (pp 9-95)
^ British Museum
^ "Salbyksky mound". unknownsiberia. Archived from the original on
2014-05-12. Retrieved 2014-05-09.
Tumulus of the Kings Valley". Wikimapia. Retrieved
^ a b c d Anthony, David W. (2007). The Horse, the Wheel, and
Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the
Modern World. Princeton University Press.
^ John Boardman, I.E.S. Edwards, E. Sollberger, N.G.L. Hammond. The
Cambridge Ancient History. Cambridge University Press. (January 16,
^ Rose, M., Cudgel Culture Archaeology, March/April, 2002[dead link]
^ Honour and Fleming, 124
^ Honour and Fleming, 123
^ Piotrovsky, 29
^ Mogily, PL: GDA
^ Skalbmierz, PL: Krakow
^ Cieciorkami, PL: Ugzambrow, archived from the original (JPEG) on
February 22, 2007
^ "Jawczyce Barrow Cemetery". megalithic.co.uk. August 7, 2008.
Retrieved January 2, 2017.
^ Mounds in Jawczycach, Odyssei
^ Odkrywca. nr1(25), 01.2001, Historycy, archived from the original on
May 14, 2013
Hugh Honour and John Fleming, A World History of Art, 1st edn. 1982
(many later editions), Macmillan, London, page refs to 1984 Macmillan
1st edn. paperback. ISBN 0333371852
Kipfer, Barbara Ann (2000), Encyclopedic Dictionary of Archaeology,
Mallory, J.P.; Adams, Douglas Q. (1997), Encyclopedia of Indo-European
Culture, Taylor & Francis
Piotrovsky, Boris, et al. "Excavations and Discoveries in Scythian
Lands", in From the Lands of the Scythians: Ancient Treasures from the
Museums of the U.S.S.R., 3000 B.C.–100 B.C. The Metropolitan Museum
of Art Bulletin, v. 32, no. 5 (1974), available online as a series of
PDFs (bottom of the page).
"In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language,
Archaeology and Myth" by
J. P. Mallory, ISBN 0-500-27616-1
The Kurgan Culture and the Indo-Europeanization of Europe: Selected
Articles From 1952 to 1993" von
Marija Gimbutas u.a.,
"Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture" ed. James Mallory, D. Q.
Adams, ISBN 1-884964-98-2
D. Ya. Telegin et al., Srednestogovskaya i Novodanilovskaya Kul'tury
Eneolita Azovo-Chernomorskogo Regiona. Kiev: Shlyakh, 2001. Reviewed
by J.P. Mallory, JIES vol. 32, 3/4, p. 363–366.
"Reconstruction Of The Genofond Peculiarities Of The Ancient Pazyryk
Population (1st-2nd Millennium BC) From Gorny Altai According To The
mtDNA Structure" Voevoda M.I., Sitnikova V.V., Romashchenko A.G.,
Chikisheva T.A., Polosmak N.V., Molodin V. I
O.Ismagulov 'Population of
Kazakhstan from Bronze Epoch to Present
(Paleoanthropological research)', Science, Alma-Ata, 1970
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kurgan.
excavated kurgans (archaeology.org).
Ritual Sites, and Settlements: Eurasian Bronze and Iron Age[dead link]
book for download (www.csen.org)
An extensive list of mounds in Poland