Cuman Chief’s Trophy from Chynhul Barrow: Reuse, Ritual Functions, and Symbolism

  • Oleksandr Halеnko Institute of History, the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine
  • Yurii Rassamakin Institute of Archaeology, the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine
  • Warren T. Woodfin Queens College, City University of New York
  • Renata Holod University of Pennsylvania


This article consists of two parts, summarizing the authors’ findings from the past decade of research on the well-known and partially published complex of the Chungul Kurgan.

The present article lays out the phases of the ritual of the burial of the Polovtsian leader as reconstructed by the authors on the basis of the detailed documentation made at the time of the excavation in 1981. Six phases of the burial process can be identified from archaeological evidence. These are as follows. (1) The digging of a ditch that encircles the sacred space for the burial around the perimeter of the previous Bronze Age kurgan. (2) The raising of earthen ramparts in a circle within this ditch, with a bowl-like contour sloping gently toward the center. As soon as the construction of the ramparts was completed, phase (3), the digging of the burial pit began in the center of this enclosed space. This pit, containing the wooden coffin of the deceased as well as supplies of meat and drink, was oriented east-west and closed with a wooden cover. Around the perimeter of the pit, five sacrificial horses were laid out and subsequently sealed within a layer of clay. (4) The erection of a small ritual platform over the level of the horse burials. (5) The erection of a larger ritual platform within the ramparts, which also entailed the construction of a paved floor and an apse with white limestone brought from afar. Probable remains of sacrifices, including a horse skull, the skeleton of a large dog, and a human skeleton, are associated with this phase. (6) The filling and sealing of the kurgan into its final, truncated-cone shape.

The second part of the article, which will appear in the next issue, will treat individual imported artifacts and the nature of their reuse in the context of the burial.


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