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N.Fedorova.Ust-Polui: 1st century BC. Catalogue of the exhibition. Salekhard - Sankt-Peterburg, 2003.




In the 1st century BC the «civilized world» was a narrow strip stretching from the Mediterranean to the Huang He basin and occasionally interrupted by deserts and mountains. The waves generated by the events occurring in various parts of this territory were travelling from the west to the east and back again: Rome became an empire, its legions landed in Britain; a passion drama with Antonuis and Cleopatra was played in the Ptolemaic Egypt, Parthia was trying to take a revenge for Iran's defeat in the war against Alexander the Great; in the Far East the Middle Kingdom was raising again after the many years of turbulence and warfare - the time of the Han dynasty came, the period of high stability and successful development. The world was tied together with a strong thread of the China silk caravans route.

In the Eurasian steppes the nomads, both named by the fathers of history - the Scythians, the Sarmatians and the Sakas - and those who remained nameless in history formed a cultural layer of the «second circle». They were mobile, perceptive and militant. The steppe from the Danube to the Altai was a well known road for them. They took the fruit of the developed civilizations as tribute or as a war gain, and they «talked» to each other in the language of the animal style, the artifacts of which were surprisingly similar from the Crimea to Ordos. The world was also tied with the «roads of the nomads».

The taiga tribes were hidden in the forests, all the written mentions of them were inaccurate and not clear. We call them by the names of the archeological cultures. In Western Siberia a Kulai cultural-historical community was identified, whose influence spread to all the taiga Ob region and even penetrated into the tundra area. In the 1st century BC its population started to participate actively in the international events through wars, migrations and trade. The characteristic «taiga» ceramics was found as far as the upper Ob, and in the remote taiga regions began to appear the Sarmatian bronze mirrors and the silver medallions with the portraits of the Parthian king of the kings. The cultural layer of the «third circle» formed another shell of the noo-sphere.

The intertribal sacred place Ust-Polui was functioning on the Arctic Circle in Western Siberia in the 1st century BC. It was located on the cross-roads of the natural zones and the cultural traditions. While meeting there during the sacred ceremonies the people from various territories of the Ob region exchanged knowledge, technology and cultural achievements, in these meetings they created new cycles of magic legends and epic tales, the motifs of which inspired the ancient artists. Having performed the sacred rites the people distributed the material evidence of the contacts across the wide spaces of the West Siberian taiga. The remote northern sacred place became one of the facts of the common culture of the world.

The archeological monument known as the settlement (sacrificial place) Ust-Polui was located within the bounds of the contemporary city of Salekhard, the capital of the Yamal-Nenets autonomous Okrug. The history of its research began in the winter of 1932. During the construction of the hydro-port several kilometers from the city limits of that time the workers found numerous bones and ceramics fragments. On March 17, 1932 a young researcher from Leningrad, V.S.Adrianov came to Salekhard. He wrote in his «Report about the trip to Sale-Khard in 1932»: «The find… of the artifacts was made by the workers 3 km from Sale-Khard, on a high bank of the river Polui during the excavation of a trench for the foundations of the aero-station under construction in this area… The workers noticed the abundance of bones at the depth of about 75 cm from the surface and their strange shape. The trench excavation was made at the end of February - beginning of March 1932. During that period the temperatures in Sale-Khard went down to 50C and lower. Main instrument that was used in this work was the crow-bar, and, consequently, in the unbroken lumps of frozen earth a lot of objects could still remain. As best they could the workers collected the objects both from the excavated earth and directly from the cultural layer… Despite the fact that this find was made under extremely severe conditions of the arctic winter, in the narrow strip of the trench for the aero-station, it displayed a striking variety of the found artifacts so unusual for the Arctic Circle, that the further study of this camp is a direct necessity.»

The finds were transferred to Leningrad, to the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (MAE). They produced such a strong impression, that it was decided to organize a dedicated expedition for the study of the site. V.S.Adrianov was appointed the head of the expedition. Excavations «of the settlement Ust-Polui» - as V.S.Adrianov called the monument - took place in 1935-36. Most part of the area in front of the hydro-port building was studied. According to the description of the author of the excavations (he wrote several short papers about his work in 1935 - 36,) a rampart and a trench were registered on the floor side of the «settlement». This allowed the researcher in his article published in the local paper «Krasny Sever» of 24.09.1936 «to refer the monument to the settlement type». Unfortunately, today nothing is left in the area, where the defense (or protective, separating the sacred space from the ordinary) structures could have been - a sports complex «Aviator» has been built on the site. The number and the quality of the finds from the V.S.Adrianov's excavations was amazing: about 13 thousand items in 1935, of which 1,500 were artifacts; 35 thousand in 1936. The monument immediately attracted the attention of the scholars both in the USSR and abroad. In 1935 one of the leading archeologists, the author of the first Soviet textbook on archeology, professor of the Leningrad University V Ravdonikas wrote to his, no less renowned, colleague A. Talgrenn in Finland: «Amazing things were brought by our young researcher V. Adrianov from the excavations that he made in the summer on the Ob… About 7,000 things, of them about 1,500 bone artifacts of exceptional artistic quality… I'm writing still under the impression, as I've just seen these things. This is literally a world scale discovery». And further: «It is not clear from what type of monument they come, Adrianov believes it to be a settlement, but the artifacts are too good for a cultural layer of an ordinary settlement. It might have been a sacrificial place».

Ust-Polui could have become the attraction for specialists for many years to come, however the fate ruled differently. V.S.Adrianov was arrested by NKVD and executed at the end of 1936. Quite young - he was only 32 - talented scholar died, and his greatest discovery remained for ten years just the collection of artifacts known only to the narrow circle of specialists. V.S.Adrianov did not have time to answer the V.Ravdonikas's question about the nature of the monument he studied - was it a settlement or a sacrificial place. A ban was put on any mention of his work for a long time, even the fact that he was the first to give the name to the culture - Ust-Polui - was forgotten. It was only in the recent years, owing to the works of the St Petersburg scholar A.M. Reshetov, that the story of V.S.Adrianov's life became known.

The next stage in the study of the monument is tied to the names of the famous researchers of the North: an archeologist, ethnographer, linguist V.N. Chernetsov and his wife an archeologist V.I. Moshinskaya. In 1946 they visited the monument and bored several test pits there «for the purposes of stratification testing», i.e. to see the cultural layer of Usr-Polui in cross-section and find out how many times and when it was inhabited. After visiting the monument and studying the collections of V.S.Adrianov in MAE V.N.Chernetsov and V.I.Moshinskaya came to the following conclusion: «Ust-Polui is one of the key monuments for the history of the Ob region». They formulated their task as follows: «Our goal is not only to identify the character of the Ust-Polui culture, but also to single out the various components, of which it was formed and to try to raise the questions of the ethnic genesis of the Ob Ugrians».

Comprehensive works by V.N.Chernetsov and V.I.Moshinskaya on the Ust-Polui issues were published in 1953 in the series «Materials and research on archeology of the USSR» (MIA). The authors studied the bone tools, ceramics and bronze from V.S.Adrianov's collection, dedicating a separate article to each category of the finds, and completed the whole cycle with the section «Ust-Polui time in the Ob region», written by V.N.Chernetsov. In the later years they more than once referred to the Ust-Polui artifacts in their papers on ancient art. And they were not alone in this. There is probably not a single publication on the issue of the ethnic genesis of the peoples of Western Siberia, development of the material and spiritual culture of the region, that does not contain a mention of Ust-Polui. This is true with regard to not only the USSR and Russia, but also internationally. In 1948 the Swedish researcher Helge Larsen and the Pennsylvania University professor Freilich Reini made references to the Ust-Polui finds in their paper on the genesis of one of the Paleo-Eskimo cultures. In 1959 Ust-Polui was mentioned by one of the leading «northern» archeologists in the USA Chester Chard. Another famous Swede - Karl Moberg - also referred to it in the early 1970s. In 1974 the works by V.N.Chernetsov and V.I. Moshinskaya were published in Montreal in the English translation, which was a very unusual thing in those days and was the evidence both of the international recognition of their work, and of the importance of the Ust-Polui problem for the world archeology.

Despite all these publications a lot of unanswered questions remained, and the most important among them - what was this monument - a settlement, as V.S.Adrianov called it, or a sacrificial place as was indicated by V. Ravdonikas and later implied by V.N.Chernetsov and V.I.Moshinskaya? Since all the field materials and drawings of V.S.Adrianov were lost, apparently they were seized at the time of his arrest, many archeologists felt the need for the new excavations. That need became pressing when the territory of the monument became part of the city construction area and began to suffer from annual destruction.

57 years passed after the tragic end of V.S.Adrianov's excavations. In 1993 in the anticipation of the 400 years anniversary of Salekhard the studies on Ust-Polui were resumed. For three years- from 1993 to 1995 the Yamal archeological expedition of the Institute of History and Archeology of the Ural branch of RAS and the Ural University worked there. The expedition managed to obtain that context of the cultural layer, which was so much wanted until then, and put together a collection of artifacts second to the Adrianov collection only in quantity, but not in the quality of the artifacts. The collection from the 1993-95 excavations belongs now to the collections of the Yamal-Nenets regional Shemanovsky museum and exhibition complex.

The settlement (sacrificial place) Ust-Polui - the new name preserved the priority right of the first discoverer, and at the same time adds a significant detail to its interpretation - is located on a high bank of the river Polui, not far from its confluence with the r. Ob. The ravines, that run perpendicular to the bank line, are cutting the terrace edge into the small capes, on one of which the sacred place was located at the turn of the eras. From the floor side its territory is bounded now by the former hydro-port building, from the north and the south - by small ravines. The excavations of 1993-95 were made between the V.S.Adrianov's ones. In the central part of the site the cultural layer is heavily pressed and covered with the later sediments rich in organic matter and the finds. Along the edge of the terrace and the northern side of the cape three fire places were excavated, located at a distance of not more than 3-5 m from one another. They were confined into a wooden frame and had a birch bark flooring for protection from moisture, around them were the artifacts layouts: arrow heads from bone and antler, bone spoons and blades with sculptured animal heads, parts of compound bows, knife hafts. Around the fire place on the bank of the r. Polui many of the crucible fragments were collected - the vessels for melting and casting of copper, as well as the slag, that remained from the process The excavation adjoining the bank was the location of the find of most of the artifacts, which were not known anywhere else apart from the Ust-Polui - the bas-relief models cut from shale, that were used for the future bronze castings. In the northern part of the monument site a big heap of large stones was cleared with traces of fire on some of them. Near that heap the traces of certain actions were registered, most likely related to ritual ceremonies: a heap of wood chips, between the layers of which a birch bark box was found with the mummified bird figure, a skeleton of the fur animal, several dog's skulls, fragments of birch bark things, including a rectangular plate with square holes cut in it. Lower, practically already in the ravine, the foundations of two small oval structures not bigger than 2m in length were excavated. The walls were made from wooden blocks placed on a rib, in the foundation of one there was a dog's skull, the northern walls were sluiced with some organic liquid - black and oily to the touch. In the same part of the monument site two female burials were found. One of the graves, in which the buried woman was placed on the birch bark bedding on her side, was covered with multi-layer cultural strata; another one, where apart from the birch bark bedding only the skull was preserved, was registered not deep under the surface. Unfortunately, there were no things in the graves that would have made it possible to date them, however their very presence in the territory of the monument raised its sacral status. On the other hand, good preservation of the wood from the excavations of 1993-95 allowed to date the monument more accurately using the dendrochronological method - several samples were dated as the 1st century BC.

The finds from the cultural layer of Ust-Polui were represented with a vast number of artifacts, among which were the arms items - arrow heads, bow parts, ornamented armor plates, bronze tooth; parts of the deer harness; bone artifacts with sculptures decorations, that became a kind of the «identity card» of Ust-Polui: spoons, combs, belt hook. Several dozens of bone hafts of the iron knives, hundreds of ceramics fragments, ornamented birch bark and wooden items. As well as the shale models and bronze castings in the shape of the anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures. Huge information on the history of the Ob region is encoded in these finds: the ethnic genesis and military traditions, religious beliefs and the art, transport, economy, crafts are studied and shall continue to be studied for a long time on the materials from the Ust-Polui excavations.

Collections of 1935-36 were not exhibited until now. The finds from the excavations of 1993-95 served as the material for the exhibition «In the early days of history», which was demonstrated in 1997 at the II Krasnoyarsk Biannale, and later toured the museums of Ekaterinburg. The joint event of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera) and the Yamal-Nenets Shemanovsky regional museum and exhibition complex - the exhibition «Ust-Polui: the 1st century BC» - will allow all the visitors to see with their own eyes the wealth of the ancient sacred place in the Arctic Circle.

2002 is the 70 years anniversary of the discovery of the monument. Let this exhibition be not only the presentation of the archeological heritage of the region, but also a tribute to the memory of those, who discovered and studied it in the severe 1930s…

© Ямальская археологическая экспедиция, 2003-2017
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