Fiery rituals among the Alanian population of the Saltov culture of the Seversky Donets Basin (based on materials from catacomb cemeteries)

Keywords: Saltov culture, Alans, cult of family hearth, funeral rite, charcoal

Abstract

One of the typical features of the funeral rite of the Alanian population of the Saltov culture is the sprinkling of the burial chamber floor with a layer of charcoal. Paired (male + female) burials on coal bedding S. A. Pletneva considered as burials of couples in which coal was a symbol of “posthumous marriage”. The presence of coal bedding in solitary burials in the catacombs Nos. 6, 9, 11, 13, 17 of Rubizhan and the catacombs Nos. 1, 10 of the Staro-Saltov burial grounds allows us to offer a different interpretation of this feature of the Alanian funeral rite. At these cemeteries, the dominant type of burial structure was the catacombs with a longitudinal chamber in relation to the dromos, which were used by the Sarmatian-Alans often for one-time rather than family burials. Thus, taking into account ethnographic materials on Ossetians, it can be suggested that the initial sprinkling of charcoal on the floor of the burial chamber was associated with the rite of endowing the dead person with a “part of the family fire”, which was to ensure the unity of the dead people with their living relatives. In this context, the sprinkling of charcoal from the family hearth on the floor of the burial chamber should be considered as a desire to provide the deceased with the necessary heat and light, and thus turn the grave into a full-fledged otherworldly home, which, if necessary, could accept new deceased relatives. This assumption is confirmed by paired and collective burials at the Upper-Saltov burial ground, in which coal bedding was made only under one of the people buried in the chamber. At the same time, bodies of people were laid on the coal bedding, regardless of their gender (male, female) and age (children, adults). The use of charcoal to dry the chamber floor in adverse weather conditions before placing the bodies of a deceased person cannot be excluded.

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Published
2020-12-14
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Articles