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|The prehistory of the Volgaic Finno-Ugrians: the archaeological record|
From the Neolithic to the Iron Age
Owing to the relative abundance of archaeological finds the prehistory of the Mari and the Mordvins is fairly well known. Archaeological studies have been concerned not only with the ancestors of the Mari and the Mordvins, but also with extinct Volgaic Finno-Ugrian peoples such as the Merja and the Muroma. It has by now been established that the ancestors of the Volgaic Finno-Ugrians are to be sought among the Djakovo, the Gorodets and the Ananino population and their descendants, Pjanobor and Azelino. This section will therefore focus on these archaeological cultures, with the aim of drawing as complete a picture as possible of the prehistory of the Volgaic Finno-Ugrians.
A brief overview of the research into these cultures seems in order. Finno-Ugrian prehistoric studies have yielded a wealth of new information in recent decades. Earlier proposals, locating the Uralian homeland to Western Siberia and the European slopes of the Northern Uralian Mts in the Neolithic have been replaced by suggestions that the ancestors of the Balto-Finns had already colonized their present-day homeland in the Mesolithic. The latter view has been traditionally favoured by Finn and Estonian scholars, whilst the advocates of a Uralian-Western Siberian homeland are mostly to be found among Hungarian and Russian prehistorians. Moora (1956) linked the appearance of the Finno-Ugrians in the Baltic to the Pit-Comb pottery culture of the 3rd millennium BC, while Itkonen (1961) had suggested that the Uralian homeland had extended as far as the Baltic Sea. Meinander (1984) assumed that the Baltic had been colonized by groups from the east sometime during the Mesolithic. Nunez (1987) and Makkay (1990) both investigated how, following the retreat of the ice-sheet, the present-day forest zone had been gradually settled by southern groups. The fascination of this theme is reflected by the paper read by Sammallahti (1995) at the Finno-Ugrian Congress held in Jyväskylä. Veres (1991) too has published a paper in which he proposed that the location of the Uralian-Western Siberian homeland should be modified according to the new palynological findings. It follows from the above that during the Neolithic, which in the western areas of the forest zone means the Pit-Comb pottery and the Volga-Kama culture in the east, the ancestors of the Uralian peoples had been dispersed throughout the entire forest zone. In terms of linguistics, this period can be regarded as the final phase of the parent speech community, with local dialects existing side-by-side within this linguistic unity (Korhonen 1984, 60-61), implying that the Uralian parent speech community did not evolve in the present-day forest zone.
The above theories have a bearing on the prehistory of the Volga Finns insofar as the Middle Volga region was the contact zone between the two major cultures of the Neolithic: the Pit-Comb pottery and the Volga-Kama culture. This dual influence and double bind influenced the ethnogenesis of the Volga Finno-Ugrians from this period. The linguistic evidence would suggest that the Proto-Mordvins developed contacts with the west, with the ancestors of the Balto-Finns, whilst the ancestors of the Cheremis came into close contact with the Proto-Permian population. These contacts and interrelations can be archaeologically traced from the Neolithic to the ethnogenesis of the Cheremis and the Mordvins (second half of the 1st millennium AD).
The population of the Ural-Kama culture of the 4th and 3rd millennium BC can, for the greater part, be identified with a community of Uralian groups that spoke a more or less similar tongue. Two origins have been proposed for this culture: Chernetsov (1953, 7) derives this culture from the Kelteminar culture that was distributed in the region of Lake Aral, while Smirnov (1957, 21-23) and Raushenbach (1956, 147-149) derive it from the local Mesolithic. The various find assemblages of the Ural-Kama culture from the European distribution were first assigned to an independent group by Bader (1956, 10-20), who labelled this group the Kama culture. A fairly high number of Kama sites have since been identified in the Middle Volga region also, and the name of the culture was therefore changed to Volga-Kama culture. Local groups of the Volga-Kama culture began to appear in the second phase, no doubt in part under influence from contact with neighbouring cultures and population groups. The Volga-Kama culture had its closest and longest ties with its western neighbour, the Balakhna group of the Volga-Oka culture. The Balakhna group expanded eastwards in the first half of the 3rd millennium BC, reaching as far as the Kazan bend of the Volga and penetrating also the Vjatka-Vetluga mesopotamia (Nikitin 1978, 113-114).
The Volga-Kama culture was followed by the Volosovo culture on the territory that is one of the prime candidates for the ethnogenesis of the Volgaic Finno-Ugrians. Several hypotheses have been proposed for the origins of this culture. Bader (1953), Tret’jakov (1966) and Khalikov (1969) derive the Volosovo culture from the Volga-Kama culture, and the departure of the Balto-Finnic population from the Finno-Ugrian homeland can be linked to the westward migration of the Volosovo culture. According to another view the Volosovo culture evolved from the Volga-Oka (or the Pit-Comb pottery) culture (Tsvetkova 1970; Krajnov 1973). Krajnov later modified his views; the clarification of the stratigraphical sequence of various sites in the Upper Volga region also enabled a precise definition of the Early Neolithic culture of the Upper Volga region (Krajnov–Hotinskij 1977). According to Krajnov the fusion of the Neolithic culture of the Upper Volga region with the Volga-Oka culture led to the emergence of the Volosovo culture in the Upper Volga and in the Oka region, while in the Volga-Kama and the Middle Volga region the Volosovo culture emerged from the Volga-Kama and the Balakhna variant of the Volga-Oka culture. It would appear that the Volosovo culture can be dated between the mid-3rd millennium and the first quarter of the 2nd millennium BC (Krajnov 1981, 8-9), that marks the beginning of the Bronze Age in this region. Five regional groups of the Volosovo culture have been distinguished: the Middle Volga, the Oka, the Upper Volga, the western and the northwestern. The Kazan culture evolved from the Middle Volga group, while the Pozdniakovo culture developed from the Oka group.
These developments, however, were preceded by a series of other momentous events in the Volga-Oka mesopotamia and in the Middle Volga region: the intrusion of various tribes – the Fatjanovo, Balanovo and Abashevo cultures – engaged in animal husbandry from the south. The Fatjanovo culture was distributed in the eastern and central areas of the Volga-Oka mesopotamia, but Fatjanovo sites have also been reported from the Upper Moskva and Kljazma region. These were the first population groups in this area to be engaged in animal husbandry (based primarily on sheep and pig breeding). Krajnov (1972, 251-252) has derived the Fatjanovo culture from the Battle Axe culture that in his view had disseminated from the area between the Dnieper and the Vistula. There were no prolonged contacts between the Fatjanovo and the Volosovo population – only in the Kostroma Volga region has a small-scale intermingling been demonstrated (Gurina 1963, 133, 139).
The Balanovo population first encountered the Proto-Finno-Ugrians at roughly the same time as the Fatjanovo culture, at the turn of the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC, when the Balanovo population migrated to the right bank of the Volga, to the areas between the Oka and the Kama confluence. Anthropologically, the Balanovo and the Fatjanovo population shows marked differences. Bader (1964, 114) and Khalikov (1969, 191-192, 281) both assumed these two cultures to have evolved in neighbouring territories, in the Middle Dnieper region. In the Middle Volga region the Balanovo culture merged with the indigenous population to the extent that a new culture, labelled Chirkovo-Sejma was distinguished.
The sites of this culture show a concentration in the Lower Oka region and along the Volga in the Sura and Vetluga confluence, with some sites lying in the Upper Volga region, as well as in areas somewhat farther from the Volga in the Mari Republic (Khalikov 1969, 205). The Chirkovo-Sejma culture survived into the third quarter of the 2nd millennium and its disappearance can be linked to the expansion of the Pozdniakovo culture to the Lower Oka territory.
The descendants of the Chirkovo-Sejma culture survived in the Kazan culture and, later, in the Ananino culture, implying that the duality of the Volosovo period continued in the latter half of the 2nd millennium BC. The culture of one part of the Middle Volga population shared numerous similarities with their eastern relatives, while other groups had closer ties with the west.
The last of the southern peoples to appear in the Middle Volga region was the Abashevo culture in the mid-2nd millennium BC; however, they were unable to carve out a permanent settlement territory for themselves (the archaeological finds too reflect constant clashes with the local population). The Abashevo sites are scattered over a large territory, with concentrations along the Sura and the Svijaga, in the Vjatka-Vetluga mesopotamia, and in the Upper Belaja and Upper Ural region in the Uralian Mts. In spite of the constant clashes with the local population, Abashevo metallurgy nonetheless exerted a lasting influenced on the indigenous culture.
By the mid-2nd millennium the Pozdniakovo culture had appeared in the Middle and Lower Oka region (Popova 1970, 162). The culture can be traced until the early 1st millennium, its early phases can be correlated with the Balanovo and the Chirkovo-Sejma culture. There is a general consensus that the Pozdniakovo culture evolved on a Volosovo basis; only Popova (1970, 177) has argued for an evolution from immigrant Timber-grave groups in the Volga-Oka mesopotamia. Her arguments can be rejected on the grounds that the early ‘Timber-grave’ traits of the Pozdniakovo culture faded later, suggesting that influences from the south – that could be simply cultural or the actual settlement of smaller Timber-grave groups engaged in animal husbandry – were gradually absorbed by the local population (Bader 1970, 62; Tret’jakov 1966, 131-135).
At the close of the 2nd millennium BC textile impressed pottery appeared in the Finno-Ugrian community from the Baltics to the territory of present-day Kazan region. This is generally attributed to lively interrelations between various cultures and population groups (Tret’jakov 1966, 135), even though the Middle Volga region still acted as a divide within the Finno-Ugrian community. In the east, the textile impressed pottery only extended as far as the Kazan culture, and did not spread to the Kama and the Ural Mts, appearing rather late in the Kazan culture, in which it never became typical (Khalikov 1980, 39).
Similarly to the Pozdniakovo culture, the Kazan culture too flourished in the 16th-9th centuries BC. Evolving from the easternmost branch of the Volosovo culture, the Kazan culture migrated westwards, assimilating the Chirkovo-Sejma groups. The diverse elements that contributed to the makeup of the Kazan culture are reflected in the divergences – most noticeable in pottery – between the western and eastern groups of the culture (Khalikov 1980, 34-40).
The Pozdniakovo and the Kazan cultures were the predecessors of the three cultures (Djakovo, Gorodets and Ananino) from which the Volgaic Finno-Ugrians evolved, and in the following I shall discuss these at greater length.
One of the most important historical phenomena in the period between the Volga-Kama period and the Kazan culture is the cultural watershed in the Middle Volga region, that marked a divide between east and west, with the ancestors of individual Finno-Ugrian peoples evolving in different cultural milieus. This phenomenon may perhaps be invoked to explain the linguistic divide between the Mordvins and the Mari – assuming, in this case, that the ancestors of the Mari lived to the east, and the ancestors of the Mordvins to the west of this divide: two neighbouring, but nonetheless separate groups.
The Djakovo culture and its role in the ethnogenesis of the Volgaic Finno-Ugrians
The Djakovo culture is one of the oldest known Finno-Ugrian cultures, its hillforts have been investigated since the last century. The dating of the culture has remained controversial. Spicyn (1903, 111-142) assigned the culture to the 6th-8th centuries AD, suggesting that some sites may have survived into the 9th century. On the basis of his excavations in two hillforts, Gorodtsov (1926; 1934) dated the culture between rather broad limits: the Starshaja Kashira hillfort was assigned to the 7th-4th centuries BC and the Ogubskoje site to the 1st-5th centuries AD. His dates were adopted by other archaeologists for dating later finds. This chronology was only modified after Tret’jakov (1941) and Bader (1947; 1950) had published the finds from their excavations in the 1930s. Gorjunova (1961) and Tret’jakov (1966) continued the research into the Djakovo culture; Tret’jakov (1966, 146) assigned the finds from the third fourth of the 1st millennium AD to the late Djakovo culture and regarded a specific type of unornamented pottery as its hallmark. In his opinion the ethnic composition of the culture changed at this time, with Baltic elements becoming predominant in the western areas of the Volga-Oka mesopotamia (Tret’jakov 1966, 294). In contrast, Gorjunova (1961, 45) considered the culture to have retained its essentially Finno-Ugrian traits, and she identified the Vladimir-Moskva and Jaroslav-Kostroma groups with the Merja. In her opinion the culture had survived until the close of the 1st millennium AD. Concurrently with the publication of these studies, intensive fieldwork was begun in the Moskva basin and in the Upper Volga region; the findings of the excavations on the Troitski hillfort were published in MIA volumes 156 and 184, and in 1974 a separate collection of studies was devoted to the Djakovo culture (Smirnov 1974b). And while a consensus had evolved as far as the beginning of the culture was concerned, opinions differed widely as to its end, often with differences of four to five centuries. Rozenfel’dt (1982) devoted a separate study to the upper time limit of the culture.
In 1932-1933, prior to the construction of the Moskva canal and the Ivankovo reservoir, Bader conducted a series of excavations in the Kalinin province. One particularly distinctive group of finds were the so-called Djakovo type clay weights that had perhaps been used as loom weights (Bader 1950, 104). Most pottery fragments bore textile impressions. The Sannikovo hillfort yielded vessels whose form and fabric corresponded to the textile impressed pottery, but were undecorated. Bader considered this ware to be chronologically later.
Tret’jakov too conducted a series of field surveys and excavations in the Volga region during the 1930s, along a 350 km long section between the Nerl confluence and Jaroslav, and from his observation he tried to reconstruct the migrations of the culture, suggesting that in the mid-1st millennium BC the Djakovo culture had drifted from the Mologa and Sheksna mesopotamia to the Upper Volga region, to the area above the Mologa confluence. Concurrently, the population of the Kostroma plainland was absorbed by the population inhabiting the coastal areas of Lake Nero and Lake Pleshchejevo. The population of the Upper Volga region, inhabiting the area above the Mologa confluence had, until the close of the 1st millennium BC, built small hillforts; Tret’jakov himself had identified a dozen such sites. The animal bone samples from some of these hillforts showed a predominance of horse bones. The primacy of horse breeding can be attributed to influences from the south. He concluded that the Djakovo population was mixed: the finds reflected divergences between the upper and the lower sections of the river in the Upper Volga region. The pottery from the hillforts along the Kostroma section shows affinities with the pottery wares from the Vetluga and Kama regions, and tend to more squat (often provided with a collar) than the vessels from the uppermost Volga section. Their ornamentation corresponds to the local, Upper Volga wares, with an absence of motifs that can be derived from ‘bomb-shaped’ vessels. Another difference is the structure of the buildings uncovered in the hillforts: log cabin type buildings predominate in the Volga section above the Mologa confluence, while semi-subterranean houses erected around a framework of vertical posts characterize the sites along the lower section (Tret’jakov 1941, 20-25, 30, 46). This observation obviously applies to the period before log cabins – mostly under Slavic influence – became common over the entire distribution of the culture in the 10th-11th centuries AD.
Tret’jakov’s excavations in the 1930s also enriched our knowledge of the mortuary practices of the Djakovo culture: the discovery of a
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