Abstract: Ancient Eurasian Women of High Status

Pastoral nomadism arose in the vast steppes of Eurasia early in the first millennium BCE. These were Indo-Iranian tribes, who migrated as dictated by their animals—sheep, goats, horses, and camels—leaving sheltered winter homes in the early spring and following greening pastures to the north (or into higher elevations) until late summer when the threatening winter storms dictated they returned to their winter abode. During the summer when climate permitted, they constructed great burials mounds in consecrated cemeteries where they buried their deceased. Returning during subsequent summers, they often reused the kurgan, making new burials in lateral pits, podbois, or catacombs. American-Russian excavations of more than 50 nomadic kurgans and over 150 burials located at Pokrovka in the southern Ural steppes revealed many artifacts that were meant for use in the afterworld. A methodology that included the typological study of these artifacts revealed that, while men were generally warriors, women held diverse and prominent roles in this Early Iron Age society. The statuses of the women include priestesses, warrior women, and warrior priestesses. This presentation includes evidence from multiple sites: from the southern Ural steppes, western China, southern Kazakstan, and the Gorny Altai in present-day Russia.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

 Web site: http://csen.org

Barber, Elizabeth Wayland. Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times. New York and London, 1994.

Davis-Kimball, Jeannine. “Enarees and Women of High Status: Evidence of Ritual at Tillya Tepe (Northern Afghanistan). In Kurgans, Ritual Sites, and Settlements: Eurasian Bronze and Iron Age, edited by Eileen M. Murphy, Ludmila Koryakova, and Leonid T. Yablonsky. Oxford, BAR International Series 890, pp. 29-239, 2000. Analyzes the Tillya Tepe finds with illustrations and a chart.

Davis-Kimball. Jeannine. Warrior Women: An Archaeologist’s Search for History’s Hidden Heroines. New York, 2002. A new perspective on the histories of dominant women in Eurasian societies written for the general public.

Davis-Kimball, Jeannine, Vladimir A. Bashilov, and Leonid T. Yablonsky, eds. Nomads of the Eurasian Steppes in the Early Iron Age. Berkeley, 1995. Only complete coverage in English on the archaeology of Eurasian nomads from southern Europe to Mongolia.

Gero, Joan M. and Margaret W. Conkey, eds. Gender in Archaeology: Women and Prehistory. Oxford, 1991. Particularly valuable for re-accessing women’s work in prehistory.

Rolle, Renata. The World of the Scythians. Translated by F.G. Walls, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1989. English translation of Die Welt der Skythen, first published in 1980. Best popular work in English on the Scythians.

Sarianidi Victor. The Golden Hoard of Bactria: From the Tillya-tepe Excavations in Northern Afghanistan. New York, 1985. Picture book and catalogue of excavations.

Wang Binghua and The Cultural Relics Publishing House, eds. Tienshan Petroglyphs: A testimony of fertility worship. Urumchi 1992. In Chinese except for title.

Dig Deeper

Email the AIA Facebook Instagram YouTube Twitter
Subscribe to the AIA e-Update

Sign Up!