Metal-production, mortuary ritual, and social identity: The evidence of Sintashta burials, Southern Urals

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Abstract

This study aims at a social interpretation of the Sintashta burials, Southern Urals (21st-18th century cal BC), where artifacts related to bronze metallurgy (molds, ceramic nozzles, ore and slag remains, metal bars and drops) had been placed. These were found in at least 10 % of graves. If stone hammers and abrasive tools are included, the share increases to one-sixth. The findings apparently indicate the social identity of those buried, and point to the general characteristics of the group. People engaged in metal-production were mostly adult males, and were relatively few. Women, too, may have participated, at least at the preparatory stages. Markers of engagement in metal-production very rarely co-occur with attributes of high status such as mace-heads, spearheads, axes, chariots, and cheek-pieces. This agrees with the conclusions of cross-cultural studies suggesting that "metallurgists" were not top-ranking members of the social hierarchy. Nor were they subject to discrimination in the Sintashta society, because being buried at a cemetery evidences high status. Professional membership was an important-but not the main-criterion of personal identity. Despite being few, burials of metal-workers distinguish Sintashta from most other Bronze Age steppe societies of Eurasia.

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Epimakhov, A. V., & Berseneva, N. A. (2016). Metal-production, mortuary ritual, and social identity: The evidence of Sintashta burials, Southern Urals. Archaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia, 44(1), 65–71. https://doi.org/10.17746/1563-0110.2016.44.1.065-071

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