- The Hermitage - The Department of Prehistoric Culture -

The department of prehistoric culture was created in 1931 upon the
basis of the vast amount of material collected by Soviet archaeologists,
supplemented by groups of relics of the past (the Siberian collection, the
Scythian antiquities, etc.) preserved in the Hermitage before the October
Revolution. Arranged in rooms 11-33 on the ground floor of the Winter
Palace, the exhibition entitled Relics of Prehistoric Culture on the Ter-
ritory of the Soviet Union provides an excellent means of estimating the
successive development of prehistoric society, from the ancient Stone
Age up to the Iron Age, from the first appearance of man until the break-
ing up of the primitive communal system and the formation of states.

Room 11. Palaeolithic and Mesolithic relics, 500,000-7000 B.C.
In cases 1 and 2 the most ancient exhibits are displayed: stone imple-
ments five hundred thousand to three hundred and fifty thousand years
old. They are heavy chisels unearthed by a Soviet archaeological expedi-
tion on the Satani-Dar hill in Armenia, oval, triangular and almond-
shaped, produced by means of a double-sided whetting of stone by stone.
The Satani-Dar chisels, unlike the frequently found flint implements,
are made of obsidian.

The first artistic creations appeared during the Palaeolithic Age-statu-
ettes carved out of stone, mammoth ivory and reindeer antlers, and
also drawings on the walls of ancient caves. Primitive man depicted vari-
ous wild animals; another popular subject was the hunt; most important
was the theme of the woman as the ancestress of the tribe, and the pro-
tectress of hunters.

Twenty female statuettes called the "Venuses of the Stone Age" were
discovered during excavations on the site of a hunting camp near the
village of Malta in the vicinity of Irkutsk (case 10). These sculptures are
between twenty-five and thirty thousand years old. Of approximately the
same age is a unique relic of Palaeolithic art, a picture of a mammoth
carved on an ivory tablet unearthed at Malta (case 10). Primitive man
reproduced the gigantic animal, his most dreaded enemy yet most wel-
come quarry, with amazing accuracy and vividness. Similar representa-
tions were closely connected with magical rites ensuring, according to
the native notions of these ancient people, a successful hunt. The nature
of Palaeolithic burials-for example the grave of a child whose corpse
was sprinkled with red pigment (ochre, symbol of fire and life) and sup-
plied with ornaments and implements of work-affirms the existence in
that distant age of notions of life beyond the grave (case 9).

Rooms 12 and 13. Relics of the Neolithic and Bronze Ages of forest
regions (5000-500 B.C.) and the steppes in the south of the USSR
(3000-700 B.C.). Exhibited in room 12 are numerous items, discovered
during excavation work on the sites of the Neolithic settlements of hunters
and fishermen in Karelia, Siberia, the Urals and in the central forest
regions, which show that the New Stone Age man made great progress,
possessing various methods of working in stone such as boring and grind-
ing, and that he widely used wood and bone (see the stone axes, with
wooden and bone handles, sinkers for fishing nets, fishing hooks, arrow-
heads and wooden fragments of boats, skis and sledges). An important
event in the life of Neolithic man was the invention of earthenware,
which was decorated with simple designs in the form of hollows and
oblique notches.

The Hermitage possesses excellent examples of Neolithic art, among
them drawings on stone representing hunting scenes. Discovered on the
cliffs of the north (Devil's Nose Cape on the eastern coast of Lake Onega,
and the lower reaches of the river Vyg which flows into the White Sea),
the drawings came into the museum in 1935. Amongst these impressive
designs, drawn on the surface of granite by means of stone tools in the
second millennium B.C. (the tribes of the north were not familiar with
metal at that time), we can recognize, in spite of the schematized outlines,
boats with oarsmen and the figures of animals (elks and deer) and birds
(swans and ducks). One genuine masterpiece of Neolithic sculpture is
the head of a she-elk, made of horn, found in the province of Sverdlovsk
during work in a peat-bog. There are also some stone carvings of fish,
from the area of Lake Baikal, used as fishing bait (case 8 and 27).

Room 13. At the time when the tribes of the forest regions were still
engaged in hunting and fishing, agriculture was already being practised
in the southern parts of the country as early as the Neolithic Age. Cera-
mics excavated in the village of Tripolye near Kiev are characteristic
relics of the so-called Tripolye culture (3000-1000 B.C.), the oldest
agrarian culture in the lands now belonging to the Soviet Union. There
are some beautifully shaped clay vessels for keeping water, oil and grain,
decorated with either intricate carving or a painted design. Some figurines
of a female deity and animals, and small models of dwellings are also made
of clay (case 11). During the second millennium B.C. the tribes of the
south learnt how to obtain bronze and how to cast from it different
articles (see the relics from the areas of the Volga, Don and Dnieper
rivers in cases 15-17). The Stone Age was superseded by the Bronze
Age. It was the working of metal that provided the basis for the first
specialized craft, developed by the tribal community in the course of
their work. It is interesting to note in connection with this a set of imple-
ments used in the production of castings-clay moulds and crucibles for
the smelting of metal, and a stone hammer for forging things in bronze
(c. 1500-1100 B.C.) from the grave of a founder near the village of
Rakhinka not far from Volgograd (case 18).

Room 14 contains relics of the Neolithic and Bronze Ages and the
early Iron Age in the Caucasus (3000-500 B.C.). A burial mound, dat-
ing back to the end of the third millennium B.C. and the beginning of the
second and discovered at the end of the last century at Maikop, represents
an interesting collection of items from the early Bronze Age in the
Caucasus, at that time inhabited by sedentary tribes of cattle-breeders
and farmers. This burial mound contained treasure unusually rich for
those times.* Together with some polished stone tools and flint arrow-
heads were found also tools made of copper, a gold vessel and some silver
ones with landscapes schematically suggested by a few lines and pictures
of animals engraved on them, and ornaments-diadems, beads, bracelets,
rings-made of gold, silver, turquoise and cornelian. Four stocky,
sharp-horned young bulls, two cast in gold, the other two in silver,
adorned the supports on which hung a canopy erected above the corpse,
which was strewn with flame-coloured vermilion (red mercuric sulphide).
The cloth of the canopy rotted, and all that remains are some gold rings
and small ornamental figured plaques with which the canopy was em-
broidered. Among the items on view in this room, discovered in Georgia,
Armenia, Ossetia and Daghestan, are some of which special mention
should be made; these are bronze castings, relics of the so-called Koban
culture (named so after the Caucasian village of Upper Koban). Much
of the bronze work from Koban consists of axes, fibulae, buckles, brace-
lets and pins, finely made and adorned with engraved designs.

Rooms 15-21. The art and culture of the Scythian epoch (700-
200 B.C.). The collection of Scythian antiquities in the Hermitage is of
world renown and provides a vast amount of material for studying the
way of life of tribes living on the southern steppes of the European part
of the USSR. The collective name "Scythian" is used to describe ethnic-
ally heterogeneous tribes speaking a tongue belonging to the Persian
family of languages. The burials reflect the social stratification of the
Scythian community, which was at the stage when the primitive structure
of society breaks up. The ordinary members of the tribe were buried in
shallow holes in the ground, and into the grave were put only "the most
necessary things" for the "life beyond the grave"-some food in clay
vessels, a knife, a few bronze ornaments, and occasionally, in the case
of a man, a horse was buried alongside. The graves of the tribal chiefs
were large, spacious vaults where, together with the dead person, were
buried his wives, servants, horses, expensive weapons, utensils, and
objects made of gold and silver. Above the grave was erected a burial
mound, in the construction of which the whole tribe took part. The
highest of the Scythian tumuli, the Chertomlyk mound on the river
Dnieper, reaches a height of twenty metres (over 65 ft.).

Belonging to the very earliest are six large mounds (sixth century
B.C.) excavated between 1903 and 1904 in the village of Kelermesskaya
in the North Caucasus (room 15). Although these mounds were to
some extent plundered in ancient times, they nevertheless afforded
material of great value. Among these objects is a large gold plaque* in
the form of a panther which, like the gold stag found in the Kostromskaya
burial mound (room 21), at one time adorned the shield of a Scythian
warrior. The Kelermesskaya panther and the Kostromskaya stag are
matchless relics of sixth century Scythian art, characteristic examples
of the animal style. The representation of the animal, the only motif in
this style, is remarkable for its terseness and wealth of expression, traits
of realism interwoven with an original form of stylization. Our acquiant-
ance with early examples of Scythian culture is furthered by a look at
some objects found in mounds excavated in the village of Ulsky in the
Kuban region, in 1898 and between 1908 and 1910. These mounds are
typical of those of the Scythian ruling class, where the dead person was
accompanied to the grave by a large number of horses. Thus, in the
largest of those graves in the village of Ulsky, was buried a herd of three
hundred and sixty animals.

Room 16 introduces us to the famous fourth century Scythian burial
lounds of Solokha and Chertomlyk, situated at the place where, accord-
ig to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, who left behind a descrip-
on of Scythia, the "royal Scythians" lived, having brought into subjec-
on tribes of nomad and ploughmen Scythians. Herodotus informs us
lat the royal Scythians buried their "kings", i.e. chiefs, in the lands of
le Gerrhi which cover approximately the territory of the present-day
rovince of Zaporozhye. The Solokha mound, on the left bank of the
''nieper, not far from the town of Nikopol, was excavated from 1912 to
913. An embankment eighteen metres high (58.5 ft.) concealed two
•mlts; one of them, in which was found a woman of high birth, proved
i have been plundered-all that remained were two horses in rich attire,
old dress ornaments, a gold needle and two vessels, one silver, the other
bronze. The second vault, remarkable for its extraordinary riches, con-
tained the body of a chief, his weapon-bearer, a servant, five horses
and a stableman. The head of the dead chief was covered with a heavy
bronze helmet; gold rings and bracelets adorned his arms, and around
his neck was a gold, crescent-shaped ornament (grwna). The splendour
of the attire, embroidered with gold plaques, was further heightened by
an iron sword in a gold sheath and a delicately wrought gold phial-a
symbol of power. Hundreds of bronze arrowheads, seven silver vessels,
a ladle and sieve for wine, three enormous pots with remnants of food-
this is far from being the complete list of objects found in the grave.
Beside the head of the chief lay a comb, the only relic of antique jewellery
of its kind. The gold comb from the Solokha mound-12.3 cm (4.7 in.)
high and weighing 294.1 grams (10 ounces)-has nineteen tetrahedral
teeth, above which runs a frieze formed by the figures of reclining lions.
The frieze is surmounted by a sculptural group: a horseman, accompanied
by a lightly armed foot-soldier, is repelling the attacks of his enemy who
has dismounted as a result of an accident-his wounded horse is fighting
in its death throes and blood is pouring from a deep neck wound. The
outward appearance of the Scythian warriors, their clothes and their
weapons are reproduced with a documental-like accuracy. The Solokha
comb, like the majority of the items of luxury from the Scythian burial
mounds, is of Greek origin, evidence of the close trade connections
between the Scythians and the Greeks.

The colossal Chertomlyk burial mound was excavated from 1862 to
1863. The underground vault contained several chambers, accommodat-
ing the graves of a king, a queen and a servant girl, two weapon-bearers,
a servant, two stablemen and eleven horses. In the storage chambers
were found the remains of woolen dresses which had hung on iron hooks
driven into the wall, and on the floor, beside the royal crowns, hundreds
of gold plaques which had fallen from the clothes as the cloth had rotted.
From the main grave, plundered in ancient times, came swords and a
quiver for holding arrows and bow covered with gold leaf, on the surface
of which was an embossed multifigured design based upon themes from
the ancient myth about Achilles. Harsh retribution befell the thieves;
they removed the objects from the ground in parts through a hastily
made entrance, and during one such trip a landslide occurred, the robbers
being buried beneath the fallen earth. Thousands of years later
archaeologists discovered the skeletons of two crushed men. In the grave
of the queen, untouched by thieves, were found a large number of
decorative objects and a famous Greek amphora vase made of silver with
the figures of Scythians taming horses in relief (Gold Room ).

Rooms 18 and 19. During recent years Soviet archaeologists have
made a valuable contribution to science with new information concerning
the culture of sedentary tribes of farmers from the Dnieper, Bug and
Dniester areas during the period of 700-100 B.C. To defend themselves
from the raids of the Scythian nomads, the ploughmen were obliged to
fortify their settlements, examples of such fortifications having been
found at the sites of Nemirovskoye near the town of Vinnitsa, excavated
from 1946 to 1948, and Grigorovskoye in the vicinity of Mogiliov, where
excavation work was carried out between 1952 and 1955. Behind the
defence ramparts at Nemirovskoye, which reach a height of nine metres
(a little over 29 ft.), were found the remains of dwellings, some utensils,
various objects made of ivory and bronze, and ceramics of local and
Greek origin.

The matchless wealth of the Hermitage collection makes it possible
to cast some light, in separate exhibitions, on different aspects of Scythian
culture. Thus, in room 17 are the weapons, clothes and objects pertaining
to the rituals and religion of the Scythians; room 20 provides an
introduction to the economic system of those Scythians from the forest
steppes; room 21 is concerned with Scythian art and trade connections
with Greece, and also includes relics of Meotae tribal culture, in many
respects close to that of the Scythians (the burial-ground at Mozdok,
600-500 B.C., the Karagodeuashkh mound, 400-200 B.C., and the
burial-ground near the village of Ust-Labinskaya, 400-200 B.C.).

Rooms 22, 23, 25, 28-32 are devoted to the Altai burial mounds
dating from the period 500-200 B.C. Bearing close affinity to the culture
of Scythians living near the northern shores of the Black Sea is that of the
ancient Altaic peoples, about which much became known as a result of
the remarkable discoveries made by the Leningrad archaeologists
S. Rudenko and M. Griaznov. Between 1929 and 1949 they excavated five
stone mounds (500-300 B.C.) in the high mountain valley of Pazyryk
(see rooms 25, 26 and 28-32). In a grave beneath one of the mounds
was found a timber structure, the "dwelling place" of the deceased.
In the coffin, hollowed out from a tree trunk, lay the bodies of a chief and
his wife or concubine who, according to custom, was killed after the death
of the husband and buried along with him. Outside the timber structure
were unearthed the carcasses of horses fully equipped, with bridles and
saddles. Thanks to the permafrost which had formed beneath the mounds,
the contents of the grave, which were filled with ice, were in an excellent
state of preservation; not only the articles made of ivory, wood and
metal, but also things which, in normal soil, would in time have disap-
peared without a trace-corpses, clothes trimmed with sable, squirrel
and ermine, equine apparel of hide and felt, musical instruments, and
even food. In a small leather pouch was a white mass which, on analysis,
turned out to be cheese. Among the most interesting discoveries was an
enormous wooden chariot, the different parts of which were fastened
together by leather straps, with no metal used at all. During the last
year of excavations two remarkable rugs were found. The first of these,
made of felt and measuring 6.5 by 4.5 metres (21 by 14.5 ft.), contains an
applique design in coloured felt representing many times over the figures
of a goddess seated on a throne and a horseman. The other rug, the only
one of its kind, is apparently of Persian origin, four square metres in size
(42 sq. ft.) and woven from wool with a soft, velvet-like pile and a beautifully
preserved coloured pattern. This rug, the oldest in the world, is
almost two and a half thousand years old.

The objects found in the Pazyryk graves were made with great skill,
and here, as in the Scythian relics, the animal style is predominant.
Stylized representations of animals adorn not only household objects,
but are also found in the design of the tattooing which covers the body
of one of the chiefs.

For the first time in the history of archaeology ancient objects made
of materials very susceptible to decay, for example silk, fur and wood,
were unearthed, in such an unusually good state of preservation and in
such large numbers that several museum rooms were required to house
them all. The rich burial treasures of the ancient Altaic population were
also found in the villages of Tuekta (rooms 22 and 23) and of Bashadar
in the Altai region (rooms 26, 29 and 30).

Also related to this group of relics of early nomad art are the ancient
gold objects-belt buckles, fibulae, grivnas (crescent-shaped neck orna-
ments) and parts of horses' apparel-of the famous Siberian collection
made by Peter the Great (Gold Room).

The exhibitions in rooms 24, 27 and 33 include three large sections
-the art and culture of the inhabitants of the southern steppes of the
USSR, 300 B.C.-1000 A.D.; the art and culture of the Finno-Ugrians,
Baits and Slavs, 700 B.C.-1200 A.D.; and the art and culture of the
nomads of the southern steppes, 900-1200 A.D. The items in the ex-
hibition, enormous in number, are interesting not only in themselves but
because they also prepare one for the subsequent exhibition entitled
The Culture of Old Russia. In the first section the outstanding feature is
the collection of relics of Sarmatian culture, the Sarmatians having led
a nomadic existence during the fourth century B.C. on the rich pasture
lands of the Volga steppes, and later, in the second century B.C., crossed
the Don and forced out the Scythian nomads there, occupying a vast area
of land stretching as far as the Dniester. The exhibition presents both
relics of local origin and others which were imported, reflecting the
extensive ties between the Sarmatians and the world of classical antiquity,
from which the Sarmatian ruling class obtained decorative objects and
finery in return for slaves, cattle, grain, honey, wax and fish. Of great
interest are the items from the Khazar fortress of Sarkel, which stood on
the banks of the Don where the smooth surface of the artificial Tsimliansk
Sea now stretches. Erected in the year 834 A.D., the fortress was cap-
tured in 965 by the Russian Prince Sviatoslav, who built on the site
Belaya Vezha. Material from the excavations of Belaya Vezha can be
seen in the Culture of Old Russia exhibition in room 145.

From the ninth to the twelfth century vast areas of land from the Volga
to the Don were occupied by tribes of Turkish origin-Pechenegs, Torks
and Polovtsy. Displayed in one of the rooms are objects found in burial
mounds along the Dnieper, Don and Kuban rivers which give us some
idea of the way of life of the nomadic peoples living on the southern
Russian steppes.

* The gold objects in the Scythian collection are on display in the Gold Room; shown
in the exhibition are some copies produced by galvanoplasty.




- The Hermitage - The History of the Museum -
- The Hermitage - The Department of Russian Culture -
- The Hermitage - The Department of Prehistoric Culture -
- The Hermitage - The Department of the Art and Culture of the Peoples of the East -
- The Hermitage - The Department of the Art and Culture of Antiquity -
- The Hermitage - The Department of Western European Art -
- The Hermitage - The Numismatic Department -
- Floor Pans -