Research Article

DOI :10.26650/anar.2022.1017525   IUP :10.26650/anar.2022.1017525    Full Text (PDF)

Kurgan, New Suggestions and Its Possible Role in Intercultural Interactions: the Northern Black Sea (Greater Olbia) Case

Okan Sezer

Apart from some controversial ones, kurgans are a model of grave architecture frequently used by ancient Eurasian societies in the steppes, with the oldest-known examples of kurgans dating back to the third millennium BC. Famines caused by climate conditions and erratic rainfall patterns led to migrations that triggered one-after another throughout particular periods. Kurgan became known by other societies as a result of these migrations happening toward certain geographies such as Anatolia and the Near East. The mode of societal interactions is not solely composed of migrations from north-to-south. Ancient Greeks’ activities on establishing colonies along the northern shore of the Black Sea are known to have started in the 7th-6th century BC for various social and economic reasons. During these centuries, certain cultural interactions took place with the nomadic horseman tribes that were gaining strength. Kurgans date back to the pre-Hellenistic period, with many found in the northwest of the Crimean Peninsula, located within the historical borders of Greater Olbia. This paper aims to bring together some of the kurgans that have been investigated by rescue excavations, to offer some suggestions for a model of the kurgan-centered society, and to evaluate possible further interactions between the nomadic horseman tribes and ancient Greek society in the context of kurgan architecture with existing suggestions.

DOI :10.26650/anar.2022.1017525   IUP :10.26650/anar.2022.1017525    Full Text (PDF)

Kurgan Tipi Gömüt Yapısı, Yeni Öneriler ve Kültürlerarası Etkileşimdeki Olası Rolü: Kuzey Karadeniz (Büyük Olbia) Örneği

Okan Sezer

Tartışmalı olanların dışında bilinen en eski örneklerine MÖ 3. binyılda rastlanan kurganlar Eski Avrasya toplumları tarafından bozkır kuşağında sıklıkla uygulanmış bir gömüt mimarisidir. İklim ve düzensiz yağış rejimi nedeniyle bozkır kuşağında yaşanan kıtlıklar belli dönemlerde birbirini tetikleyen göç hareketlerine neden olmuş, Anadolu ve Yakın Doğu söz konusu göç hareketlerinin ulaşmayı hedefledikleri coğrafyalar arasında yer almış ve böylelikle kurgan tipi gömüt yapısı diğer toplumlar tarafından da tanınır hale gelmiştir. Toplumlar arasındaki iletişimin şekli tek başına kuzeyden güneye doğru ilerleyen göçlerden ibaret değildir. MÖ 7-6. yüzyıllarda farklı sosyal ve ekonomik nedenlere dayanan Eski Yunan koloni faaliyetlerinin Karadeniz’in kuzey kıyılarında başladığı bilinmektedir. Aynı tarihlerde bölgede varlığı artış gösteren atlı-göçer toplumlar ile çeşitli kültürel etkileşimler gerçekleşmiştir. Pre-Hellenistik Dönem’e tarihlendirilen kurganlar Büyük Olbia’nın tarihi sınırlarında kalan Kırım’ın kuzeybatısında yoğunlaşmaktadır. Çalışmada bir kısmı geçmiş kurtarma kazılarıyla ortaya çıkarılan tanımlı kurganlardan bazıları derlenmiş, kurgan gelenekli atlı-göçer toplum modeli adına öneriler sunulmuş ve atlı-göçer toplumlar ile Eski Yunan toplumu arasındaki olası etkileşimler kurgan temelinde var olan önerilerle birlikte değerlendirilmiştir.


Apart from being as old as human history, burials are one of the most innate instincts that render humaneness to humanity and have manifested themself in quite different ways throughout the progression of human history. Any archaeological culture has had quite a persistent and conservative perspective regarding the form and/or forms of burial despite the existence of an attractive diversity in terms of burials throughout history worldwide. When compared to burial methods, the same archaeological culture might more easily accept a change regarding fundamental issues such as subsistence economy or raw material supplies. On account of this, changes in the forms of burials observed in a certain geography or settlement may indicate a new belief or a new ideology in the archaeological culture or occupation of such lands by another archaeological culture.

The concept of burial referred to as kurgan is controversial not only in terms of its origin, but also in terms of when it was first used. The question still exists as to whether kurgans were a form of burial that had a precedent or was a self-styled new development. Some researchers have established a connection between dolmen-type megalithic burial structures and kurgans. Due to the available archaeological data, kurgans are known to exist in the geographic region between the Northern Black and Caspian Seas with earliest examples apart from controversial ones dating back to the early third millennium BC. The kurgan-type burial structure was first introduced into archaeological discussions in the first half of the 20th century – and mentioned with increasing frequency until the end of the century. Archaeological cultures that host kurgan tradition have been used in the explanation of origin of today’s Indo-European language group, and this has sometimes led to inappropriate generalizations such as ‘‘each ancient nomadic horseman culture having its own kurgan tradition’’. Current dates have been obtained using precise dating methods, and, mistakes were understood to have occured based on these dates with regard to the ordering of cultural layers once kurgans were excavated that were shown to contain multiple burials from different time periods and settlements with multiple cultural layers. As a result, what has been revised archaeologically has helped put the historical process of kurgans and nomadic horseman cultures on healthier grounds and corrected some mistakes regarding the order of cultural-technological processes. For instance, the finds found in Dereivka which had been excavated by Soviet archaeologists, and thought to prove the presence of horseback riding, were first dated to the fourth millennium BC, however, radiocarbon dating results have shown the finds to belong to the first millennium BC.

As in contemporary times, large-scale irregularities were experienced regarding the climate and precipitation regime of the Eurasian steppes in the past. These irregularities had seriously affected the subsistence economies of the ancient Eurasian societies. As a consequence, either the subsistence economy would have changed fundamentally or the geography would have been abandoned outright. Thus, new geographies were settled in, and the societies of these geographies became acquainted with kurgan-type burial structures through these migrations. Central Europe in the west, the Balkans in the southwest, Anatolia in the south and the Near East have been among the geographies the migration movements reached. In addition to the migration movements of the pioneering kurgan tradition societies and the northern communities that subsequently accepted this burial method, ancient Greek colonial activities targeting the Northern Black Sea because of different social and economic reasons during the first millennium BC, also played a role in the spread of kurgan-type burial structures.

Ancient Greek colonists provided fascinating products, especially pottery and the items made from metal, to the nomadic local (barbarian) communities of the Black Sea in return for the raw materials needed for their subsistence economy. These relations are believed to have started in parallel with the permission of the barbarian leader and continued through temporary agreements. After a while, these commercial relations resulted in intercultural interactions.

Olbia was a settlement supposedly founded by ancient Greek colonists in the 7th century BC. The settlement later expanded its cultural and administrative sphere of influence by expanding itself to the northwest of Crimea. As a result, the geographical unit known as Great Olbia emerged. It had been included into the influence of Athens’ political zone influence by the 5th century BC. Unlike in Chersonesos which is located in the southwest, kurgantype burial structures are encountered in and near ancient Greek colonial settlements in the northwest of the Crimean Peninsula. Researchers have spent many years these kurgan-type burial structures and what they mean based on intercultural interactions. When evaluating kurgan-type burial structures in the colonial settlements and on the periphery of these settlements along with underground burial techniques, burial gifts, and other burial types, one can assume that a complex burial culture had existed in Crimea, one with a fascinating diversity.

The burial gifts that have been found are not enough to discern the ethnic background and/or culture of the buried. Scythian arrowheads expanding toward the Near East and the surrounding regions have lost the ethnic-cultural identifiers they once possessed due to their quality. Likewise, because of its charm, ancient Greek pottery became a status symbol in the region and was met with approval by the barbarian societies. Nevertheless, underground burial techniques and burial shapes may help in identifying the individuals buried there. For instance, scientific consensus has reached the conclusion that no cenotaph has been found present amongst the burial types accepted as Scythian. Such precise assessments should be supported by other data. The point to pay attention to here is that, precise definitions can be made archaeologically regarding two different ethno-cultural identies while distinguishing the material cultural objects that belong to these two identities. In this regard, decisions can be made with the help of geography and chronology regarding which Scythian society and/ or societies had established relations with the ancient Greek colonies in the Northern Black Sea region and had actually formed.

The relationship Athens had maintaned with the Northern Black Sea region is one of the subjects upon which focus should be placed. Undoubtedly, the relationships and the interactions between these two geographies must have left traces in both geographies due to the nature of these relationships and interactions. With the end of the kurgan tradition that had been unique to Attica at the beginning of the Archaic Period, a ‘‘new’’ kurgan-type burial structure emerged in Athens in the second half of the 6th century BC. The question of who were buried in these kurgans may actually hold answers regarding how the idea of the kurgan had progressed between the two geographies in the context of predecessor and successor.

The visual network -and/or visual uniformity- presented by the steppe geography must have led the societies living there to maintain relationships with each other based on the right of sovereignty while using different methods. The horizon in this geography presents a flat and/or nearly flat view, and this geography kurgans may have been used to identify the borders. The height determined by a kurgan involves protrusions that are placed in such a way that they can be seen on the horizon from miles away. The visual range and network provided by the heights of kurgans may have identified an area of dominance rather than a linear line on adjacent plains. While the multiple burials from different time periods as unearthed in some kurgans may reflect power changes in a region, the material value as well as the symbolic meaning preserved by the kurgan may have manifested the formation of a semi-settled class that would have guarded these kurgans. 

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Sezer, O. (2022). Kurgan, New Suggestions and Its Possible Role in Intercultural Interactions: the Northern Black Sea (Greater Olbia) Case. Anatolian Research, 0(27), 107-138.


Sezer O. Kurgan, New Suggestions and Its Possible Role in Intercultural Interactions: the Northern Black Sea (Greater Olbia) Case. Anatolian Research. 2022;0(27):107-138.


Sezer, O. Kurgan, New Suggestions and Its Possible Role in Intercultural Interactions: the Northern Black Sea (Greater Olbia) Case. Anatolian Research, [Publisher Location], v. 0, n. 27, p. 107-138, 2022.

Chicago: Author-Date Style

Sezer, Okan,. 2022. “Kurgan, New Suggestions and Its Possible Role in Intercultural Interactions: the Northern Black Sea (Greater Olbia) Case.” Anatolian Research 0, no. 27: 107-138.

Chicago: Humanities Style

Sezer, Okan,. Kurgan, New Suggestions and Its Possible Role in Intercultural Interactions: the Northern Black Sea (Greater Olbia) Case.” Anatolian Research 0, no. 27 (Dec. 2023): 107-138.

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Sezer, O 2022, 'Kurgan, New Suggestions and Its Possible Role in Intercultural Interactions: the Northern Black Sea (Greater Olbia) Case', Anatolian Research, vol. 0, no. 27, pp. 107-138, viewed 2 Dec. 2023,

Harvard: Author-Date Style

Sezer, O. (2022) ‘Kurgan, New Suggestions and Its Possible Role in Intercultural Interactions: the Northern Black Sea (Greater Olbia) Case’, Anatolian Research, 0(27), pp. 107-138. (2 Dec. 2023).


Sezer, Okan,. Kurgan, New Suggestions and Its Possible Role in Intercultural Interactions: the Northern Black Sea (Greater Olbia) Case.” Anatolian Research, vol. 0, no. 27, 2022, pp. 107-138. [Database Container],


Sezer O. Kurgan, New Suggestions and Its Possible Role in Intercultural Interactions: the Northern Black Sea (Greater Olbia) Case. Anatolian Research [Internet]. 2 Dec. 2023 [cited 2 Dec. 2023];0(27):107-138. Available from: doi: 10.26650/anar.2022.1017525


Sezer, Okan. Kurgan, New Suggestions and Its Possible Role in Intercultural Interactions: the Northern Black Sea (Greater Olbia) Case”. Anatolian Research 0/27 (Dec. 2023): 107-138.


Published Online30.12.2022


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