Pit-Grave Culture

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Pit-Grave Culture


the general name for the archaeological cultures dating from the Aeneolithic Period to the early Bronze Age (third millennium B.C.) that were widespread in the Caspian and Black Sea steppes. Remains of the Pit-Grave culture were first discovered by V. A. Gorodtsov in 1901 on the Severskii Donets River. The culture encompassed an area stretching from the southern Urals in the east to the Dnestr River in the west and from Ciscaucasia in the south to the Middle Volga Region in the north.

Nine local variants, corresponding to related tribal groups and archaeological cultures, have been identified: the Volga-Ural, Ciscaucasian, Don, Severskii Donets, Azov, Crimean, Lower Dnieper, Northwestern, and Southwestern variants. The principal unifying feature of all the variants is the burial ritual, characterized by flexed burials beneath mounds (the mounds are the most ancient found to date).

The Pit-Grave culture can be subdivided into three periods. During the first (early) period (first half and middle of the third millennium B.C.), the burial ritual was the same over the entire territory of the culture’s distribution: the body was placed on its back, with the head facing east, and was covered with ocher. Artifacts include pointed-bottom and flat-bottomed high-necked vessels, decorated with incised, punctate, and stamped designs, ornaments made of shell and bone, and stone articles, including zoomorphic “scepters”; metal was virtually nonexistent. Settlements consisted of the temporary huts of the stock raisers. Even as early as the first period, some Pit-Grave tribes penetrated the Danube area and the Balkan Peninsula.

During the second period (third quarter and beginning of the fourth quarter of the third millennium B.C.), several local variants emerged. In the Black Sea steppe region, a number of new features appeared, which existed alongside the older ones; they included burials with the dead placed on the side with the head facing west, ovate vessels with short necks, flat-bottomed pots, ornamentation with cord impressions, and copper articles (knives, awls). In the west, some tribes became sedentary and formed permanent settlements (Mikhailovka settlement, Skelia Quarry, and others on the lower Dnieper).

During the third period (end of the third to beginning of the second millennia B.C.), the local differences increased, and the archaic rituals and inventory were preserved only in the Volga-Ural variant. Farther west, the dead were not always covered with ocher, and there was no apparent orientation of the head; moreover, the burial pits had projections, the burials were flat-grave burials, and the pottery was flat-bottomed. Large copper articles appeared (wedge-shaped axes, lugged hammers), along with special complexes of bone ornaments with hammer-like pins and carts with solid wheels. At the end of the third period, the Pit-Grave culture disappeared because of the increased local differences and the spread of new cultures, chiefly the Catacomb culture.

The descendants of the Pit-Grave tribes in the east played an important role in the development of the Timber-Frame culture, while in the west they were assimilated by the tribes of the Catacomb, Middle Dnieper, and Usatovo cultures. The economy of the Pit-Grave tribes was based on nomadic and seminomadic stock raising. Land cultivation, along with pastured stock raising, played a secondary role in the river valleys. The descendants of the Pit-Grave culture became part of several ethnic groups of the Indo-European language family. (SeeMIKHAILOVKA SETTLEMENT; CATACOMB CULTURE; TIMBER-FRAME CULTURE; MIDDLE DNIEPER CULTURE; and USATOVO CULTURE.)


Merpert, N. Ia. Drevneishie skotovody Volzhsko-Ural’skogo mezhdurech’ia. Moscow, 1974.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The Pit-Grave culture spread on huge territory of Eastern Europe steppe from Kazakhstan and south Ural to the Dniestr region.
The paleoclimatic conditions of the Pit-Grave culture are different to the modem climate.
This added the original character of the Ural group of the Pit-Grave culture and historical area (Chernykh 2002, 7 ff).
In the second part of the 1980s the Pit-Grave culture research became well targeted and systematic.
In spite of the long-term search only one large settlement of the Pit-Grave culture (located on the Turganik River) has been discovered in the Ural region.
Thus, the burials constitute the main source for studying the Pit-Grave culture of the Bronze Age population in the steppes of Eastern Europe.
Merpert singled out 3 groups of sites within the Volga-Ural variant of the Pit-Grave culture and historical area (Merpert 1974).
Periodization and chronology of the Pit-Grave culture
In Orenburg oblast during the last 15 years archaeologists worked with the Pit-Grave culture periodization using radiocarbon dating and other natural scientific methods.
(1) So [sup.14]C dating combined with paleopedological and archaeological data allowed us to specify and to prove the three stage periodization of the Volga-Ural Pit-Grave culture: 1--the Early (Repin) stage, II--the Developed stage with 2 horizons (A and B), and III--the Late (Poltavka) stage.
The spread of local production copper articles was a distinctive feature of the Pit-Grave culture. This was the phenomenon, which archaeologists consider to be the beginning of the Early Bronze Age in steppe of Eastern Europe.
Thus, considering the radiocarbon dating the chronology of the Early stage of the Pit-Grave culture in the Volga-Ural region was determined 4000-3300 BC.