Environment, culture and society in the Southern Urals during the Bronze Age

Applicants:                          Dr. A. Stobbe, Prof. Dr. R. Krause, Prof. Dr. H. Thiemeyer

Funding:                              DFG 2009 to 2014

Research Fellows:              Lisa Rühl (MA), Dr. Astrid Röpke, Dr. Heike Schneider, Dr. Christoph Herbig

Deutsche Version

The ideas on the environmental and socio-economic framework of Bronze Age (Sintashta-Petrovka) cultures in the Trans-Urals are diverse. Archaeological and archaeozoological investigations have helped to identify metallurgy and animal husbandry as key constituents of the economic system. Irrespective of these results, the question of agriculture has been discussed controversially for quite some time.

Hence, the goal of the interdisciplinary project on one hand has been to gain information on climate and vegetation with the help of palynological and sedimentological investigations in order to reconstruct the environmental conditions in the study area. On the other hand systematic archaeobotanical sampling in the settlements Kamennyi Ambar and Konoplyanka at the Karagaily-Ayat riverbank were conducted to create a solid and conclusive database to clarify the role of plant use in the Bronze Age society.

Fig. 1: Sampling at Kamennyi Ambar (2012) Fig. 2: Charred construction timber at Kamennyi Ambar, House 5 (section 6, 2012)

The prerequisites for archaeobotanical studies, which had been underrepresented in the Trans-Urals till the beginning of the research project, have been ideal. Various depressions in the area, either water-filled or silted up with organic sediments, provided excellent archives for palynological and sedimentological investigations. A number of wells within the settlements of the Sintashta culture offered the rare opportunity to analyse wet preserved organic remains in a semi-arid steppe environment. Plenty of charred remains were retrieved from cultural layers as well.

Fig. 3: Wet-sieving of sediments Fig 4.: Coring for pollen

At more than 40 coring sites, more than 25 deposits with organic sediments of > 40 cm thickness were found. Selected cores were sampled palynologically, accompanied by parallel analyses of geochemical parameters and measurements on magnetic susceptibility. To the year 2013, more than 200 sediment samples were screened and analysed for archaeobotanical macro-remains. In addition, charcoals of collapsed constructions from houses and structures in the wall-and-ditch system were analysed. Furthermore, reference collections of pollen and plant macro-remains have been supplemented with collected specimens from the area, and a herbarium of Trans-Ural species has been established.

Abb. 5: Small lake near Kamennyi Ambar Abb. 6: Steppe landscape


The palynological and sedimentological investigations indicate that a humid climate prevailed during the Bronze Age, following and preceding drier phases.
The geographical limitation of the Sintashta settlements to the Transural region is believed to be the result of the prevailing favourable environmental conditions in this region. The hilly landscape with perennial rivers and the proven humid climate probably contributed to the decision to prefer cattle within the herd structure.
Capacity-models consider autonomous activity zones of at least 4 km radius surrounding each Sintashta settlement where grazing resources could easily sustain the estimated population and their livestock. The river is seen as the determining factor to settle in this region as it provided constant access to water and valuable natural grazing areas.
The botanical macro-remains provided information on the nutrition and lifestyle of the Bronze Age population. The most striking result so far is the complete lack of remains from cultivated plants. Agriculture has not been practiced in the area around Kamennyi Ambar and Konoplyanka. However, wild plants probably played a role within the human diet and as fodder for livestock.
Charcoal analyses show that the construction elements of houses were almost exclusively made of pinewood. Birchwood however was mainly used as fuel. According to the palynological findings, both species were common in the area of investigation, and there is no sign of a strong deforestation or overexploitation of forests through timber extraction.

Publications (alphabetical order):

J. Fornasier – R. Krause – L. N. Korjakova – A. Stobbe – L. Rühl – H. Schneider – H. Thiemeyer – S. Peters – A. V. Epimachov – S. V. Šarapova – S. E. Panteleeva – I. V. Molčanov – N. A. Berseneva – A. Patzelt – V. V. Noskevič, Architektur, Wirtschaft und Landschaft der bronzezeitlichen Siedlungen am Nordrand der Eurasischen Steppe im Trans-Ural (Russische Föderation). Eurasia Antiqua, im Druck.

A. J. Kalis, A. Stobbe, Archaeopalynological Investigations in the Trans-Urals (Siberia), Bulletin of the Novosibirsk State University. Series of History and Philology 11, 2012, 3, 130–136 [A. J. Kalis – A. Stobbe, Archaeopalynological Investigations in the Trans-Urals (Siberia), Вестник Новосибирского государственного университета. Серия: История, филология. Том 11, 2012, 3, 130–136].

L. N. Koryakova/R. Krause/A. Stobbe (2015), The Bronze Age settlements of Southern Trans-Urals in the environmental context (the Karagaily-Ayat River Valley Study) [Л. Н. Корякова/P. Краузе/A. Штоббе, Поселения эпохи бронзы южного зауралья в контексте природной среды (по материалам долины р. карагайлы-аят)], in: Chibilev, A. A. et al. (Hrsg.), Steppes of Northern Eurasia: materials of the VII International Symposium. [А. А. Чибилёв и др., Степи Северной Евразии: материолы VII международного симпожиума]. International Steppe forum of the Russian Geographical Society, Orenburg (Orenburg 2015) 417–420.

R. Krause – L. N. Korjakova (Eds.), Multidisciplinary Investigations of the Bronze Age Settlements in the Southern Transurals (Bonn 2013).

R. Krause – L. N. Korjakova – J. Fornasier – S. V. Šarapova – A. V. Epimachov – S. E. Panteleeva – N. A. Berseneva – I. V. Molčanov – A. J. Kalis – A. Stobbe – H. Thiemeyer – R. Wittig – A. König, Befestigte Siedlungen der bronzezeitlichen Sintašta-Kultur im Transural, Westsibirien (Russische Föderation), Eurasia Antiqua 2010, 97–129.

L. Rühl, Archäobotanische Untersuchung pflanzlicher Großreste in der bronzezeitlichen Siedlung Kamennyj Ambar (Russ. Föd.) Magisterarbeit, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main (2012).

L. Rühl – L. N. Koryakova – R. Krause – A. Stobbe, Wells of the fortified Bronze Age settlement Kamennyi Ambar (Chelyabinsk Oblast, Russia), in: V. N. Adaev – N. P. Matveeva – N. E. Ryabogina – S. M. Slepčenko (Hrsg.), Ecology of ancient and traditional societies. Proceedings of the 5th international conference. 5th international conference: Ecology of ancient and traditional societies (EATS), 7.-11.11.2016, Tyumen [В. Н. Адаев/Н. П. Матвеева/Н. Е. Рябогина/С. М. Слепченко, Экология древних и традиционных обществ : материалы V Международной научной конференции, г. Тюмень, 7–11 ноября 2016 г. в 2 ч. (Тюмень 2016).] (Tjumen 2016) 187–192. [pdf]

L. Rühl – C. Herbig – A. Stobbe, Archaeobotanical analysis of plant use at Kamennyi Ambar, a Bronze Age fortified settlement of the Sintashta culture in the southern Trans-Urals steppe, Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 2015, 413–426. [doi.org/10.1007/s00334-014-0506-7]

C. B. Шарапова/Р. Краузе/И. В. Молчанов/А. Штоббе/Н. В. Солдаткин (2014), Междисциплинарные исследования поселения коноплянка в южном Зауралье: Предварительные результаты. Вестник Новосибирского государственного университета. Серия История, филология 13,3, 2014, 101–109 [S. V. Šarapova/R. Krause/I. V. Molčanov/A. Stobbe/N. V. Soldatkin, Multidisziplinäre Untersuchungen in der Siedlung Konopljanka im Südlichen Transural: vorläufige Ergebnisse. Berichte der Staatlichen Novosibirsk Universität 13,3, 2014, 101-109].

A. Stobbe, Long-term perspective on Holocene environmental changes in the steppe of the Trans-Urals (Russia): Implications for understanding the human activities in the Bronze Age indicated by palaeoecological studies, in: R. Krause – L. N. Koryakova (eds.), Multidisciplinary investigations of the Bronze Age settlements in the southern Trans-Urals (Russia). Frankfurter Archäologische Schriften (FArS) 23 (Bonn 2013) 305-326.

A. Stobbe – A. J. Kalis, Archaeobotanical Investigations in the Trans-Urals (Siberia): The Vegetation History, in: W. Bebermeier – R. Hebenstreit – E. Kaiser – J. Krause (Eds.), Landscape Archaeology. Proceedings of the International Conference Held in Berlin, 6th-8th June 2012., eTopoi. Journal for ancient studies. Special Volume 3 (Berlin 2012) 297–303 [pdf].

A. Stobbe/T. Gregor/A. Röpke (2014), Long-lived banks of oospores in lake sediments from the Trans-Urals (Russia) indicated by germination in over 300 years old radiocarbon dated sediments, Aquatic Botany 119, 2014, 84–90. [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aquabot.2014.07.004]

A. Stobbe – M. Gumnior – L. Rühl – L. N. Koryakova – R. Krause, Climate, Vegetation and Sintashta Economy in the Karagaily-Ayat Microregion of the Trans-Ural Steppe, in: V. N. Adaev – N. P. Matveeva – N. E. Ryabogina – S. M. Slepčenko (Hrsg.), Ecology of ancient and traditional societies. Proceedings of the 5th international conference. 5th international conference: Ecology of ancient and traditional societies (EATS), 7.-11.11.2016, Tyumen [В. Н. Адаев/Н. П. Матвеева/Н. Е. Рябогина/С. М. Слепченко, Экология древних и традиционных обществ : материалы V Международной научной конференции, г. Тюмень, 7–11 ноября 2016 г. в 2 ч. (Тюмень 2016).] (Tjumen 2016) 184–188. [pdf]

A. Stobbe – M. Gumnior – L. Rühl – H. Schneider, Bronze Age human-landscape interactions in the southern Transural steppe, Russia – Evidence from high-resolution palaeobotanical studies, Holocene 26 (10), 2016, 1692-1710. [https://doi.org/10.1177/0959683616641740]

A. Stobbe – M. Gumnior – A. Röpke, Palynological and sedimentological evidence from the Trans-Ural steppe (Russia) and its palaeoecological implications for the sudden emergence of Bronze Age sedentarism, Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, 2015, 393–412. [https://doi.org/10.1007/s00334-014-0500-0]