Pit-Grave Culture

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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.


References in periodicals archive ?
However, the genetic finds may also lend weight to a contrary proposal, the researchers add: that nomads from the central Eurasian Yamna culture spread Indo-European languages shortly after they invented wheeled vehicles approximately 5,500 years ago (SN: 2/25/95, p.