ZINAT PRESS

Nomads of the Eurasian Steppes in the Early Iron Age

Jeannine Davis-Kimball, Vladimir A. Bashilov, and Leonid T. Yablonsky (Eds.)

p. xxxi-403, figs. 475, maps 19. Zinat Press, Berkeley 1995. $48.50 plus shipping.

ISBN 1-885979-00-2

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A Revew

by Charles Kolb

The scope of the Nomads volume is astonishing - the Eurasian steppes from Eastern Europe through Central Asia and to Mongolia, with a millennial time frame that encompasses components of the Late Bronze and the whole of the Early Iron Ages. The anthology's 10 authors, all of whom are recognized specialists on steppe nomad prehistory, synthesize Soviet research undertaken between 1960 and 1990. This indispensable, comprehensive synthesis, the initial publication of the Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads, contains rich, current data and will be a primary resource for many decades to come. A majority of the research on Eurasian steppe archaeology is published overwhelmingly in Russian. Hence, there is a paucity of contemporary information published in other Western languages; but this treatise on the "Scytho Siberian world," designed by its editors as a "research tool" (p. vii), contributes significantly to filling this void. The volume focuses upon the Scythian, Sauromatian, Sarmatian, Saka, and early Mongolian nomads who inhabited the Eurasian steppes during the first millennium B.C. A majority of the site and artifact descriptions and interpretations have never been published in English, making this work essential for any scholar working on Soviet and Central Asian Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages. The anthology will also be valuable to scholars of the Asian subcontinent, Southwest Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Sinitic Far East for its detail and the regional linkages it establishes.This compendium has an elucidating foreword and editorial introduction, followed by five chronological or regional groupings containing 20 chapters (varying from four to 41 pages). It concludes with two bibliographies, a useful 21-page three-column index of contemporary authors. The detailed text is supplemented by line drawings of site plans, artifacts, and assemblages. Some of the figures lack scale measurements so that key illustrations of interments and ceramic vessels are compromised. One bibliography has 408 Russian entries with full English translations; the second contains 26 non-Russian references. The editors claim 900 bibliographic citations (p. vii). Relevant references to Herodotus, Strabo, and Tacitus are incorporated. The chapters, in the main, define a region, chronology, and geographic-ecological characteristics. Despite local variations in burial rituals and contact with classical civilizations, kurgans (semispherical earthen burial mounds) and the Scytho-Sarmatian triad (specialized weaponry, horse harness, and "animal style" depictions) are ubiquitous steppe culture characteristics.Part I has three regional chapters on the Scythians (late eighth to third century B.C.): North Caucasus, Southeastern Europe, and Crimea. The authors elaborate burial types, grave goods, ethnogeography, metallurgy, kurgan construction, anthropomorphic lithic stelae. Greek and local ceramics, fortified settlements, and subsistence economy. These essays replace Melyukova's "The Scythians and Sarmatians" in D. Sinor ed., The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia (Cambridge 1990), and update R. Rolle's Die Welt der Skythen (Munich 1980), translated as The World of the Scythians (Berkeley 1989).Part II contains nine chapters detailing Sauromatian and Sarmatian tribes (sixth century B.C. To fourth century A.D.): a historical overview; analysis of past research; essays on the Transitional Period and on Sauromatian culture; treatises on early, middle, and late Sarmatian culture; and a review of Sarmatian presence in the North Caucasus. The authors suggest that climatic changes resulting in a deteriorating steppe ecology necessitated a nomadic lifeway. Moshkova (pp. 186-88) speculates about tribal unions, class formation, and primitive state development.Part III includes three chapters on the Central Asian Saka: written sources and history, material culture, and ethnogenetic hypotheses. Yablonsky concludes that Saka peoples (Iranian speaking nomadic cattle-breeders) were actively involved in the political and military expansion of the Achaemenid empire, the fall of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom, and the formations of Parthia and later the Kushan empire (pp. 193-95). Regional delineations of kurgan cemeteries, grave goods, and pottery are made for nine geographic regions.Part IV has four contributions on the Siberian Scythians: a history of past research and problems, the Tuva and Altai Mountain regions, and Tagai culture. Petroglyphs, lithic stelae, and Pazyryk and Arzhan kurgans are reported. Five social groups are inferred based upon burial wealth. This presentation supersedes V.N. Chernetsov and W. Moszyonska's Prehistory of Western Siberia (Montreal 1974).Part V consists of one chapter on early nomads in Mongolia and information on the Late Neolithic, Afanasievo, Slab Grave, and Karasuk cultures. Volkov concludes candidly that "during the period of the great migrations, the nomadic movement literally recarved the ethnic and political map of Asia and areas further to the West" (p. 332).This compendium complements F.T. Hiebert's Origins of Bronze Age Civilization in Central Asia (Cambridge, Mass. 1994) (reported by this reviewer in AJA 100 [1996] 182-183). It enhances three outdated volumes in the Ancient Peoples and Places series: T.T. Rice's The Scythians (New York 1961, T. Sulimirski's The Sarmatians (New York 1970), and V.M. Masson and V.I. Sarianidi's Central Asia: Turkmenia before the Achaemenids (New York 1972). Likewise, it supplements UNESCO's History of Civilizations of Central Asia I. The Dawn of Civilization: Earliest Times to 700 B.C. Edited by A.H. Dani and V.M. Masson (Paris 1992), and History of Civilizations of Central Asia II. The Development of Sedentary and Nomadic Civilizations: 700 B.C. To A.D. 250, edited by Harmatta, B.N. Puri, and G.F. Etemandi (Paris 1994).Charles Kolb
(excerpted from American Journal of Archaeology, April 1997)