5,500-Year-Old Burial Mound With Stone Circle Unearthed In Ukraine
For more than 1.5 months, excavations of a unique kurgan or burial mound have been underway in east-central Ukraine. The finding was uncovered while working on a road near the village of Novooleksandrivka, about 10 kilometres south of Dnipro.
“It has a very thin topsoil, literally 10 cm. This is very little and it is causing it to swell, deteriorate, etc. This is why it was decided to investigate it”, says Dmitry Teslenko, head of the Dnieper archaeological expedition of the Ukrainian Archaeological Guard Service.
The burial mound is of exceptional dimensions, measuring some 120m by 80m in size and a height of 7m. Bulldozers were therefore employed to remove entire layers of earth. “The central part is being explored now. There is a lot of manual work. We also use machinery.
But I would like to point out that all the machinery works solely under the supervision of archaeologists. The bulldozer removes several centimetres of the soil layer and if we see that something is wrong, the work stops,” said field archaeologist Yaroslav Yaroshenko.
A mound is an embankment over a burial. It rarely happens that there is one burial, one embankment. With each burial, the volume of a mound only increased. The Kurgan in Novoaleksandrovka was no exception. During the course of excavation, archaeologists have discovered and examined 24 burials from the Bronze Age, Scythians to the Middle Ages.
The greatest excitement arose around a stone structure found in the inner part of the mound. Stone blocks several metres high and forming a circle with a diameter of 18 metres had been erected. This feature is called a “cromlech”.
Ceramics fragments date the mound’s construction to approximately 5,500 years ago, that is during the Eneolithic period.
According to Dmitry Teslenko, a characteristic and unique feature of these ceramics is the high content of ground-up shells. “Interestingly, exactly the same ceramics can be found among the finds of the Trypillia culture. This suggests that these peoples did not simply coexist in the same time period, but were in contact with each other.
At the same time they led an absolutely different way of life. If the Trypillians led a sedentary life, farming in the forest-steppe zone, the burial mound under study belongs to nomadic pastoralists from the steppes.”
“The cromlech was erected around the same time as the pottery. However, it is impossible to say with certainty whether it was erected from the time of the first burial or later”, adds Teslenko.
According to the archaeologist, there were no unique finds inside due to the fact that the tribes that lived in the area possessed very few everyday items. “Because of their nomadic nature, the people carried only the bare necessities. However, sometimes interesting finds are found: pots, necklaces made of wolf or dog canines.
For example, a burial has now been discovered where dog toe bones were lying next to human remains. A triple grave has also been found where the skeleton of a man lay in the middle and the skeletons of a woman and child were pressed against him on each side.”
“We have also unearthed the skeleton of a 30-year-old man and a 10-year-old child, in whose grave a pot with unknown contents was found. We have likewise found the remains of a young man aged 18-20 years. Judging by the weapons with which he was buried, he was a rider and a master of both close and long-range combat: to his right were fragments of bone cheekpieces and fasteners for a horse bridle, and to the left – an iron battle ax, bronze and bone arrows, a Scythian short sword-akinak with gold plating of the handle, guards and a cap for the point.”
“As for the stone circle, it is worth noting that it had a purely structural function above all. The cromlech is an integral part of a massive complex structure. The structure consisted of a stone circle set vertically. There was a truncated cone on top of the circle.
This allowed the ground to be supported and prevented the mound from sprawling outwards. The mounds could then be given other symbolic meanings. For example, one of the most famous cromlechs in the world, Stonehenge, has at various times been interpreted as a druid sanctuary or an astronomical observatory. It is also worth noting that the oldest burials on the Novoalexandrovsky burial mound date to about 3,500 BC. This potentially suggests that the cromlech near the Dnieper is older than Stonehenge.”
“The cromlech’s stones are very susceptible to weathering. They came out on the bank of the Dnieper River. There was a rocky area starting from Monastery Island and downstream. They looked for a crack, hammered a wooden stake into it and poured water over it. As the wood swelled with moisture, the crack would widen. And so they repeated the procedure over and over again. And finally they would chisel away this piece of stone. That is why they are of different shapes”, explains the head of the archaeological expedition.
“Some of the cromlech blocks were broken off at the beginning of the 3rd millennium during the Early Bronze Age. One of the stones was broken off when another burial was made, and they managed to lift the monolith to the top of the mound.”
“The mound’s exploration has not yet been completed. The best is yet to come”, says Teslenk. “In about a week, we will completely clear the cromlech and the space inside it, allowing the ancient structure to be seen in virtually pristine condition. It’s estimated that in just ten days we will reach the most ancient burials inside the stone ring, if the weather permits”, Teslenko adds. “Certainly it is a foregone conclusion that the individual buried and protected by the cromlech was highly respected by this society. This is the only way to explain the monumental character of the construction.”
“All the samples will then be sent to Kiev and Germany for various expert analyses. Precise scientific research by anthropologists, geneticists and other specialists will shed light on many questions. For example, whether the buried people from the same era were relatives, how they died, time of death to an accuracy of 50 years, and more. The megalithic structure itself will be partially restored, secured and a museum will to be opened on the spot”, concludes Teslenko.