Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Saka "Golden Woman" Reconstructions

Two years ago, a new, undisturbed find of a wealthy Saka woman from the 4th to 5th centuries BC in western Kazakhstan made the news. Finding an unlooted kurgan is always great news. So many of them were looted in both distant and recent history (in modern cases, many looters melt the gold down, which means all cultural information is lost). A week ago, images of many of the artifacts in her grave, along with reconstructions of some things (like her clothes and her comb) were published here. Take a look through them! It's pretty awesome.
  The claim that her symbols represent a belief in Zoroastrianism confused me. Maybe something was lost in translation, but worshiping a sky/sun god is kind of an ancestral Indo-European thing (discussed in The Horse, The Wheel, and Language), so it should by no means be indicative of Zoroastrianism over other religions in that category.
  Side note 1: The tall hat would have been made of felt over a wooden frame. I don't know more details than that; it's something that was briefly noted in Warrior Women by Davis-Kimball.
  Side note 2: The "Golden Man" is also a woman. But because the archeologists in charge of reporting her operated in a highly patriarchal paradigm, they failed to report it, even though some of them suspected it. It ruffled their feathers that she was buried with a warrior's accoutrements. Davis-Kimball also recounts how she independently figured it out and the reception of her findings in her book.
  One thing I should note before anyone rushes off to recreate her outfit: just because someone is buried in something, doesn't mean they would have worn it in life. It could be funerary clothing. Someone noted on this facebook page that a hat like that is impractical, so why would someone living on the steppes wear it? Couldn't it get blown away by the wind? All I have to offer to counter that is that there are depictions of steppe women wearing tall hats while alive in their goldwork. See this post for one example. However, it's still possible that they were specifically for ceremonial purposes, rather than for everyday use.

Anthony, D.W., 2007, The Horse, The Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, Princeton University Press, pp. 553.
Davis-Kimball, J., and Behan, M., 2002, Warrior Women: An Archaeologist's Search for History's Hidden Heroines, Warner Books, pp. 268. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Sarmatians et al. in the SCA

  I've started hearing from more and more SCAdians with Sarmatian personas. I think it would be nice if we all had a way to contact each other and share what we know. Maybe even start a household. :)
  So if you have a Sarmatian or other Iranian steppe nomad persona and are willing to be included on this list, could you e-mail me (or comment here with) your SCA name (or mundane if you're trying to decide or want both listed), kingdom, and local group? If you have more specific persona info, (century, tribe, geographic area...) you can opt to give me that as well.
  If you've e-mailed me in the past and I haven't accidentally deleted the conversation during an inbox purge, I'll contact you separately to ask. But if you haven't heard from me by this Monday (August 25), assume I lost it and contact me again. If you've commented on a previous blog entry but not included your e-mail address, I probably won't have a way to reach you, so please also comment here again.
  I haven't decided what the best way to make a contact circle would be. I could hyperlink e-mails here (with your permission). We could start a Yahoo or Google group. What's everybody's preference?

  • SCA name: Aritê gunê Akasa
    Mundane: Jess Miller-Camp
    Tribe: Undecided
    Time: Undecided
    Place: Undecided
    Kingdom: Calontir
    Local: Shire of Shadowdale
  •  SCA name: Undecided
    Mundane: Csenge Zalka
    Tribe: Undecided
    Time: Undecided
    Place: Undecided
    Kingdom: Middle Kingdom
    Local: Barony of Red Spears 
  • SCA Name: Storanê Sauromatis
    Mundane: Carol Botteron
    Tribe: Undecided
    Time: Undecided
    Place: Undecided
    Kingdom: East
    Local: Barony of Carolingia
  • SCA name: Maiôsara Sauromatis
    Mundane name: Sarah Mitchner
    Tribe: Roxolani
    Time: 5th century
    Place: Tomis
    Kingdom: Middle
    Local: Barony of the Flame
  • Sarmatian Name: Undecided
    Real Name: Holly Herda
    Tribe: Iazyges
    Time: Late 2nd Century AD
    Place: Sarmatia (Hungary) / Britain
    Location: Texas, USA
  • SCA Name: Minythia
    Mundane: Rachel Baltz
    Tribe: Scythian/Sarmatian (intermarriage)
    Time: 6th Century BCE
    Place: Nomadic- Don River to Altai Mountains
    Kingdom: Caid
    Local: Barony of Calafia

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sarmatian-related Objects in the British Museum

  I was actually able to find some Sarmatian-related things in the British Museum! Yay! Many of them were artifacts from sedentary cultures that were either traded from or influenced by their steppe neighbors, be they Sarmatian or contemporaries of the Sarmatians.

  First up is something a sedentary culture picked up from either the Sarmatians or a contemporary steppe culture. They liked to sew gold plaques on their clothing. There were some in a case of Parthian items from the 1st century AD.
  There are tiny holes on the edges for the thread. Not pictured above these were some gold leaves mimicking early Greek head wreaths. The label notes that the wreath was probably placed on a corpse, so in this case the gold plaques may have been a funerary-specific thing.

 There were also a type of small, three-sided arrowhead which were apparently indicative of Central Asian steppe cultures before some sedentary ones decided they were awesome and started using them themselves. They were apparently quick and easy to make and good at piercing armor. They were fired out of recurved bows—also introduced form the steppes.
 These are from a soldier's cemetary (Deve Hüyük) from the mid-6th to 4th century BC in northern Syria, which was then part of the Achaemenid Empire.

  This horse bit is from the same site as the arrowheads. Nothing was said about whether the style was native Achaemenid or steppe-influenced, but I've included it here since it's contemporary and may be of interest to equestrians.
  I wouldn't advise actually using these on your horses, though. The label noted that the knobs on the snaffle, while allowing control with very small movements, would be uncomfortable for the horse.

  They also found items in at least one female grave there. Bronze mirrors were also ritually buried with priestesses in steppe nomad kurgans. It used to have a wooden handle. The bone tube used to have a lid and contained some sort of makeup. The other items are a cloak brooch and bracelets with stylized calf's head motifs.
  Anyone know what the burial practices of an Achaemenid garrison would have been?  Would they bury wives of soldiers there as well? Would they have had a religious leader there? Or did women sometimes fight in their culture like the Sarmatians? The labels didn't say if these were found alongside martial artifacts or not.

  Fast-forward in time to the Sassanian Empire—the last Iranian empire before the spread of Islam. They made seal stamps out of various minerals. People, animals (real and mythical), plants, and inanimate objects were all possible images on the seals. ...So were tamgas. :)
  The BM display only had the one tamga seal (no provenance given), but you can see quite a few more in a private Austrian collection on this website.

   And, finally, there was the Ribchester Hoard. The hoard itself is too early to belong to any of the Iazyges Sarmatians that were stationed there, but other, later Roman artifacts were displayed in the same case. And some of them looked to be lifted from the Sarmatians. One of the re-enactment groups I'll talk about soon discussed how Romans tended to absorb weapon and armor styles from the people they conquered.
  There were a number of weapons in this case—swords, daggers, etc...—and one of them is a ring pommel sword. Ring pommel swords were popular among Sarmatian from the 2nd century to the 2nd century AD (mentioned in the Osprey book on them). They were also used by other Central Asian peoples, though it doesn't seem like they were very popular until later according to the discussion on this forum. About the time the Iazyges were first drafted into the Roman army, ring pommel sword became popular amongst Romans.
  This sword is from the 2nd-3rd century AD, Pevensey, East Sussex. It was found with coins from Emporer Commodus' reign (176-192AD). It was buried in the ground intact. The wood and leather scabbard(?) (I think they may have meant to say grip there...) rotted away, but the tin-coated bronze pommel is intact.

  I'll talk more about the Ribchester Hoard and the Sarmatian ala there in an upcoming post on the Ribchester Roman Museum.

Quick Update

I am working on the next few posts. I have quite a few I want to get out! I still have a couple from my Europe trip, plus now a quick archeology news share and updates based on some of the books I've been reading while on planes, trains, and buses in both Europe and the paleo dig in Wyoming. I've just been getting more work stuff square away, but my goal is to get one out by tomorrow afternoon.
Also, I've made a last-minute decision to go to Cattle Raids this weekend. Anyone want to meet up? I think I'll load the Roman re-enactor videos (complete with cavalry and horseback archery!) back onto my camera and take it, so you can get a sneak peak if you find me. :) I'll be wearing some...uh...totally non-period lime green Thai pants...'cause I ruined my only pair of period pants trying to resize them...-_-* At least they're linen?