Pit-pit culture burials discovered in Serbia

Excavations of two burial mounds carried out in Serbia between 2016 and 2018 by a team of Polish and Serbian researchers revealed burials almost 5,000 years old. Before announcing this priceless discovery to the public, archaeologists waited for the results of genetic analyzes, which, meanwhile, confirmed the steppe origin of the men buried here according to a ritual characteristic of nomadic peoples originating from the east of Europe. pit. These mounds are the westernmost traces of their migration.

The two mounds were built in two phases.

The two burial mounds Shaikas and Jabal are located in Vojvodina, in northern Serbia, on a plain carved by the Tisza River, very close to its confluence with the Danube. 40 meters wide and 3-4 meters high, they are clearly visible in this landless region, corresponding to the western borders of the Eurasian steppe. However, initially their dimensions were more modest, since they were built in two stages and each corresponded to a double burial. They were about 20 meters in diameter and two meters high when the first dead were buried there, between 3000 and 2900 to organize a second burial.

At the site of Zhabal, closest to the river, archaeologists also found fragments of the original burial mound from the Second World War, as well as seven dwelling pits and a small hearth dug in modern times, these are the remains of an old fortification system built in 1944 by Hungarian and German troops, which included the mound. This barrier was designed to prevent the Red Army from crossing the Tisza.

View of the mound Zhabal during reconnaissance; there is a trench fortification from the Second World War. © Piotr Wlodarchak / PAP

The burial chambers were built of wood.

Each mound contained two wooden burial chambers. The rectangular pits were surrounded by small stakes about 5 cm in diameter; archaeologists counted eight in the oldest pits and twelve in the most recent ones. The bones lay on a rectangular rug laid directly on the floor of the cell. If the oldest pit of the Zhabal kurgan contained mixed and incomplete remains of a male specimen, then the skeleton of a man lying on his back with legs bent to the right was found in the latest pit, covered with a structure of 23 transverse beams. side. The dead were in their forties.

The latest burial chamber in the Zhabal barrow. © Piotr Wlodarchak / PAP

The presence of red ocher serves as a major clue

There was no furniture or spectacular objects in the cells, but, as one of the diggers, Piotr Włodarczak of the Institute of Archeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IAE PAN), explained, in the absence of grave goods, it was the red color of the rug and some of the bones that served as the main clue to the researchers. This coloration is indeed indicative of the use of ocher on the bodies of the dead, as he admitted to the Polish Press Agency. A natural pigment with a yellow-orange hue, ocher can also be red if it is obtained from a mixture of clay and hematite (iron oxide). Once considered a sacred color, it was used in funeral rituals.

Reconstruction of one of the graves. The man lies on his back, his knees are bent, his left hand is placed on the lower abdomen. Red ocher is applied to the upper part of the face. © MichaI sit downIo/pap

Men from Eastern Europe

Another clue: the size of the bones, which is unusual for the region. The men who then inhabited Vojvodina were about 1.60 meters tall, and the bones found in the graves belonged to men over 1.80 meters tall. For archaeologists, there are three factors that indicate that the buried men were definitely from other countries. More precisely, the construction of a vast mound, the use of ocher as part of the funeral ritual, and the large size of the deceased, apparently indicate that these people could belong to the tribes that usually lived in the eastern steppes, the Yamnaya.

Despite this convergence of indicators, the researchers preferred to wait for concrete data on the results of genetic analyzes. DNA analyzes confirmed that the dead were either themselves immigrants from Eastern Europe, or descendants of newcomers from this region. Isotope analysis of the bones also showed that their diet was based on meat consumption, suggesting the activity of breeders.

Funerary culture of the Pit peoples

At the turn of 4-3 millennia BC. Europe experienced a large influx of nomads from the Black Sea-Caspian steppe, a vast territory that stretched from the shores of the Black Sea to the north of the Caspian Sea and included, in particular, the southern steppes of modern Russia and Ukraine. The traces left by these nomads are associated by archaeologists with the Yamnaya culture, or “pit culture”. Hailing from all over the Urals, which corresponds to the eastern half – or Pontic part – of the steppe, the pitmen buried their dead in mounds called mounds. While they adopted a more sedentary lifestyle, the migrants who went west retained their religious practices. But with the advent of proto-state centers in the Bronze Age, they began to distinguish the elite, especially in their burial practices.

Funeral rites were preserved during migrations

Mounds were usually erected for the most important people in society, as evidenced by the many luxurious items usually found in burial chambers: weapons, jewelry, or decorated utensils. However, the two burial mounds of Shaikash and Zhabal contained none of this – a sign that the men who were buried there clearly did not belong to the elite, even if they were properly revered. However, since the other Pit burial mounds found in Vojvodina are located on the other side of the river, the sites of Saikash and Zhabal, located on the right bank of the Tisza, are currently the westernmost Pit burials that have been discovered. was found. Thus, they testify that this nomadic population succeeded in perpetuating their funerary rites to the limit of their migrations.

Leave a Comment