🇺🇦 SLAVA UKRAINI 🇺🇦
Part Two in a two-part series about perhaps the most badass warriors of the ancient world, the Scythians. We previously wrote about the theft of Scythian artifacts by Russia in 2022 here. Yesterday we wrote about their historical context and their anachronistic egalitarian society here. Today we dive deep into their archaeology, material culture, and their penchant for cannabis! Written in collaboration with fellow mod /u/VoR_Mom.
The Archaeology of Scythia
The Scythians were a partially nomadic culture. They didn’t leave many traces of their lives, especially not in the early periods, but they left remarkable monuments of their deaths.
Scythians marked the final resting places of their dead with burial mounds, some 50 meters wide and 15 meters high. There are tens of thousands of these mounds scattered across the vast steppe region which stretches from northern China through southern Siberia to the Scythian heartland around the northern Black Sea.
Of special importance is the area of the Dnipro rapids north of Crimea up to Zaporizhzhia, where the biggest, richest burial mounds of the classic Scythian period are clustered, the burials of what Herodotus called the “Royal Scythians”. And if you are thinking, “Aren't these the areas those Russian fucks are fucking with right now?” Yes. Yes, they are.
Scythian burial mounds often appear in groups or stretch in long lines, likely family or tribal cemeteries. Their sizes vary, but it always reflects the riches of the burial beneath. That idea of tribal/clan burials explains why the bodies of the dead were preserved very well and carried over vast distances to their burial places. Especially striking examples of this are the mummified corpses preserved in the permafrost areas of the farthest corners in the east (See yesterday’s spectacular tattoos).
The bodies had been carefully dissected, entrails removed and replaced with straw - same with the brain. The men had been shaved, their fingernails clipped, then carefully dressed and placed in wooden log coffins inside wooden burial chambers.
These chambers and coffins were sometimes decorated and filled with grave goods, depending on the status of the deceased:
- Jewelry, mirrors, furniture that was collapsible and portable, whole chariots, vessels of wood and pottery, weapons, bows, arrows with their famed three-bladed arrowheads, tools, food offerings, the occasional cannabis burning in a brazier, and, of course, horses.
- Everything a high-status Scythian royal would need to ride into the afterlife, forever roaming the wide steppes.
Scythian trilobate armor-piercing arrowhead. These would routinely be dipped in the venom of a steppe viper before being fired while riding a charging horse. No wonder Scythians tended to make an impression on invading armies.
The latest research suggest that there was not only one group of Scythians. They were a conglomerate of different tribes who shared a culture and settled in different areas (see the Royal Scythians above), and yes, some were settled. In Ukraine some of these settlements had proto-urban dimensions - huge dimensions - fortifying walls and all. Most notable are Kamianka on the left bank of the Dnipro river opposite Nikopol and likely Scythia’s capital as Ateas described it, and Bilsk, the largest settlement of the Scythians with a moat of a mind-blowing 35 kilometers (21 miles) length, in the Poltava region.
Bilsk is generally equated with the city of Gelonus that is mentioned in the works of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus. Stretching over more than 5000 hectares (19 square miles), Bilsk is the largest settlement of its time in Eastern Europe, larger than both Babylon and classic Rome. It’s not hard to believe that it was this powerful trade and economic center that connected the vast steppes with Greece. Archaeologists working at the Bilsk reserve have found fragments of precious Greek cups, but also parts and even one whole amphora, used to transport wine, olives or oil - all high demand luxury goods in the early Iron Age - all across Europe.
The Golden Pectoral of Tovsta Mohyla
The spectacularly exquisite Golden Pectoral of Tovsta Mohyla is probably the most famous Scythian artifact, and one of the most incredible artifact finds of all 20th century archaeology. Belonging to what must have been an incredibly important Scythian Queen or Princess, the necklace can be stylistically broken down into three sections:
- The top section reflects Scythian daily life
- The middle section is believed to represent the Scythian connection to nature
- The third section is thought to represent Scythian belief in the cosmos and their mythology
It is believed that the pectoral was created by soldering together dozens of individually cast figures and elements, and it is one of the most intricate and technically demanding examples of metalworking that has ever been found from the ancient world.
![img](ps7fxyfntp091 "Left: Boris Mozolevskyy, the archaeologist who found the pectoral at Tovsta Mohyla. Right: detail, Scythians making wool clothing from the Top section.")
Boris Mozolevskyy was a Ukrainian poet-turned-archaeologist who had suffered under the repressive actions of the Soviet regime. As a Ukrainian patriot, by the early 70's Mozolevskyy balanced between freedom and prison – he could have easily found himself in a Soviet prison camp rather than on another scientific expedition:
"When the noose was about to tighten around my neck, I realized that the only thing that could save me was a major discovery. This is how I dreamt and suffered for my Tovsta Mohyla. My boldness was rewarded with a gorgeous royal pectoral necklace. Instead of a Soviet prison in Mordovia, I found myself in the Institute of Archaeology, Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR, to which I was accepted retroactively."
Check out this Proto-Scythian burial. Damn.
Grass of the Steppe: Cannabis Culture
At this point you're already thinking, "Are you fucking kidding me? This culture is based." Well, buckle up. Scholars agree the etymology of the word cannabis derives from the Scythian language. Canvas and Hemp also come from the same word root.
Ancient travel blogger Herodotus summed up their penchant for weed best, around 420 BCE:
The Scythians, as I said, take some of this hemp flower, and, creeping under felt coverings, throw it upon red-hot stones; immediately it smokes, and gives out such a vapor as no Greek vapor-bath can exceed; the Scyths, delighted, shout for joy.
If you feel like donating to another charity, here are some others!
- United24: This site was launched by President Zelenskyy as the main venue for collecting charitable donations in support of Ukraine. Funds will be allocated to cover the most pressing needs facing Ukraine.
- Come Back Alive: This NGO crowdfunds non-lethal military equipment, such as thermal vision scopes & supplies it to the front lines. It also provides training for Ukrainian soldiers, as well as researching troops’ needs and the social reintegration of veterans.
- Aerorozvidka: An NGO specializing in providing support and equipment for unmanned aerial vehicles (ISR), situational awareness, cybersecurity for armed forces.
- Hospitallers: This is a medical battalion that unites volunteer paramedics and doctors to save the lives of soldiers on the frontline. They crowdfund their vehicle repairs, fuel, and medical equipment.
- Phenix: A volunteer organization helping armed forces with various needs.
- Kyiv Territorial Defense: This fundraiser is to support the regional territorial defense group. It is organized by a known journalist and a producer of the acclaimed "Winter on Fire" documentary, which can temporarily be watched for free HERE.
- Happy Paw: Charity dedicated to solving the problems of animals in Ukraine. Happy Paw helps more than 60 animal shelters throughout Ukraine.
- Kharkiv With You and associated Help Army Kharkiv: Supporting the defenders of Kharkiv with everything from night-vision goggles to food and medicine.
Art Friday This miniature painting traveled all the way from Mykolayiv, Oblast surviving the war to arrive at my doorstep in the PNW, USA. I had to fight the tears because I specifically asked the artist to not ship it to me until things got back to normal.gallery
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Media Happy Europe Day! Every year, on the third Saturday of May, Ukraine celebrates Europe Day. This is a special day for Ukrainians because Ukraine and Europe are united by common values, history, and culture.