Descendants of the Vyatichi: Archaeologists find ancient kurgans in New Moscow

May 24

Archaeologists have found several kurgans, burial mounds, dating from the mid-12th to early 13th century, in the south of the Troitsky and Novomoskovsky administrative areas, close to the border between this huge new area southwest of the city and the Kaluga Region. Experts believe those funerary earthworks were made by the Vyatichi, one of the native tribes of the early East Slavs, and their descendants.

The four kurgans are mounds about 1.5 metres high, reaching 10-15 metres in diameter.

Such mounds could contain either single or family graves. The burial site was first cleared – by cutting down trees and shrubs and then burning the place out. Next, a funeral ceremony was held and afterwards, the earthworks were raised over the burial place.

The Vyatichi and their descendants who carried on the traditions of the tribe lived in the woodlands along the upper and middle reaches of the Oka – including the land now occupied by the Troitsky and Novomoskovsky administrative areas, which officially became part of Moscow a few years ago, as well as the Moscow and Kaluga regions.

“It was very unusual and a tremendous piece of luck to find ancient kurgans untouched. Experts believe there used to be a village near these funerary structures. Archaeologists have yet to determine its exact location. The mounds discovered in the area which has recently become part of Moscow will not be excavated. Experts are now taking detailed measurements of the burial mounds and recording their location,” said Alexei Yemelyanov, head of the Moscow Department of Cultural Heritage.

After completing all the necessary studies, a special commission will consider declaring the site a protected area. To prevent looting of burial artefacts, information on their whereabouts will be withheld.

Interestingly, the members of that ancient tribe arranged their family burial mounds along the edges of fields that they cultivated. The tribe was engaged in slash-and-burn agriculture, which involved cutting down a piece of the forest and then burning it out to subsequently sow crops in the field created this way. Actually, this method of farming quickly depleted the soil, so people alternately used several fields around the village or eventually moved to look for new places to sow. However, after a few years, the abandoned land became fertile again, and the community returned to their former field. The mounds were evidence that the site belonged to a particular family.

Moscow has over 400 archaeological heritage sites within its boundaries. As a rule, they are discovered as a result of archaeological exploration or studies that are carried out during repair and construction, or during urban renewal and improvement work. Unlike archaeological finds, these are mostly large sites that are difficult or impossible to move to museums, such as the ruins and fragments of ancient buildings and structures, vestiges of settlements, and ancient burials.

Some of these sites are converted into open-air museums. One of those is an archaeological cluster at Mitino Landscape Park, where visitors can learn something about life in the ancient villages that were once located on the land where present-day Moscow now is, look at 12th century mounds and settlements, and examine household items that were used in the first millennium BC.

Besides this, the Russian capital features more than 20 historical sites that have been turned into museums. These are mostly extant parts of ancient streets and buildings kept behind glass windows or in open showcases, depending on how well the monument has survived and the degree of environmental impact. One showcase presenting ancient artefacts from the 15th–18th centuries can be seen right on the street in Maly Zlatoustinsky lane, opposite Number 7/2. The biggest archaeological exhibit in Moscow is on Khokhlovskaya Square, between Pokrovsky and Chistoprudny Boulevards. It is an extant fragment of the stone base of the White City walls. Visitors can admire the ancient stones while sitting on specially carved amphitheatre benches.


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