The Gaimanova necropolis is located at a distance of approximately 6km southwest of the village Balka in the Vasilievski region, in the province of Zaporizhia region of the Republic of Ukraine.
2. History of research
The rescue excavation of the necropolis in the wider Yuzno-Rogazinski area of the Zaporizhia region begun in 1968 by archaeologists of the Ukrainian Archaeological Institute under the direction of Α.Ι. Terenozhkin and Β.I. Mozolevsky. Approximately 50 tumuli were excavated in an area where the Gaimanova tumulus imposed. The excavation of this tumulus, which had been looted in Antiquity, as most of the other tombs in the necropolis, was carried out between 1969 and 1970, under the direction of V.I. Bidzilya.
The monumental tumulus of Gaimanova Mogyla is the central burial monument of an extended Scythian necropolis. It is surrounded by 43 other Scythian tumuli, composing a burial group of monumental dimensions.
This is a tomb resting on a stout stone crepidoma, 70m in diameter and 9m in height. According to the ground plan produced by Β.I. Mozolevsky, this is indicative of the high rank in the Scythian tribal hierarchy of the person buried there. It is worth noting that the height of the tumuli of simple Scythians did not usually exceed 1m.1 In the western part, beneath the tumulus, the space of the funerary table was located and yielded amphorae sherds, animal bones, arrowheads as well as iron, bronze and silver parts of a harness.
The tumulus had at least three burial complexes. The north complex is an ovoid-shaped catacomb covering an area of 16 sq.m. The north wall of the north burial chamber featured a special niche used for placing the burial offerings. In that niche more than 250 gold artefacts were discovered, as well as four amphorae, two bronze lebetes of Scythian type, one basket-shaped vessel, and other bronze vases. In front of the entrance to the burial gifts repository a servant burial with weapons was found. Among the funerary gifts of this burial are some iron belt fittings and imported pottery.
Two passage ways (dromoi) led to the central chamber of the north burial complex, and in each one the wheels from two carriages were discovered. The central burial had been looted. Excavations have shown that the central grave of the north complex contained two male and a female burial, close to which the remains of a horse burial were found, as well as two servant burials.
The remains of the central chamber present an unclear picture. Fragments of burial gifts and gold ornaments sewn onto the garments of the deceased were discovered. On the south wall of the burial complex there was another niche, which contained the remains of a female burial, for which the second dromos had been constructed. Beneath the floor, and near the entrance of the burial chamber, a crypt containing very rich burial gifts was found.
The central burial complex of the tumulus contained a male burial, close to which a catacomb was detected, where two horses with reins decorated with gold plaques were found.
South of the central burial lay the south burial complex, which included two inhumations (a female and a child), as well as a number of burial gifts.
Research revealed that the mound had been raised progressively. Following the construction of the original burial complex, which contained the central burial, two more complexes were added, which contained female burials, completing the tumulus.
The vast majority of the finds are ornamental plaques. The tumulus yielded abundant gold plaques that were sewn onto garments, bearing various decorative, mainly floral motifs, some of which allowed the reconstruction of the headdress, an essential feature of the Scythian female dress.2Among these repousse ornaments there are some in the shape of an anthemion or rosette or in the form of a male head, possibly of Dionysus, apotropaic in nature.3 Other gold plaques represent griffins with gaping beaks in a heraldic posture, alluding to the symbolic cosmological representations with the depiction of the Tree of Life, especially characteristic in Eastern art.4
Apart from the purely Scythian motifs, we find sheets depicting Greek themes, among which are maenads and Erinyes, as well as others depicting the head of Gorgo.5 These artifacts indicate the extensive contacts of the Scythians with the ancient Greek world and the obvious influence of Greek cult traditions in Scythian society during the 4th cent. BC. This is further attested by the golden head of Demeter originating from the central burial of the tumulus, most likely the product of a Greek workshop.6
A gold repousse plaque of exquisite craftsmanship, depicting two sheep, comes from the area of the central burial.7 In the chamber where the female accompanying the central burial was interred, hundreds of gold sheets were discovered, some bearing depictions of a Scythian divinity with snake-like limbs, other depicting Scythians battling against fictional creatures.
Among the burial gifts of the crypt of the central burial complex were gold sheets that were used to decorate two wooden vessels. Two rhyta decorated with gold and silver sheets were also found in the same place, bearing motifs in repousse, as well as some silver vessels, among which a Scythian-type oenochoe with depictions of vine.8
At the bottom of the crypt a silver gilded cup with relief depictions of Scythians was found; it dates to the 4th cent. BC and is an exquisite specimen of Scythian art.9 The scene includes six figures. Under its handles it seems that servants are depicted, judging by their submissive posture. The bearded Scythians on the left edge of the scene are depicted seated on saddles, wearing their traditional attire and holding quivers. One is brandishing a sceptre and the other a whip, both symbols of their high social rank. The faces, hair, beards and details of their clothing have been worked with a graver and have been accentuated by gilding. This vessel belongs to the widespread Scythian-type cup with two horizontal handles and a broad rim. The depiction encompasses six figures, composing, according to V.I. Bidzilya, two independent scenes, directly linked to everyday life of the rich Scythian aristocracy.10 With respect to the interpretation of the depictions on the cup, the most likely explanation was proposed by D.S. Rajevsky, who rejected the historicity of the depictions, correlating them with the mythological and ritual beliefs of the Scythians. According to D.S. Rajevsky,11 the cup depicts the Scythian genealogical myth also recounted by Herodotus. According to it, Hercules gave his bow, a symbol of power, to his youngest son Scythes, primogenitor of the Scythians.12
During the demolition of the crepidoma, close to the entrance of the north burial complex of the tumulus the rest of the bronze decoration of the funerary carriage came to light, as well as parts of a harness. In the same group of burial gifts also belong seven decorative peg tips depicting deer, a griffin and birds.13 Among the blocks of the crepidoma, fragments of stone objects were unearthed, belonging to a mortar and a lekanis.