Friday, June 15, 2012

The Incredible Khvalynsk Culture of the Lower Volga

Late Khvalynsk?

Ok, it's been one week since my last blog post and one week since the release of Episode 6 of the History of Europe Podcast the Rise of the Indo-Europeans. Unfortunately, I don't think I'm going to get around to producing another podcast tonight to release in time. Fortunately though, the stuff not going into the podcast is totally blogworthy and we shan't waste the opportunity to post them forthwith.

The Khvalynsk Culture didn't quite make the cut into the podcast though their successor culture the Yamna did. This is because they are a pre-Proto-Indo-European culture that sits on the outskirts of the eastern most front of the Europe that we're covering here on the blog and with the podcast. But my failure to include them in the podcast is not an indication of their unworthiness. It is quite the contrary, it is my own shortcomings as a speaker to get an audience as excited about the Khvalynsk as their history demands.

The Khvalynsk Culture was located in the Saratov Oblast, famous for among many others, the Billionaire owner of Chelsea FC, Roman Abramovich. So, it is conceivable that this 5th millennium BC culture would in a roundabout way produce the owner of the Champions League winners. Or, this is sensationalism aimed solely at search engine optimization. You can make the call...

Here you can see the difference
between the earlier Khvalynsk and
later Sredny Stog cultures that
occupied Western Russia in the
Chalcolithic period of European
History.
Shameless tactics aside the Khvalynsk Culture was fascinating. The Khvalynsk were early forerunners in the use of domesticated horses and burying their important dead in kurgans. If you remember from previous posts or are a listener to the podcast, you'll know that a kurgan is a burial mound made popular  with the arrival of the Indo-Europeans. The burial of their dead also marks a transition from an egalitarian society to a more stratified one. Some of the graves contain far better arrays of grave goods than others, but their was yet to be a special marker for a chief or ruler of a community. They were also early adopters of the metal technologies. Many of their graves have metal ornamental jewelry. Conspicuously absent though are metal tools or weapons, suggesting that either the Khvalynsk had not discovered the incredible usage of metal, were only advanced enough smiths to make jewelry or imported the metal objects from other cultures surrounding it.

Marija Gimbutas, the archeologist we relied on heavily for episode 6 of the podcast, visited the Khvalynsk site herself and denoted a grave she believed to be a chief. This grave contained a number of highly crafted flint weapons and a number of beads. In addition to the beads there were the teeth of a number of wild animals, some of which are difficult to extract. The difficulty in which these teeth were cut out of an animal after death suggests that some of the teeth might have been valuable enough as trade items. Whether or not they served as a proto-currency though is impossible to tell. The Khvalynsk would eventually devolve and reemerge as the Yamna culture and to a lesser extent, the Sredny Stog Culture, both of which episode 7 of the podcast will delve into.

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