Out of Isolation: the Scythians are Back!

St John Simpson and Svetlana Pankova whet our appetites for the forthcoming proceedings volume, ‘Masters of the Steppe: The Impact of the Scythians and Later Nomad Societies of Eurasia’

We are delighted and relieved in equal measure to now offer you this blog announcing the forthcoming publication of papers arising from the major international conference at the British Museum which was inspired by and connected to our blockbuster exhibition Scythians: warriors of ancient Siberia!

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Some of the gathered conference delegates.

The packed programme ranged from broad sweeping overviews to the latest excavation discoveries, scientific analyses of gold and anthropological analyses of cemetery populations. We also had many other papers accepted but, owing to an unfortunate combination of visa problems and personal health issues, some had to be delivered in absentia and others were not presented at all. However, we decided to include them, and expand our proceedings into an even larger volume which captures some of the richness of the archaeology of the Eurasian nomads of antiquity.

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This was a truly international gathering: here are some of the speakers from Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Britain.

Nomads have an image problem but only amongst non-nomads. Today, people without fixed homes are viewed disparagingly in many societies, even though a tent or even the temporary shade of a tree may be considered a suitable home by those on the move or the so-called ‘homeless’. Herodotus gives a more nuanced world view: as an exiled Greek from western Anatolia staying in one or more northern Black Sea ports, he almost sympathises with the Scythians he describes as he attempts the first ethnographic description of where they came from, how they lived, what they ate and drank, believed and valued most.

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The conference accompanied the exhibition Scythians: warriors of ancient Siberia.

The 45 papers by 51 contributors and co-authors in this volume capture some of the latest thinking and research on the early nomads of Eurasia, from present-day Romania, Ukraine and the northern Caucasus in the west to southern Siberia, Kazakhstan and China in the east. From them, we get a much richer, more varied and, occasionally darker, picture of life on the steppe. This was a hard but dynamic environment and these people understood how to exploit it. They took care of their appearance: women used scent and makeup, manicuring was surely not limited to the dead, and leather and fur preserved in the ‘frozen tombs’ of the Altai provide exceptional evidence for local and imported forms of dress. We also have papers on their horses, how they were cared for, saddled and dressed up for ceremonies. We have new scientific analyses looking at the sources and working of leather, including human skin, textile dyeing and weaving technology, bead production, the making of a ‘Scythian bow’, swords, and the various techniques used in working gold. There are papers on famous sites of different cultures, such as the Scythian kurgans of Alexandropol, Arzhan-2, Issyk, Kelermes and Taksai-1, the massive settlement at Bel’sk, an intriguing hoard from the fortress at Stâncești, and much later cemeteries at Noin Ula and Oglakhty. Surveys and GIS-based studies show how some of these were situated within their physical and socio-political landscape. Other papers discuss the development and possible reasons behind the development of ‘Animal Style’ art, as well as its many forms and applied media from metal and carved horn to rock art. And, of course, we have papers on kurgans: how and why they were built as monuments to the dead, and what forms of funerary feasting and even more macabre activities took place around them. Some papers re-examine the relationship of the Scythians with colonial Greek and forest-steppe communities around the Black Sea, another details changing directions of influence in the northern Caucasus, and yet others examine new evidence for interaction and mediation of motifs between nomads, Achaemenids and Greeks, and the penetration of new ideas into northern China. Close connections between peoples occupying the Minusinsk and Tarim Basins at a later date are the subject of one paper, and the dramatic effect the Huns had on the fortunes of the Sasanian and Gupta empires is the topic of another; yet others focus on the collections in the State Hermitage Museum and Royal Collection in London to retrace the original context of pieces which passed through private hands, the impact early discoveries had on ‘Scythian Revival’ decorative arts and Western scholarship.

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Visitors had an exceptional chance to see many objects from the State Hermitage Museum collection which were shown abroad for the first time (photograph: Benedict Johnson)

The adaptation of the horse from a herd and pack animal to a means of rapid transport revolutionised society. Greater mobility accelerated the pace of introduction of ideas, fashions and technologies: whereas before it might have taken a cart two years to travel the 4,500 km from the Black Sea to Tuva, a horseman could now theoretically go and return within a few months. It also created a new predatory approach to acquiring and controlling vast new resources which is reflected in the new weaponry and dynamic early phases of ‘Animal Style’ art. These people understood their animals and the available natural resources, and were highly skilled horse breeders as well as excellent riders.

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Incorporating new research into displays are an important way of disseminating what we do to a much wider public (photograph: Benedict Johnson)

The nomads moved camps seasonally and varied their activities accordingly. After shearing their sheep in the early summer there was plenty of wool for making felt items. This was also the ideal period to weave textiles although spinning must have been an all-year-round activity, and the same probably applies to whittling bone or carving small wooden objects. It was in the summer that many tribes sowed and harvested millet. Trapping and hunting were year-round activities. Some tribes also knew how to extract metal: some must have established base camps near the rivers where they knew placer deposits were present and spent part of their time patiently panning as well as probably fishing, whereas others returned year after year to camp near ore veins and extend their mine shafts deeper into the rock. The working of metals did not require large or complicated tool-kits and the variety of regional styles and quantity of metal in circulation prove they had ample access to metal, knew how to work it and supply it to the nearest settlements. The interaction between these different groups was much more complex than simply avoidance or conflict; there may have been regular tensions but each community relied to some extent on the other and carefully negotiated relationships must have been developed locally. Access to the different areas and types of resource on the steppe and in the valleys must have been jealously guarded by different tribes and sub-tribes. However, the weaponisation of Scythian society and level of inter-personal violence exhibited in the archaeological record illustrate how competition could easily lead to conflict with resolution through violence rather than tribal discourse. These were people with skills, traditions, beliefs and complex social structures. They developed a sustainable lifestyle which lasted for almost three millennia and one which continues to resonate strongly in the region today.

Sincerest thanks to Dr Simpson and Dr Pankova for providing this blog post.

The volume, Masters of the Steppe: The Impact of the Scythians and Later Nomad Societies of Eurasia edited by Svetlana Pankova and St John Simpson is available to pre-order now. Pre-order and save 20% using this special offer form.

Print ISBN 9781789696479. RRP £80.00.

PDF eBook ISBN 9781789696486. RRP £16.00+VAT (for personal use); £80.00+VAT (library/institutional use)

The Antonine Wall. Papers in Honour of Professor Lawrence Keppie

David J. Breeze introduces an edited festschrift volume, new from Archaeopress, where nearly 40 archaeologists, historians and heritage managers present their researches on the Antonine Wall in recognition of the work of Lawrence Keppie, formerly Professor of Roman History and Archaeology at the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow University

Antonine Wall - Keppie
Lawrence at Westerwood. Photo by the late Margaret J. Robb.

Arranging a Festschrift can be a fraught task. The organiser wants to honour the recipient, but if s/he is a university lecturer it is likely that the potential contributors will come from a range of interests, creating a rather disparate book, which in turn might have an impact on sales. With Lawrence, a former museum curator, the decision for Bill Hanson and myself was simple; the obvious focus of the volume was the Antonine Wall. After all, Lawrence had excavated throughout its whole length and curated its most famous artefacts, the distance slabs. Within a week of inviting all the archaeologists currently working on the Wall we had a full volume. Moreover, the 39 contributors, writing 32 papers, easily covered the wide range of Lawrence’s interests.

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Map of the Antonine Wall as completed, based on currently available information
(copyright D.J. Breeze).

We start with looking at the Antonine Wall in its landscape and its impact on the indigenous population. The core of the volume are papers on the frontier and its artefacts, examining its building and occupation. The final section embraces Lawrence’s historiographical interests as well as the presentation of the Wall today and its role as part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site. Colleagues rose to the challenge of writing on Roman women on the Wall and on veterans for both of which there is so little evidence. There are papers here which we knew would interest Lawrence and acknowledge his major contribution to understanding Rome’s North-West frontier, including one on the structure of the Wall itself which goes to the heart of the monument as well as to Lawrencce’s investigations along its line.

9781789694505The Antonine Wall: Papers in Honour of Professor Lawrence Keppie

Edited by David J. Breeze and William S. Hanson

206x255mm; 494 pages; 166 figures; 15 tables; ToC

Paperback: £30.00

PDF eBook: FREE to download in Open Access

Buy or Download Here

Cover image: The Distance Stone of the Twentieth Legion from Hutcheson Hill (RIB III 3507) found in 1969 lying face down in a shallow pit immediately to the south of the Wall (copyright Hunterian, University of Glasgow).

The Discovery and Excavation of the Pioneer Burial: A case of Sheer Luck

Ian Meadow’s report on the Pioneer Burial is nominated for Current Archaeology Magazine’s Book of the Year Award 2020. Here, Ian relives the discovery and reminds us how serendipitous archaeological finds can be…

Background

The Pioneer Burial epitomises the serendipitous nature of archaeology and the reason archaeologists do what they do. We had been working in the quarries at Wollaston from 1993 and had recorded two sections of landscape totalling a length of over 2 kilometres and over 100 hectares which was dominated by the remains of Iron Age and Roman settlement: a series of land divisions and then numerous small farmsteads, including honey bees from an Iron Age ditch and the first proven Roman vineyard in Britain. The whole site was arranged along a droveway that had its origins in the Iron Age and became a Roman road (perhaps running between Irchester to the northeast and Towcester to the southwest.)

The scale of works by the quarry was reflected by the machinery that was used to open up the ground, D8 caterpillar tractor units pulling box scrapers each weighing many tonnes. The scale of works, and the intention to return the ground to agriculture once quarrying had finished, meant large stacks of soils were created to preserve the agricultural topsoil and subsoil. Guidance on soils advised that, whilst topsoil could be stacked directly upon topsoil, a subsoil stack would require the topsoil removing so that it was stacked only on subsoil, thereby avoiding contamination. Areas of the landscape were therefore cleared of topsoil to enable the storage of the subsoil ready for reinstatement.

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D8 caterpillar tractors at work.

The discovery and excavation

Throughout the project a detailed metal detecting survey was carried out by Steve Critchley, the project’s detectorist, not just of the excavation areas but also on the footprint of these areas for subsoil stacks. As it was agricultural land the brief was not to bother with ferrous signals as they were generally nails, horse shoes or bits of tractor. One lunch time Steve came to the shed having recovered part of a bronze bowl and a decorative mount. From our previous experience we recognised these fragments as part of an Anglo-Saxon hanging bowl, an object-type of which there were around a hundred known at that time and which are often associated with rich Anglo-Saxon burials. Steve said that in the same area there were numerous ferrous signals. When we all went to investigate we saw that the bowl fragments were found about 1 metre from the edge of the latest area to have its topsoil removed, exposing the subsoil. If the area had been only slightly smaller it would never have been found. We carried out some initial excavation which exposed a long iron object, the sword.

We were very aware of the significance that a bowl and a sword indicated this was probably a rich burial but as it was Friday afternoon we would not be able to complete the excavation and recover the objects. I decided we should stop digging and conceal the grave location as best we could. We gathered an oil drum, various pallets and other bulky pieces of rubbish that we stacked on the grave, hiding its location to anyone that did not know it was there.

On the Monday morning we commenced the hand excavation of what we knew was likely to be a rich Anglo-Saxon grave. The digging was slow and careful with small tools so as not to miss anything and slowly but surely the remains of a bronze bowl, a long iron sword, a small knife, three buckles and a rough jumble of ferrous material was defined along with a couple of lengths of long bone, part of a cranial dome and bunter cobble. As these things were being exposed I tried to ensure the conservator was available to deal with the items. I duly phoned, only to be told he was out of the office. On the Tuesday, while the excavation continued, I tried again and got much the same response and on the Wednesday I was told he was on holiday until the following Monday. Knowing we could not leave the finds in the ground we carried on the excavation and recording of the grave.

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The rough jumble of ferrous material or ‘possible bucket’, wrapped in cling film and bandages soaked in plaster of Paris, ready to be lifted.

Once everything was exposed and recorded we lifted the sword on a plank of wood (upcycled from a skip) and, to hold it together, we wrapped the rough jumble of ferrous material first in cling film and then in bandages soaked in plaster of Paris (the bandages came from the site first aid kit). This object was quite large, about the size of a big Christmas cake, but its shape was not clear. Whilst we wondered if it might have been a helmet we thought, given there were then only three other examples, it was unlikely; as a result the bags of stray pieces were marked ‘possible bucket’. Once all lifted the finds were taken back to the unit’s office in Northampton but no one else was told what we might have recovered. On the following Monday the finds were taken to Leicester and when we got the rough lump X-rayed and saw the distinct outline of a boar crest – it was obvious that what we had found was no bucket!

From that point on this burial dominated our lives. The quarry company (Pioneer Aggregates) funded the conservation and PR and the grave and finds were on the news around the world. As it was such a rare object, we had offers of help and support (much of it for free) from numerous specialists without which we would never have got all the information that features in the report. We also had ‘interesting’ offers including one from a member of the public who said he could trace his ancestry back to the God Odin and offered us a DNA sample to see if he was related to the body in our grave.

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Ian (centre) discusses the restored helmet with colleagues.

Given what we knew about the landscape in the quarry, a rich Anglo-Saxon grave was not something we would have anticipated and the fact it lay only just within an area stripped of topsoil shows how serendipitous archaeology is. We really were very lucky finding this grave that occupied only a couple of square metres in the hundreds of hectares we recorded and, ironically, the area stripped was ultimately not all used for stacking.

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The restored helmet alongside the hanging bowl and pattern-welded sword.

CA_Vote_PioneerBurial_2020Sincerest thanks to Ian Meadows for providing this article for the Archaeopress Blog.

Ian’s full report, The Pioneer Burial: A high status Anglian warrior burial from Wollaston Northamtonshire has been nominated for Current Archaeology Magazine’s Book of the Year Award 2020.

You can vote for Ian’s book here.

The book is available in paperback (£25) or PDF eBook (from £16+VAT) direct from Archaeopress.

9781789691191

Public Archaeology: Arts of Engagement

Professor Howard Williams, University of Chester, introduces his co-edited volume stemming from the 2nd University of Chester Archaeology Student Conference, April 2017.

How should communities be engaged with archaeological research and how are new projects targeting distinctive groups and deploying innovative methods and media? In particular, how are art/archaeological interactions key to public archaeology today?

9781789693737We proudly present the brand-new book: Public Archaeology: Arts of Engagement, appearing in the fabulous Archaeopress Access Archaeology series.

There remain surprisingly few edited collections in the field of public archaeology. Building on recent work, including the edited collection from 2015 Archaeology for All:  Community Archaeology in the Early 21st Century edited by Mike Nevell and Norman Redhead, and Gabriel Moshenska’s edited collection: Key Concepts in Public Archaeology, this new book helps to extend and expand critical discussions. It provides an outlet for an original and distinctive mix of fresh perspectives and approaches, specifically addressing art/archaeological intersections in public archaeology’s theory and practice. Our book focuses on UK perspectives and practices in public archaeology, although we feel many of the themes addressed are of global significance.

How did it come about?

poster2Following the 2nd University of Chester Archaeology Student Conference, 5 April 2017, Dr Caroline Pudney and I teamed up with former student Afnan Ezzedin to take the research presented forward to publication. We have crafted a proceedings which combines distinctive and select contributions from (undergraduate and Masters) archaeology students together with a range of original investigations and evaluations from academics and heritage practitioners.

For me, this has taken a huge amount of time, energy and personal sacrifices to get this done over the last 31 months or so. I’d also like to point out that this is part of a series of edited collections stemming from the Grosvenor Museum student conferences. I’ve now produced 2 of the 5 student conference volumes I’ve committed myself to. The first – The Public Archaeology of Death was out in January 2019. The third – Digging into the Dark Ages: Early Medieval Public Archaeologies – will be out in early 2020. The fourth is in production: The Public Archaeology of Frontiers and Borderlands.

What’s inside?

There are 22 contributions all told by 26 authors; many chapters are supported by colour illustrations.

Sara Perry writes an insightful and personal Foreword, using her own experiences as a means on reflecting about how we write critical public archaeologies which take our practices in new directions. Following this, there are two chapters by me. The first is an introduction which surveys pertinent themes and issues in public archaeology and art/archaeology interactions in particular, and the second, written to showcase the student presentations incorporated into the book as well as those that were not, reviews the conference and the development of the book.

The main body of the book is split into 3 sections. ‘The Art of Engagement: Strategies and Debates in Public Archaeology’ contains 8 chapters exploring different ways in which strategies are being deployed in public engagement and how we evaluate our practices. For example, I have co-authored a chapter in here which draws on the conference paper and essay by Rachel Alexander; we evaluate the much-lauded Operation Nightingale’s dialogues with early medieval warriors.

The second section – ‘Arts in Public Archaeology: Digital and Visual Media’, incorporates 6 chapters, each exploring different means of public engagement and evaluating their potential and challenges. My chapter in this section, for example, critically reviews my Archaeodeath blog from its inception in 2013 to the end of 2018.

The third and final section – ‘Art as Public Archaeology’ – has 4 chapters, considering different visual media as subject and strategy for public and community projects.

The Afterword by Dr Seren Griffiths identifies that all archaeology should have a ‘public’ dimension, and that creativity and playfulness must be key ingredients of good public archaeology.

Tell your friends, colleagues and libraries…

Afnan, Caroline and I hope you enjoy the book and appreciate its availability via open access as well as to acquire in print. The book is available now via the Archaeopress website, available to buy as a hard copy or download as a pdf free of charge.

Click here for a flyer offering 20% off a printed copy.

Libraries at least should definitely have physical copies to complement the online ones I think! Also, in case you weren’t sure, archaeology books as Christmas presents are definitely a thing!

Acknowledgements

educate-north-awards-2019-winner-badgeI duly acknowledge the hard work of the students and colleagues in facilitating the conference. I also recognise the help and camaraderie of my co-editors Caroline and Afnan, the enthusiasm and contributions of the authors, the generous guidance of so many of my fellow archaeologists, the critical insights of the peer-reviewers, and the steadfast support of Archaeopress. Together this team has shown commitment in creating a high-quality peer-reviewed academic publication with no funding and sparse other support. I’m therefore very proud that these conferences and their publications are recognised as a positive thing: it was great to receive the 2019 Educate North Teaching Excellence Award as a result.

The book is dedicated to the memory of Dr Peter Boughton FSA, Keeper of Art for West Cheshire Museums who had worked hard to facilitate the conferences taking place at Grosvenor Museum as public free day conferences in the heart of the city of Chester.

Header photo: The Heritage Graffiti Project during creation. Photograph: Ryan Eddleston.

Sincerest thanks to Howard for providing this article for the Archaeopress Blog. Public Archaeology: Arts of Engagement is available now in print (£58) or as a free pdf download.

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A selection of Access Archaeology titles published since 2015.

Learn more about Archaeopress Access Archaeology in our recent article celebrating 100 titles in the range.

Culture and Society at Lullingstone Roman Villa

Caroline Mackenzie introduces the research behind her new publication

Background to the book

2019 is a rather special year for Lullingstone Roman Villa – it marks the 70th anniversary of the commencement of the excavations. The first clues as to the existence of a Roman site in the vicinity of Lullingstone in the Darent Valley, Kent had been recorded in about 1750 when the fence around Lullingstone deer park was being renewed and diggers of the post holes struck a mosaic. However, it was not until 1939 that an archaeological survey undertaken by Ernest Greenfield and Edwyn Birchenough of the Darent Valley Archaeological Research Group concentrated on the Roman finds and that the remarkable story of the discovery of Lullingstone Roman Villa properly began.

The Second World War halted the 1939 survey which had to be put on hold until 1947 when the archaeological team was joined by Lieutenant-Colonel Meates, recently retired from the Royal Artillery and by this time resident in the gatehouse at Lullingstone Castle. Excavations formally commenced in 1949 and these revealed the remains of a Roman villa which boasted much evidence of a luxurious lifestyle: mosaics, sculpture, wall-painting, a hypocaust and baths. By 1955, Meates had become leader of the excavations and he oversaw them until their completion in 1961, documenting the finds in a series of publications.

The excavation team included numerous volunteers, some of them still schoolchildren, who dedicated much time and effort to uncovering the site. Many of these volunteers, now in their 70s and 80s, returned to the villa in July this year to celebrate the anniversary at a special reunion. I was fortunate to be invited to meet them and their families and it was fascinating hearing their stories.

I, too, visited the villa as a schoolchild. By this time the excavations had been completed and the site was being managed (as it is today) by English Heritage. I was inspired by the beauty of the mosaics and enthralled by the thought that this had been someone’s home over 1,500 years ago. I became fascinated by the Greeks and Romans and went on to study Classics at university. Many years later, and after a career as a solicitor, I visited Lullingstone again. Within months I had become a Classics teacher at a local school in Sevenoaks. I believe Lullingstone may have had some influence on this decision!

01 Caroline Mackenzie at the reunion of the original diggers at Lullingstone Roman Villa, July 2019.jpg
Caroline Mackenzie at the reunion of the original diggers at Lullingstone Roman Villa, July 2019. © Claire Lowe Photography.
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Caroline Mackenzie presenting her research at Lullingstone Roman Villa, July 2019. © Claire Lowe Photography.

A few years later, when I began studying for an MA in Classical Art and Archaeology at King’s College London, the choice of topic for my dissertation was obvious. I lived near Lullingstone and visited it often, and I wanted to learn more about its history. I decided to focus on two main aspects: first, the villa within its landscape setting and the role of topography in the owner’s self-representation; second, the choice and use of mosaics in the fourth century villa and how the patron presented his cultural identity and status through pavements. Two modern television programmes sprung to mind: Location, Location, Location and Grand Designs! I started to wonder whether modern criteria for choosing a home have changed much from Roman times.

In assessing the landscape setting, I realised I would need to explore the vicinity of the villa on foot. This was an approach first adopted by Tilley in his innovative 1994 book.  I also wanted to research the ancillary buildings which included a circular shrine, a temple-mausoleum and a granary. I used the experience of exploring the area to examine the relative prominence of the villa and its ancillary buildings; for example, were they highly visible in the landscape? I also considered how the architects combined the setting with the layout of the villa to create a conspicuous display of the owner’s standing and worth.

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Lullingstone Villa in its landscape in the later fourth century AD (illustration by Peter Urmston). © Historic England Archive.

By way of comparison, I decided to examine some other Romano-British villas. I had recently visited the Isle of Wight and the magnificent site of Brading Roman Villa. Themes such as the four seasons in Brading’s stunning mosaic provided direct comparisons for Lullingstone and helped me to answer questions such as what might have been represented in the part of Lullingstone’s mosaic which had been accidentally dug up in the 1700s. Chedworth Roman Villa, now managed by the National Trust, provided a particularly interesting case study in the context of its landscape setting.

In addition to Lullingstone’s central room which boasts the seasons mosaic framing Bellerophon killing the Chimaera, the adjacent apsidal dining room is celebrated for its mosaic of Europa riding the bull. The Europa mosaic is accompanied by a Latin inscription and, in this context, I studied Classical literature in other Romano-British villas to see if Lullingstone is what we would expect or whether it is exceptional.

I was fortunate to be supervised in my research by Dr John Pearce at King’s College London. I learned a huge amount from him and he made the project of researching and writing up rewarding, challenging and enjoyable. After my dissertation was complete and as preparations for the anniversary celebrations at the villa began to get underway, I started to work with Dr David Davison, Director at Archaeopress Publishing, on what would become my first book, Culture and Society at Lullingstone Roman Villa. David and all the team at Archaeopress made the process as smooth as possible and were such a pleasure to work with.

In the remainder of this blog, I shall set out the main themes of the book and hope you will be inspired to learn more!

Landscape setting

Wall-paintings from Lullingstone and now on display at the British Museum indicated that Christian worship had taken place in the villa. The evidence of religion has been exploited and applied to the mosaics in the adjacent rooms.  However, I interpreted the evidence in other ways and asked questions based instead on the use of space, landscape setting and architectural context of the mosaics. Wallace-Hadrill’s work in Pompeii and Herculaneum focused on the use of domestic space and the public and private spheres of a home.[1] Scott subsequently applied a similar concept to the interior space of Romano-British villas and extended it by placing more emphasis on the landscape setting.[2] In my research, I applied Scott’s methods to examine how Lullingstone’s inhabitants used domestic space to assert their status and cultural identity. A key example for Scott was that, by alluding to knowledge of Graeco-Roman culture, owners expressed their paideia: their appreciation of literature, philosophy and mythology enjoyed by the Roman élite.[3] In my research, I examined the practices of the inhabitants primarily during the late third and fourth centuries AD and how they adopted Roman culture in their domestic space.

Lullingstone Roman villa is in the Darent Valley in west Kent. It sits on a terrace cut into the hillside 55m west of the west bank of the river Darent, whose valley cuts through the North Downs, and was around 20 miles from Londinium (London). Lullingstone was a favourable site because of its access to varied resources and agricultural riches.

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North Kent in the Roman period.  © Historic England Archive.

In total there are around sixty known/suspected villas in Kent, most of which are in north Kent. Lullingstone was therefore part of an intensively exploited and agriculturally rich landscape. The Darent Valley villas probably supplied food and other agricultural produce to London and provided residences for the London elites.

A symbolic dimension of the owner’s appropriation of the landscape and its resources was the establishment of a cult room apparently relating to water deities complete with a niched wall-painting of three water-nymphs. This was created c. AD 180, contemporaneous with the baths, and demonstrated the owners’ reverence for water. It was located at the northeast of the villa, where the slope had been excavated to create what is known as the ‘Deep Room’.[4] The niche was later blocked up and could have easily escaped the excavators’ notice but, in a twist of fate, the site flooded mid-excavations and dislodged the plaster concealing the water-nymphs.[5] The villa-owner who created the water cult room might have seen this as a sign!

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Reconstruction of ‘Deep Room’ shown at underground level, c. AD 380 (illustration by Peter Dunn/Richard Lea). © Historic England Archive.

Visitors today may appreciate the tranquil setting and the view from the villa. While modern subjective assessments of ‘a lovely setting’ must be qualified, we know from Roman authors that observers then were sensitive to the aesthetics of views and this is not just a modern phenomenon (Ausonius: Moselle; Pliny the Younger: Epistulae 2.17).

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Modern view of Darent Valley, taken from modern road approaching the villa. Photograph: by author.

In c. AD 100 a circular building was constructed on a prepared terrace 24.4.m northwest of the villa. A flint and mortar construction with a thatched roof but no windows, it is thought to have been used for cult purposes until c. AD 180. The slope is steep and the elevated shrine must have made an imposing statement.[6]

It is believed to have fallen into ruin following disuse in the third century. However, the terrace on which it stood was extended to receive a temple-mausoleum in AD 300. This stood prominently around 6m above the ground to the west of the villa[7] and exemplifies skilful use of the hill-slope to create monumentality and visibility. The building took the form of a 12.2m square Romano-Celtic temple.[8] Beneath this was a tomb chamber with two lead coffins and various grave goods. We do not know the identity of the couple buried but it may be the villa-owner and his wife, and the temple-mausoleum seems to have been created for this double burial.

The date of construction of the temple-mausoleum coincides with a major refurbishment to the villa and its surroundings, all of which demonstrated the wealth and aspirations of the owner. The bath complex had been rebuilt and extended in around AD 280 and in AD 293-297 a large granary was constructed to the northeast of the villa,[9] a statement of agricultural prowess. The temple-mausoleum was a necessary part of the refurbishment for a villa-owner who wanted to make his mark on the landscape, in death as in life.

07 The baths as they may have appeared in the late third century AD.jpg
The baths as they may have appeared in the late third century AD (illustration by Peter Dunn/Richard Lea). © Historic England Archive.
08 Reconstruction drawing of Lullingstone Villa in the fourth century AD.jpg
Reconstruction drawing of Lullingstone Villa in the fourth century AD (illustration by Alan Sorrell) © Historic England Archive.

This illustration shows both the temple-mausoleum (top centre) and the circular shrine (top right). However, the circular shrine is believed to have fallen into ruin following disuse in the third century and before construction of the temple-mausoleum.

The large granary would have complemented the architecture and positioning of the villa.  The granary may also exemplify ‘the conspicuous display of agricultural production, processing and storage’. Taylor argues convincingly for more detailed studies of entire rural settlements and not just domestic buildings, the latter which attract scholarly analysis due to the existence of their mosaics, hypocausts and baths.[10]

The use of landscape to create immediate impact on visitors was used to similar effect in the villa at Great Witcombe in the Coln Valley, which was built into a steep hillside with the main part of the complex highest up ensuring that the most important visitors and household members were, quite literally, placed above everyone else.

09 Remains of Great Witcombe Roman Villa, Gloucestershire.jpg
Remains of Great Witcombe Roman Villa, Gloucestershire. © Historic England Archive.
© Historic England Archive.
10 Reconstruction drawing of Great Witcombe Roman Villa in the fourth century AD.jpg
Reconstruction drawing of Great Witcombe Roman Villa in the fourth century AD (illustration by Ivan Lapper) © Historic England Archive.

Chedworth villa merited a more detailed discussion in the context of its landscape setting and display of wealth and status. It was constructed in a small steep-sided valley of the river Coln, Gloucestershire.[11] Visitors to the late fourth century villa would have been struck by its impressive stature in its landscape setting.

The mosaics

The central room was a part of the villa which had been in use in every phase of its occupation but in c. AD 330-60[12] it was given a facelift with the instalment of a lavish mosaic. It depicted Bellerophon mounted on the winged horse Pegasus and killing the Chimaera. Surrounded by a cushion shaped guilloche, this part of the mosaic also contained four dolphins and two shell-type objects. Around the guilloche was a plain, square border, the four corners of which each contained a roundel depicting one of the four seasons, represented by female busts.

11 Bellerophon on Pegasus, spearing the Chimaera.jpg
Detail: Bellerophon on Pegasus, spearing the Chimaera. c. AD 330-60. © Historic England Archive.

The location and size of this room suggest that it served as an audience chamber, like the atrium in Italian villas, where the aristocrat held his morning salutatio (greeting) by his clients. The British equivalent might have been the farmworkers coming to the villa to receive instructions for the day, or tenants coming to pay their rent.[13]

12 Summer.jpg
Detail: Summer. c. AD 330-60. © Historic England Archive.

Seasons were a popular mosaic choice in Roman Britain (c.f. Brading and Littlecote) and the rest of empire. In my book, I discuss several possible interpretations of the seasons including them reflecting the liberality of the owner;[14] this might be exactly the message the Lullingstone patron had in mind, at a time when he was investing finances in his property.

Bellerophon could represent a heroic model for the patron’s own hunting exploits[15] and an allusion to power.[16] It was comprehensible to most viewers familiar with Homer’s Iliad in which the story was first told (6.155-202). The Homeric reference therefore reflects Lullingstone’s owner’s classical learning, a message consistently conveyed in all the mosaics he chose.

The apsidal room at Lullingstone was added as part of the overall embellishment of the villa c. AD 330-60.[17] A 23cm high step led from the audience chamber to the apse’s entrance, providing a natural extension to the space used for receiving clients and entertaining guests.[18]

13 Reconstruction of Lullingstone’s apsidal dining room with stibadium.jpg
Reconstruction of Lullingstone’s apsidal dining room with stibadium c. AD 330-60 (illustration by Peter Dunn). © Historic England Archive.
14 Reconstruction of Lullingstone’s audience chamber and apse.jpg
Reconstruction of Lullingstone’s audience chamber and apse. c. AD 330-60 (illustration by Peter Dunn). © Historic England Archive.
15 Europa mosaic.jpg
Europa mosaic. c. AD 330-60. © Historic England Archive.

The figure scene in the apse portrays Europa riding on a bull (Jupiter in disguise) over the sea, accompanied by two cupids with an inscription above.  The allusion is to Book 1 (50) of Virgil’s Aeneid and plays on the story of Juno’s anger at her husband Jupiter’s infidelity. Ovid’s Metamorphoses 2.846-75 recounts Jupiter’s transformation into a bull to trick and seduce Europa. As with Bellerophon, the overriding message that the owner wanted to convey was his paideia, his wealth and, by the inscription, his wit.

Concluding thoughts

My book sets out to demonstrate how the ensemble of the architecture, the mosaics and the exterior space worked to persuade visitors of the owner’s wealth and status. This included his right and ability to tame the landscape. The choices of mosaics provide compelling evidence of a traditional Classical education and sophisticated knowledge of Virgil and Ovid. The inscription is a remarkable paradigm of paideia. The Lullingstone owner acted out his role as a powerful and influential individual, displaying his cultural identity and status. We are fortunate that the landscape which served the owner’s purposes in Roman times has also performed a service for us in the years since, by washing soil and debris downhill and thus preserving much of the villa and its mosaics for us to explore 1,600 years later.

I should like to thank a number of people who helped me during my research. I was fortunate to meet the team at DROP (Discover Roman Otford Project). Kevin Fromings (Project Leader) and Gary Bennett (Membership Secretary) welcomed me to their dig, just a few miles from Lullingstone. Rod Shelton kindly provided a copy of his own research on Lullingstone and images of his scale model of the villa. Rob Sherratt helpfully shared his thoughts as to the construction of the villa and provided images of his 3D reconstruction. I should like to thank Dr John Pearce at King’s College London for his invaluable help and guidance during my research and writing of my dissertation. Last but not least, I should like to reiterate my thanks to everyone at Archaeopress and in particular to Dr David Davison, Ben Heaney, Patrick Harris and Dan Stott. I am very grateful to them all for their hard work and commitment, from reading the first draft of the manuscript to all their work and support post publication.

16 Scale model of Lullingstone Roman Villa.jpg
Scale model of Lullingstone Roman Villa. © Rod Shelton.
17 Dining room and audience chamber from scale model of Lullingstone Roman Villa.jpg
Dining room and audience chamber from scale model of Lullingstone Roman Villa. © Rod Shelton.
18 3D Reconstructions of Lullingstone Roman Villa
3D Reconstructions of Lullingstone Roman Villa. © Rob Sherratt.
file1-3.jpeg
Just back from press! Caroline Mackenzie with her new book, Culture and Society at Lullingstone Roman Villa. Photograph: © Archaeopress.

References

[1] Wallace-Hadrill 1988: 52-55; [2] Scott 2000; [3] Scott 2000: 126-8; [4] Meates 1955: 59; [5] Meates 1979: 17 and 33; [6] Meates 1979: 119; [7] Meates 1979: 17; [8] Meates 1979: 122; [9] Meates 1955: 114; [10] Taylor 2011: 180; [11] Esmonde Cleary 2013: 14; [12] Meates 1979: 84; [13] Ellis 1995: 166; [14] Ellis 1995: 175; [15] Ling 1997: 278-9; [16] Ellis 1995: 175; [17] Meates 1979: 73; [18] Barrett 1978: 310.

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9781789692907.jpgCulture and Society at Lullingstone Roman Villa by Caroline K. Mackenzie. 2019. ISBN 9781789692907. (eBook ISBN 9781789692914)

Paperback; 205×255 pages; viii+50 pages; 40 figures (colour throughout)

Paperback: £14.99; PDF eBook: from £9.99 + VAT

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Reviews

A Thing of Beauty. Clearly written and beautifully illustrated with full colour maps, photos and drawings, this is a book to treasure.

Amazon.co.uk five-star rated user review

An excellent study of a remarkable Roman villa. Mackenzie walks us through the estate, from the fields and granary to the temple-mausoleum and extravagant dining room… There are nicely produced photographs of the art (especially the incredible Bellerophon/Pegasus and the seasons mosaic), location, and comparable sites, and charming illustrations showing how the villa and its rooms might have looked in their heyday.

Amazon.co.uk five-star rated user review

Why Did Ancient States Collapse?

Malcolm Levitt suggests a generic multi-causal and dynamic framework to explain the collapse of ancient states

Dysfunctionality

Ancient states collapsed because they could not fulfil their core functions. This was because they failed to meet the conditions necessary to perform those functions. All this raises the questions of what those functions and necessary conditions were, and why they failed to meet them. Some readers might infer uncomfortable parallels with today’s societies or states but that theme is beyond the scope of this blog.

There is a considerable literature on the collapse of particular ancient states, much of it emphasising the role of a specific explanation for collapse. But mono-causal explanations are rarely sufficient and where multi-causal explanations are offered it is essential to analyse their dynamic interactions but relatively few studies do this. The aim here is to attempt a generic multi causal and dynamic framework to explain collapse.

We need to emphasise the importance of distinguishing between states and societies, a matter often bypassed by those who question the existence of collapse. States are institutionalised, centralised government structures whereas societies are the context of social structure, culture and common values in which states are moored. States can collapse as political entities while elements of their culture and values continue. To deny the collapse of the Western Roman Empire because elements of Roman culture thrived in Byzantium misses the point: states are political entities.

Ancient states were rooted in agriculture, sedentism and population growth. No state emerged without the presence of farming but farming is not a sufficient explanation of state formation: Mesopotamian crop management and animal husbandry long predated states. But grain especially was key to state formation, being taxable and useful paying soldiers and workmen. Growing population, enabled by improved diets, female energy and fertility, was the catalyst for state formation: meeting the demands for rising food production and distribution was beyond the management capacity of chieftains: assurance of food supplies was the founding core function of the bureaucratic state.

Nonetheless two routes to statehood were possible: consensus and egalitarianism or coercion and inequality; the latter tended to dominate or to supplant the former. They were fragile and prone to collapse.

Collapse

Sometimes explanations of collapse are seen as competing alternatives (such as intra-elite rivalry, invasion, popular uprisings) whereas they are not mutually exclusive in reality. Explanations of collapse in terms of competing mono-causal factors are inferior to those incorporating dynamic, interactive systems. In particular simultaneity is often ignored: where a factor is both determined by another and helps to determine the latter. Invasion might be induced by perceived military weakness in the invaded state but such weakness might be explained by loss of territory and part of the tax base to invaders and a vicious circle of fiscal depletion and dismemberment sets in. Natural catastrophe like drought, causing famine and popular unrest, might be exacerbated by neglect and mismanagement of key water infrastructures such as irrigation, flood control and grain and water storage. Diagram A illustrates such a model.

Diagram A. Collapse Explanations

Diagram A.jpg

Collapse should be explained as failure to fulfil the ancient state’s core functions: assurance of food supplies, defence against external attack, maintenance of internal peace, imposition of its will throughout its territory, maintenance of key civil and military infrastructures, enforcement of state-wide laws, and promotion of an ideology to legitimise the political and social status quo.

To fulfil these functions certain necessary conditions must be met. The legitimacy of the political and social status quo, including the distribution of political power and wealth, needs to be accepted; the state should be able to extract sufficient resources to fulfil its functions such as defence; it must be able to enforce its decisions; the ruling elite should share a common purpose and actions; the society needs to reflect a shared spirit (asibaya) and purpose across elites and commoners who believe it is worthy of defence.

Weaknesses and failure to meet any condition can interact to exacerbate the situation: maladministration, corruption and elite preoccupation with self-aggrandisement can induce fiscal weakness, reduced military budgets and further invasion; it can induce neglect of key infrastructures (especially water management). Inequality, a commonly neglected factor despite ancient texts, can erode asibaya and legitimacy and alienate commoners from defence of the state.

These themes are explored in relation to the Egyptian Old Kingdom, Mycenae, the Western Roman Empire (WRE), and the Maya. They all exhibit, to varying degrees, weaknesses in meeting the above conditions necessary for stability.

Although political collapse of the Old Kingdom is definite there is no consensus on the scope and severity of economic and cultural collapse. Drought, famine and intra-elite strife have been suggested as explanations for political collapse. Mass alienation and violence against the ruling elites has been suggested in ancient texts but their credibility is contentious. The evidence suggests systems failure and dysfunctionality including the incompetence and collapse of central authority and intra-elite strife (not least centre-provincial conflict); failure to finance and maintain key water management infrastructures by elites focussed on self enrichment; drought, the effects of which were exacerbated by that failure; loss of asibaya induced by huge inequality and the behaviour of selfish elites; and social conflict, possibly violent; loss of royal legitimacy in the face of drought despite the king’s supposed divine ability to guarantee rainfall and Nile flooding.

The political collapse of the Mycenaean palace states is beyond dispute. Some but not all aspects of their civilisation vanished. However, explanations of their political collapse (internal social strife including a Dorian peasant uprising, drought, invasion by Sea Peoples, earthquakes, intra-elite and interstate violent competition, and barbarian military technological advance) are particularly speculative because the very existence of possible explanatory factors is poorly demonstrated in the archaeological and written record, Homeric myth notwithstanding. Elements of the culture survived (religion, spoken language, some luxury artefact production) but others vanished, especially Linear B writing.

The WRE was dismantled by successive “Barbarian” invasions which should be regarded as factors in a dynamic systems collapse: unstable, ineffectual, corrupt governments, dynastic rivalry, intra-elite strife, economic and fiscal weakness and reduced military budgets induced barbarian invasion which further reduced the tax base and military funding. Aggressive imperial expansion itself had induced Germanic tribal coalescence which then exploited emerging Roman weakness and dismembered the WRE. The collapse graphically illustrates failure to meet the conditions needed for stability: effective defence against external attack, robust public finances, intra-elite cohesion, a society-wide spirit of asibaya – whereas the peasantry were impoverished and some collaborated with barbarian invaders or participated in Bacaudae armed rebellion ( the significance of which is disputed), commoner and elite acceptance of the legitimacy of the ruling regime, including willingness to support the state in the face of external attack.

The collapse of classic Maya states embraced the end of a political system and material culture but at different times in different places. Violent dynastic and intra-elite strife are probably sufficient to explain collapse; but they would have contributed to ineffectual responses to climate change, especially drought. Great inequality and peasant grievance, illustrated in ancient texts and by defacement of elite structures might suggest uprisings but such attacks on rich buildings and monuments might have followed collapse attributable to other reasons. Droughts arose at different times in different locations, although agriculture seems to have continued in some arid areas and evidence of drought in one place cannot explain collapse elsewhere. In short, ineffective government associated with internal strife along with droughts induced collapse but their relative contributions probably varied across the Maya states.

Inequality

Despite assertions by Aristotle and De Tocqueville that inequality is a factor in collapse, no analysis of inequality as an explanation of ancient collapse has been attempted or even suggested in recent publications on either ancient inequality or collapse. Evidence of inequality exists: house and skeletal size, and grave goods demonstrate ancient inequality. But grievance induced by inequality alone is insufficient to provoke successful challenge to authority; leadership, organisation and resources are also needed. They were conceivably provided by the WRE Bacaudae but their role in WRE collapse is disputed although written evidence suggests discontented peasants sometime welcomed and assisted barbarian invaders. Violence by the poor is suggested as a factor in Old Kingdom and Mycenaean collapse but the evidence is disputed in both cases. Minoan and Mayan evidence of damage to elite property exists but it is not known whether this preceded or followed collapse of authority. One Pueblo study demonstrates lagged correlation between peak inequality and peak violence but no examination of possible socially differentiated skeletal trauma was undertaken. Such research could produce useful evidence of possible social strife as a factor in collapse. Lack of such evidence could indicate lack of interest in inequality’s contribution to collapse or its genuine unavailability.

Conclusions

The distinction between states and societies or cultures is essential: the former, political entities can collapse but not necessarily the latter so to deny state collapse because of the continuation of cultural elements misses the point.

Mono- causal explanations of collapse are inadequate but to acknowledge multi-causality is insufficient unless a dynamic interaction between various explanatory factors is recognised.

States collapsed when they failed to fulfil their core functions because they did not meet the conditions necessary for a functioning stable state. Such pre-conditions include legitimacy, a common spirit of asibaya, ability to extract sufficient resources to maintain key infrastructures and services, intra-elite cohesion, and the ability to enforce decisions across its territory.

The publication, available in paperback and online as a free-to-download PDF eBook, presents four brief case studies to illustrate and confirm these hypotheses. The main findings are summarised in the tables below.

Table A. Summary of Evidence of Collapse

Table A.jpg

 Table B. Causes of Collapse

Table B.jpg

Header photo: Maya site of Quirigua, Guatemala © Malcolm Levitt

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9781789693027.jpgWhy Did Ancient States Collapse? The Dysfunctional State by Malcolm Levitt. 2019. ISBN 9781789693027. (eBook ISBN 9781789693034).

203x276mm;56 pages; 4 tables, 1 diagram (black & white throughout)

Paperback: £18.00; PDF eBook: Free download

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Academic Archaeology in the USSR: Science in the Service of Ideology

Yaroslav V. Kuzmin provides a brief history of archaeology in Russia during the Soviet era

Archaeopress is very pleased to have published A. K. Konopatskii’s biography of Soviet archaeologist Aleksei P. Okladnikov as part of its ongoing ‘Archaeological Lives’ series. The following paper is an edited version of one of the introductory chapters to the biography provided by the volume’s co-translator, Yaroslav V. Kuzmin:

Throughout the existence of the USSR (1917–1991), the conditions for conducting academic research in the fields of the humanities were very different from the West.

Klejn (2012) distinguished several periods in the history of Russian/Soviet archaeology: 1) the beginnings of scientific archaeology (1850s–early 1880s); 2) archaeology as a separate field of knowledge (1880s–1910s); 3) archaeology at the time of revolution and revolution in archaeology (1917–1934); and 4) Soviet archaeology (1934–1991). It is interesting to note that the boundary between the Russian and Soviet periods is drawn not at 1917—a year of two revolutions— but later, when the ideology of Marxism-Leninism became dominant. In pre- 1917 Russia, archaeology was closely connected with ancient history, but the research on prehistoric sites was also developing. Some learning societies emerged after 1850: the Russian Archaeological Society in 1851 and, in 1864, the Moscow Archaeological Society. In 1859 the Imperial Archaeological Commission was created to oversee all excavations across Russia.

The 1917 revolutions brought the human sciences in Russia (and later on, in the USSR) to abrupt changes. The Civil War (1918–1920, in some parts of Russia until late 1922) resulted in a disastrous decline in industry; there was hunger and social strife, and the number of excavations was practically nil. Archaeological works slowly resumed after the early 1920s. The Bolshevik government, however, in 1919 created the Russian Academy for the History of Material Culture (the Russian abbreviation—RAIMK); after 1926 it was known as the Gosudarstvennaya Akademiya Istorii Materialnoi Kultury [State Academy for the History of Material Culture] (abbreviated as GAIMK). After several transformations it became the Institute for the History of Material Culture (abbreviation—IIMK), USSR Academy of Sciences in 1937, with two branches— in Moscow and Leningrad.

Okladnikov_Book_Figure_11
The building of the Institute of History of Material Culture, Leningrad/St. Petersburg.

The first head of the RAIMK/GAIMK (1919–1934) and formal leader of Soviet archaeology was Nikolai Ya. Marr, a scholar of Oriental studies. Marr was a prominent specialist in languages but not a proper linguist (Klejn 2012). Marr’s main contribution to science was ‘Japhetic theory’ (later turned into a ‘new doctrine of language’), built on the controversial idea that a Caucasian-based proto-language existed in Europe before the advent of the Indo-European languages. Marr’s doctrine was blessed by the Communist Party; he became a Party member in 1930. At that time, most of the Academy scholars were against the increasing ideological grip, and few of the Academicians were Communists; this is why the Party showered Marr with honours and titles. The archaeological implication of Marr’s ‘theory’ was that scientists were forced to explain cultural and other alterations as the result of the sudden changes in pre-existing populations, without any external influences.

The Marxist-Leninist approach in Soviet archaeology, developed in the late 1920s–early 1930s, defined the study of social changes from primitive societies to capitalism as the main research tool (see Trigger 2006: 329– 337). Archaeology was considered a part of history; there was a well-known expression by the prominent Soviet scholar Artemy V. Artsikhovsky that ‘Archaeology is history armed with a spade.’ Trigger (2006: 342) mentioned that many Soviet archaeologists truly believed in the possibility of extracting historical information from archaeological sources.

Two main ideologically driven paradigms were introduced into Soviet archaeology in the early 1930s. Trigger (2006: 327) combines them under the cultural-historical approach. Stadialism was developed mainly by Vladislav I. Ravdonikas and Sergei N. Bykovsky; it was based on the assumption that ethnic history can be presented as a series of leaps from one social stage (like slavery or feudalism) to another, without any external influence. Klejn (2012) noted that the entire idea of stadialism consisted of miraculous and unexplained transformations. However, in 1950, after the Second World War, the rise of Russian nationalism, inspired by Stalin, brought stadialism along with Marr’s entire theory to an end. Another approach, autochthonism, was employed by Marxist archaeologists to prove the origins of the Slavic people in local development, without any external influences from outside and/or migrations.

One of the main representatives of this method was Boris A. Rybakov, who was showered with positions and honours by the Soviet government and the Party (which was essentially the same thing) in the 1950s–1970s. Klejn (2012) also mentions other schools—Marxist sociologisers, doctrinaire unitarians, subdiffusionists and submigrationalists, empirics, scientification-oriented, imitators, ethnos-oriented, and ‘true’ Marxists.

Artsikhovsky and Ravdonikas, along with other younger archaeologists (notably Yevgeny Y. Krichevsky, Andrei P. Kruglov, and Yuri V. Podgaetsky) developed the ‘Marxist’ approach to the interpretation of archaeological data in 1926–1929 (see Trigger 2006: 328, 330), based on a strong assumption that technology directly determines the nature of society and ideology. The goal of the archaeologist, according to the ‘Marxist’ approach, was to reconstruct the societies that produced artefacts and not the artefacts themselves. The ‘method of ascent’ by Artsikhovsky – from artefacts to the structure of ancient society – presupposes establishing social structure by knowing only the Marxist peculiarities of the development of humanity. In this case archaeology was given the same level of reconstruction as history. But in 1932, due to change in the Party’s leading ranks that caused a shift in Communist ideology, archaeology was declared an auxiliary discipline that could only help history study the past.

There were other approaches that did not completely follow the ideological lines of the Party. The palaeoethnological method was initiated in the late nineteenth century and developed in the 1930s by Boris S. Zhukov, Petr P. Efimenko, and Sergei I. Rudenko. Their main idea was to combine archaeology and ethnography, and to reconstruct the history of ethnic groups in relation to environmental changes. Due to strict ideological control from the mid-1930s on, this direction and its representatives were suppressed. The diffusionist approach (including migrationism) was used after the turn of the twentieth century but was banned in the 1930s in order to promote autochthonism. In the 1950s, however, due to changes in the Party’s upper circles and the fight for power and ideological control, diffusionism was again allowed.

During the tenure of Josef Stalin as a head of the Soviet state (1929–1953), even slight disagreement with the Party line was very dangerous. Klejn (2012: 87) noted:

‘In Soviet archaeology all strictly academic debate of the slightest consequence inevitably assumed the nature of a ferocious political battle. In the early 1930s (and again in the 1950s), if a topic did not in itself qualify for such status, an archaeologist could invariably be found who would invest it with that status, in order to stick a political label on an opponent and win an easy victory. Such victories were often accompanied by ‘organisational measures’: condemnation of the recalcitrant as an enemy of Marxism, or worse, a renegade), dismissal, and even arrest of the individual and all his relations.’

During the purges in the 1920s–1930s, about 150 archaeologists, historians, art experts, and museum and local lore scholars were sentenced and either sent to prison, exiled, or even exterminated. Perhaps the true number is significantly higher. At least ten well-known Soviet archaeologists were executed or died shortly after imprisonment (Klejn 2012: 28). The ‘Academic’ and ‘Slavist’ affairs of 1929–1934 resulted in arrest and exile of dozens of scholars, mainly archaeologists and historians from Leningrad (Klejn 2014: 64). In this environment, most Soviet archaeologists were afraid to submit their papers to foreign periodicals for fear of being accused of espionage and sabotage.

After the death of Stalin in March 1953, ideological control of the humanities was to some extent loosened, and more academic freedom was allowed, as long as it did not challenge the leading role of the Party.

Nevertheless, despite the pure ‘theatre of the absurd’ of the Soviet political system, including Orwellian attempts to erase from publications the names of people who fell out of the Party’s favour (Klejn 2012: 31), the pioneering research conducted in the 1920s–1960s is widely acknowledged by the international scholarly community: by Gleb S. Bonch-Osmolovsky, Petr P. Efimenko, Sergey N. Zamyatnin, and Aleksandr N. Rogachev on the Palaeolithic; Sergei A. Semenov on use-wear analysis; Ravdonikas on the Mesolithic and petroglyphs in northern Russia; Mikhail P. Gryaznov on the Siberian Bronze and Early Iron ages; Rudenko on frozen burial mounds (kurgans) in Mongolia and the Altai Mountains of Siberia; Sergei P. Tolstov on early Central Asian states; Boris B. Piotrovsky on the archaeology of Trans-Caucasus; Aleksei P. Okladnikov on Siberian prehistoric archaeology and rock art; and Artsikhovksy on Medieval perishable birch-bark texts from Novgorod.

Okladnikov_Book_Figure_18
A. P. Okladnikov examines the rock art in Mongolia, 1970s.

Obviously, it is impossible to characterise in this brief essay all the varieties of Soviet archaeology of the 20th century; the reader will find more in the book by Aleksander K. Konopatskii about the life and works of Okladnikov in the 1930s–1950s.

References

Klejn, L.S. (2012). Soviet Archaeology: Schools, Trends, and History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Klejn, L.S. (2014). Istoriya Rossiiskoi Arkheologii: Ucheniya, Shkoly i Lichnosti (The History of Russian Archaeology: Doctrines, Schools and Personalities). Volumes 1–2. St. Petersburg: Eurasia (in Russian).

Klejn, L.S. (2017). Archaeology in Soviet Russia. In: Lozny, L.R. (ed.), Archaeology of the Communist Era: A Political History of Archaeology of the 20th Century, pp.59–99. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

Trigger, B.G. (2006). A History of Archaeological Thought (2nd edition). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Yaroslav V. Kuzmin has been studying geoarchaeology of the Russian Far East, Siberia and neighbouring Northeast Asia since 1979 (PhD 1991; DSc. 2007). He has also assisted in translating and editing books on the archaeology of eastern Russia.

9781789692044Aleksei P. Okladnikov: The Great Explorer of the Past. Volume I. A biography of a Soviet archaeologist (1900s – 1950s) by A. K. Konopatskii, translated by Richard L. Bland and Yaroslav V. Kuzmin. Printed ISBN 9781789692044. eBook ISBN 9781789692051.

xxiv+410 pages; 30 black & white figures.

Aleksei P. Okladnikov (1908–1981), a prominent Russian archaeologist, spent more than 50 years studying prehistoric sites in various parts of the Soviet Union – in Siberia, Central Asia and Mongolia. This biography will appeal to archaeologists, historians, and anyone interested in the history of the humanities in the twentieth century.

Available now from Archaeopress: Paperback (£24.99); PDF eBook (£16+VAT).