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6,000-year-old temple with possible sacrificial altars discovered

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A temple dating back about 6,000 years has been discovered within a massive prehistoric settlement in Ukraine. (courtesy Nataliya Burdo and Mykhailo Videiko/Institute of Archaeology NAS of Ukraine, Kyiv.)

A 6,000-year-old temple holding humanlike figurines and sacrificed animal remains has been discovered within a massive prehistoric settlement in Ukraine.

Built before writing was invented, the temple is about 197 by 66 feet in size. It was a “two-story building made of wood and clay surrounded by a galleried courtyard,” the upper floor divided into five rooms, write archaeologists Nataliya Burdo and Mykhailo Videiko in a copy of a presentation they gave recently at the European Association of Archaeologists’ annual meeting in Istanbul, Turkey.

Inside the temple, archaeologists found the remains of eight clay platforms, which may have been used as altars, the finds suggested. A platform on the upper floor contains “numerous burnt bones of lamb, associated with sacrifice,” write Burdo and Videiko, of the Institute of Archaeology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. The floors and walls of all five rooms on the upper floor were “decorated by red paint, which created [a] ceremonial atmosphere.” [See Photos of the Prehistoric Temple & Animal Remains]

The ground floor contains seven additional platforms and a courtyard riddled with animal bones and pottery fragments, the researchers found.

Massive settlement

The temple, which was first detected in 2009, is located in a prehistoric settlement near modern-day Nebelivka. Recent research using geophysical survey indicates the prehistoric settlement is 588 acres, almost twice the size of the modern-day National Mall in Washington, D.C. It contained more than 1,200 buildings and nearly 50 streets.

A number of other prehistoric sites, of similar size, have been found in Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe. These sites are sometimes referred to as belonging to the “Trypillian” culture, a modern-day name. The name is derived from the village of Trypillia in Ukraine, where artifacts of this ancient culture were first discovered.

Archaeologists found that when this prehistoric settlement was abandoned, its structures, including the newly discovered temple, were burnt down, something that commonly occurred at other Trypillian culture sites.

Ornaments and figurines 

Fragments of figurines, some of which look similar to humans, were also found at the temple. Like findings at other Trypillian sites, some of the figurines have noses that look like beaks and eyes that are dissimilar, one being slightly larger than the other.

Ornaments made of bone and gold were also discovered at the temple. The gold ornaments are less than an inch in size and may have been worn on the hair, researchers say.

At the time the prehistoric settlement near Nebelivka flourished other early urban centers were being developed in the Middle East. And the newly discovered prehistoric temple is similar, in some ways, to temples from the fifth to fourth millennia B.C. that were built in ancient Middle East cities, such as those in Anatolia and Mesopotamia, Burdo and Videiko note.

For example a 6,000-year-old temple at the ancient city of Eridu, in modern-day Iraq, also had a floor partitioned into smaller rooms, they note.

The discovery was recently published, in Ukrainian, in the journal Tyragetia. Another paper reporting on recent research at the settlement was published recently online in the journal Antiquity.

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Ancient city ruled by Genghis Khan’s heirs revealed

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Archaeologists with the Saratov Regional Museum of Local Lore have uncovered part of the city of Ukek. Built by a khanate (a kingdom) called the “Golden Horde” the city flourished between AD 1250 and 1395. Today much of it is covered by modern (Photo courtesy Dmitriy Kubankin)

Remains of a 750-year-old city, founded by the descendents of Genghis Khan, have been unearthed along the Volga River in Russia.

Among the discoveries are two Christian temples one of which has stone carvings and fine ceramics.

The city’s name was Ukek and it was founded just a few decades after Genghis Khan died in 1227. After the great conqueror’s death his empire split apart and his grandson Batu Khan, who lived from 1205 to 1255, founded the Golden Horde (also called the Kipchak Khanate).The Golden Horde kingdom stretched from Eastern Europe to Central Asia and controlled many of the Silk Road trade routes that connected China to Medieval Europe.

This city of Ukek was built close to the khan’s summer residence along the Volga River, something which helped it become prosperous. The name “Golden Horde” comes from the golden tent from which the khan was said to rule. [See Photos of the Medieval ‘Golden Horde’ City and Artifacts]

Christian quarter

Archaeologists with the Saratov Regional Museum of Local Lore have discovered the Christian quarter of Ukek, shedding light on the Christian people who lived under the Khan’s rule. Ukek was a multicultural city, where a variety of religious beliefs were practiced including Islam, Christianity and Shamanism.

While Christians did not rule the Golden Horde, the discoveries archaeologists made show that not all the Christians were treated as slaves, and people of wealth frequented the Christian quarter of the city.

“Some items belonging to local elite were found in the Christian district,” Dmitriy Kubankin, an archaeologist with the Saratov Regional Museum of Local Lore, told Live Science in an e-mail. “Among other things, there is a Chinese glass hair pin, with a head shaped as a split pomegranate, and a fragment of a bone plate with a carved dragon image.”

Stone temples

Among the discoveries are the basements of two Christian temples. In eastern Christianity churches are sometimes called temples.

One of the temples was built around 1280 and was destroyed in the early 14th century. “It was roofed with tiles and decorated with murals and stone carving[s], both, from the outside and inside,” Kubankin said.

“The best-preserved bas relief (a type of stone carving) features a lion being clawed by a griffin,” said Kubankin, noting that another carving depicts a cross.

Within the basement of the temple, archaeologists found the remains of goods that may have been stored by local merchants, including fine plates and bottles that were imported from the Byzantine Empire, Egypt or Iran. “Any church cellar was considered a safe place to store goods in it, therefore, merchants from the nearest neighborhood used to keep (objects) of sale there,” Kubankin said.

After the first Christian temple was destroyed in the early 14th century, a second temple was built in 1330 and remained in use until about 1350. “Most probably, it was stone-walled and had a tile roof. A part of its foundation with the apse has been unearthed,” Kubankin said.

The fall of Ukek

The city of Ukek did not last for long. During the 14th century, the Golden Horde began to decline, and in 1395 Ukek was attacked by a ruler named Tamerlane, a man out to build an empire of his own. He destroyed Ukek and took over much of the territory formerly ruled by the Golden Horde, dealing them a blow from which they would never recover.

Today modern-day buildings cover much of Ukek. “This hampers any research and prevents complete unearthing of the entire [site], because it extends over several private land plots,” Kubankin said.

Nevertheless, digging just in one site may lead to significant discoveries. Archaeological expeditions from the Saratov Regional Museum of Local Lore [have made] yearly excavations since 2005,” said Kubankin, adding that these discoveries will soon be featured in a museum exhibition.

Kubankin presented the team’s finds recently at the European Association of Archaeologists’ annual meeting in Istanbul. The study is supported by the Saratov Regional Ministry of Culture, Russian Humanitarian Research Foundation grant (project 12-31-01246) and by the RIMKER Company.

 

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