Amulets Made of Birds of Prey Claws From the Verkhnii Saltiv Burial Ground Catacombs

Keywords: Saltiv-Maiak culture, Alans, amulets, birds of prey claws, cult of heavenly fire

Abstract

This work introduces into scientific circulation a collection of birds of prey claws and their bronze imitations found in the catacombs of the early medieval burial ground near Verkhnii Saltiv village . Amulets made of the hawk family claws (steppe eagle — catacomb no. 30 BCM-IV, golden eagle — catacomb no. 71 BCM-IV) were found in the fourth section of the burial ground catacombs. Bronze amulets imitating the birds of prey claws are represented by 13 specimens originating from catacombs no. 15, 36, 60 BCM-I and catacombs no. 13, 37, 67, 96, 99, 119, 137 BCM-IV. Claw-shaped bronze amulets, depending on the extent they repeat their prototypes, are represented by three types: Type 1 (8 items) is represented by products that realistically reproduce the birdss claw, due to the fact that the eyelet for hanging the amulet imitates the joint at the base of the claw. Type 2 (4 items) is represented by examples that repeat the shape of the claw, but are equipped with a rounded flat eyelet, typical for most Saltiv bronze amulets. Type 3 is represented by a single item in the shape of a simple bent plate repeating the form of the claw with a punched hole in the upper part. Complexes, in which amulets made of claws of birds and their bronze imitations are found, are dated from the end of the first quarter of  IX century (catacomb no. 30) — second half of IX century (cat. no. 15 BCM-I, cat. no. 99, 119, 137 BCM-IV). In most cases the amulets were included to the teenagers’ implements. Only in the catacombs no. 96 and no. 99 they were found in the burials of young women. The amulets are often placed close to the human waist at the right pelvic bone. Only in the catacomb no. 13 the amulet was found close to the chest of a buried teenager and in the catacomb no. 60 it was at the head. The inclusion of bird claws and their imitations in the costume was supposed to provide protection for a human against the impact of  supernatural forces and to obtain certain qualities of a certain bird of prey (sharp-sightedness, speed etc.). Due to the fact that in Ossetian and wider Indo-European mythology, birds were markers of the upper world, these amulets should be considered as symbols of the sun, heavenly fire, and their wearing should be associated with the cult of the sun.

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Published
2020-06-22
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Publication of Archaeological Material