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Категория: Материалы VIII Симпозиума (2018 год)
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CHARACTERISTICS OF THE MANYCH STEPPE OF KALMYKIA AND ITS INFLUENCE ON PREHISTORIC AND MEDIEVАL SETTLEMENT PATTERNS 

ОСОБЕННОСТИ МАНЫЧСКИХ СТЕПЕЙ КАЛМЫКИИ И ИХ ВЛИЯНИЕ НА ЗАСЕЛЕНИЕ ТЕРРИТОРИИ В ПРЕИСТОРИЧЕСКОЕ ВРЕМЯ И ЭПОХУ СРЕДНЕВЕКОВЬЯ

E. Eckmeier1, M.А. Ochir-Goryaeva2,3, AG. Sitdikov3

Э. Экмайер1, М.А. Очир-Горяева2,3, А.Г. Ситдиков3 

1Department of Geography, Ludwig-Maximilians-University

(Germany, 80333, Muenchen, Luisenstrasse, 37)

2Kalmyk research Center Russian Academy of Sciences

(Russia, 358000, Elista, Ilishkina Str., 8)

3Chalikov Institute of Archaeology Tatarstan Academy of Sciences

(Russia, 420012, Kazan, Butlerova Str., 30) 

1Отделение географии Мюнхенский университет имени Людвига Максимилиана

(Германия, 80333, г. Мюнхен, Луизенштрассе, 37)

2Калмыцкий институт гуманитарных исследований РАН

(Россия, 358000, г. Элиста, ул. Илишкина, 8)

3Институт археологии им. А.Х. Халикова Академии наук Республики Татарстан

(Россия, 420012, г. Казань, ул. Бутлерова, 30)

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The article discusses the characteristics of the Kalmykian steppe, especially of the area between the rivers of Manych and Don. Two settlements dating to the Early Middle Age with stone structures have been excavated and studied by archaeologists, they are the earliest settlements documented in the area, which covers over a thousand square kilometres. We want to address the question if environmental factors had an impact on the settlements history of the Manych steppe.

В статье обсуждаются отличительные особенности Калмыкской степи, в частности района между реками Манычем и Доном. В ходе археологических работ здесь были раскопаны и описаны 2 поселения с каменными строениями, которые датируются эпохой Раннего Средневековья и представляют собой самые ранние известные поселения в районе на площади тысяча квадратных километров. Ставится вопрос о влиянии экологических факторов на историю формирования поселений в Манычской степи. 

The steppes of Kalmykia

Kalmykia can be divided into three geologically defined areas: the Caspian Lowlands in the East, with the Black Lands in the northern part and the Sarpa Lowlands in the southern part; the Yergeni Upland in the West; and the Kuma-Manych Depression in the South. The climate is continental, with about 200-350 mm precipitation per year (Zonn, 1995).

The steppes of Kalmykia belong to the Pontic-Kazakh Steppe Subregion, and they are characterized by a longitudinal zonation, in contrast to the main steppe areas further to the east (with the exception of the Daurian-Mongolian steppe subregion). Characteristic vegetation species of this steppe subregion are feather-grasses (Stipa spp.) and spring ephemeroids. The wild Saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica tatarica) can be found in limited areas of Kalmykia, mainly in the Black Lands. Another distinctive feature of this subregion is the sand steppe zone, which is related to the occurrence of sediments from the Caspian Sea. The geography of Kalmykia makes it the province with the largest grazing area in the Russian Federation (52,418 km2), which covers 70% of the area of the Republic. The grazing lands are located mainly in steppe areas, but also in semi-deserts, sand and salt deserts (Smelansky and Tishkov, 2012). The typical soils are «Chestnut soils», or Kastanozems, especially in the Kuma-Manych areas and the northern areas. The Caspian Lowlands are characterised by desert soils and soils influenced by salinization (Zonn, 1995).

The steppes of Kalmykia are today known for their severe state of degradation and desertification, mainly by overgrazing but also by inadequate arable use and irrigation, which affected large parts of the formerly fertile soils. In the late 1980s, 47,8% of the area of the Republic of Kalmykia was damaged by strong or even extremely severe degradation (Bananova, 1989; Bananova and Lazareva, 2014). The steppe was mainly used as a pasture for grazing livestock by the (nomadic) inhabitants of Kalmykia. The number of animals during the Soviet period (1990) reached about 3,200,000 sheep and 348,000 cattle. In 1913, the numbers were lower, about 1,000,000 sheep, 200,000 horses, 300,000 cattle, and 20,000 camels (Zonn, 1995). Before, the Black Lands were used only as seasonal pastures for winter grazing, because of the low amounts of snow, but already in the 19th century the Black Lands had to be pastured all year and in 1915 many areas already turned into sandy deserts (Pal’mov, 1932; Bakinova, 2000, cited in Lushchekina and Struchkov, 2001). The 1980s, however, saw the worst effects of overgrazing and irrigation, with 30-50,000 ha of land becoming desert per year (Rogovin, 1999; cited in Lushchekina and Struchkov, 2001).

Less information is available on the steppe areas south of the Manych river, or the Manych steppe. Here, the effects of degradation seem to be less severe, and croplands dominate, also because the average precipitation is higher. Our study area is situated in the south-western part of Kalmykia, near the borders to the regions of Rostov and Stavropol. Here, in the Gorodovikovskii Rayon, the annual precipitation reaches about 470 mm per year. We want to address the question why no settlements appeared in this area before the Early Medieval Ages. We also focus on the characteristics of the natural environments, and characteristics of the cultural layers in the excavated Medieval settlements. 

The development of urban settlements in the Manych steppe

The earliest urban sites in the Eastern European steppe zone date to the Early Medieval Epoch and, in particular, to the time of the Chasarian Kaganat (7th – 9th century). So far their number has been limited to some urban developments, located along the Don river and on the coast of the artificial Tsimlyanskoye lake. These are, e.g., the famous fortress Sarkel-Belaya Vezha (Artamonov, 1958), Pravoberezhnoye Tsimlyanskoye gorodishe (Lyapushkin, 1958; Pletneva, 1995; Flyorov, 1995), Kamyshovskoe gorodishe (Semyonov and Laryonok, 1999) and Semikarakorskoye gorodishe (Flyorov, 2010). Numerous urban developments in the adjacent areas of the forest-steppe areas of Podonye (the Don Basin valley) and Pridneprovye (the Dnepr basin valley), dating to the Chasarian epoch, are representative of the material cultures of the Don Alan, Bulgar, Oguz, Pecheneg, and Slavs. Those of the Crimean and the Northern Caucasus areas are associated with the cultures of local sedentary populations who were agrarians. Only the sites located between the Don and the Volga belonged to the Chasarian Kaganat, hence only these urban developments can be related to ethnic Chasarians.

During the last decade two new sites, which might be related to the Chasarian Kaganat, were discovered near the river Manych (Fig. 1). In 2008, the Bashanta-I gorodishe in the Gorodovikovskii Rayon (Republic of Kalmykia) was found. Here, elements of constructions made of white clam shell stone were found, and also tile fragments and fragments of amphorae of the Pontic type, parallel to those found in late Chersonesus on the Crimean peninsula (Jacobson, 1958, 1964). One of the stone blocks had a tamga cut into it. Two radiocarbon dates (622-655 at 68,3%; 600-662 at 95,4% and 672-782 at 90,6%), measured by the Leibnitz Laboratory of the Kiel University (Germany), date to the Early Middle Ages. Another Early Middle Age site was opened 8 km south-west of the Bashanta-I gorodishe on the bank of the river Egorlyk. The presence of a regular cultural layer, the remains of stone constructions made of hewn shell stone blocks, as well as the abundance and quality of the ceramics and amphorae of the Pontiac type indicated that the new site is a stationary settlement. Because of the identical character of its ceramics and of its building material with those of the previous site, it was designated Bashanta-II.

Fig. 1. The location of the settlements Bashanta-I- Bashanta-II. 

The early Middle Age settlements of Bashanta-I and Bashanta-II, located in the basin area between Manych and Egorlyk, have been the object of interdisciplinary archeological studies since 2015. So far these included archaeological excavations, identifying the settlement borders, topographical mapping of the sites, the organization and maintenance of the geographical information system (GIS) of the sites and adjoining areas, a geophysical examination, the soil analysis of cultural layer samples, and the technological and typological examination of amphora ceramics. During the excavations special attention was given to the examination of the area surrounding the sites, which resulted in identifying the traces of a direct water way that connected both settlements that still gathers water in the spring time. At present the whole area of the Gorodovikovskiy Rayon has been examined, which resulted in recovering four kurgan groups with burial mounds located in pairs that, according to finds made on the ground, date to the late Middle Age. Besides, the site of Bashanta-II gorodishe contained the brickwork of a late medieval Muslim funerary construction; such mazars made of raw bricks are dated to the 13th-14th century (Vasilyev, 2003).

No archaeological sites dating to the Bronze or Early Iron Age have been discovered in the area so far; which is a stark contrast to the archaeological data of the other parts of the territory of Kalmykia. According to the data available on the sites excavated in the steppes between the rivers Volga and Manych, 64,6% of them were those of the Bronze Age, 20,2% date to the Early Iron Age and only 8,5% of the sites date to the Middle Age (Ochir-Goryaeva, 2008). In contrast, in the Manych steppe the earliest of the sites recovered are the settlements of Bashanta-I and Bashanta-II that date to the early Middle Age epoch. It may be assumed that only six of the small kurgans located near Bashanta-II belong to the same period but also another kurgan, Bol´shoi Kurgan Go, which is 7 m high and with hewn shell stone traced in its earthwork, which is analogous to that recovered at the Bashanta sites. Therefore the facts that have been discussed so far show that the early medieval settlements with stone structures were built in an area that lacked any settlements in the earlier epochs.

This rather late arrival of settlements in the Manych steppe may be associated with its geographical conditions, in particular with high humidity and swamps that were endemic for the area in the Bronze Age and the early Iron Age. Only later, in early Middle Age period, the soil might have become drier, and the climate was more favourable for settlements in the area with its fertile soils, high grasses and abundance of water. Additional evidence comes from the archaeozoological material, i.e. the bones of animals recovered in the cultural layer of Bashanta II. The bone material represented exclusively kitchen remnants. Prevalent are the bones of domestic ungulates (99%): cattle (36%), small cattle (31%), horse (32%) and single bones of a camel, a pig and a dog. Of interest is the fact that twice as much meat of cattle and horses was used for food (68% in all) than mutton (only 31%). This may serve as another, even if indirect, piece of evidence of the humid character of the climate in the region which favours higher grass species and hence raising horses and cattle. 

Soils and sediments at Bashanta II

The soils at Bashanta II are very diverse. In the settlement area, near the valley, typical Kastanozem soils were described at the edges of the settlements. The dark topsoils reach depths of up to 40 cm, and below calcareous and sandy loess-like sediments represent the parent material of soil formation (27-44% sand). The soils in the settlement area are more heterogeneous, they contain many artefacts, are less dense, and partly calcareous up to the topsoil material.

The agriculturally areas next to the valley are covered by darker, more clay-rich soils. One profile was opened to a depth of 180 cm, it was completely free of carbonates. We presume that the area is affected by higher water-levels especially during spring, and that some kind of paleochannel might have connected this area to other lakesystems in more humid periods in the past, which is also visible in aerial images of the region. Further analysis and investigations are necessary to verify this hypothesis.

The cultural layer was investigated in further detail (Fig. 2). Analyses showed that the amounts of phosphates are rather high, compared to the parent material, which might be related to the abundance of bone material in the layers. In total the cultural layer had a depth of 80 cm. Ongoing analysis of 150 additional soil samples from different areas inside and outside of the excavation will deliver additional information on the sediment characteristics.

Fig. 2: Profile in Bashanta II showing the cultural layer (30-110 cm depth) under recently deposited lighter and calcareous sediments. 

The archeological excavations is part of the state assignment № АААА-А17-117030910094-3 «The Volga-Manych Steppe at the Crossroads of Civilizations» (2017-2021) and Republic of Tatarstan state program «Promotion of the National Identity of the Tatar People» (2014-2019).

Археологические раскопки ведутся в рамках госзадания № АААА-А17-117030910094-3 «Волго-манычские степи на перекрестке цивилизаций» (2017-2021) и государственной программы РТ «Сохранение национальной идентичности татарского народа (2014-2019). 

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