Dogwood-Kobin culture and the country of the Taurus

Kizil – Koba culture and the country of the Taurians



The history of researches of Crimea lasts for more than two and a half centuries of archeological explorations. The Crimean antiquities became the subject of studying by historians of antiquity after the trevels of the Europeans – Dubois de Montpellier and Peter Simon Pallas. Their descriptions were the first systematized academic papers on Crimean archeology. Abandoned Isar Fortresses of Crimean Goths, Venetians and Genoeses were the biggest part of what they described but the French left the descriptions of the ancient ruins as well.   


Dogwood-Kobin culture and the country of the Taurus
Monuments of the Kyzyl-Kobyn culture in the Western Crimea and synchronous monuments of the central and western groups: a – monuments of the older pre-Taurian period; b – monuments of the younger pre-Taurian period; c – monuments of the first phase of the Taurian period; d – monuments of the II phase of the Taurian period and ancient settlements of the Western Crimea with finds of dogwood-Kobin ceramics

First of all, it goes about the Chersonesus mentioned by Pseudo-Skilak. Along with the Chersonesus in the first scientific works on the Crimea thanks to antique authors, the image of Parthenos or Artemis Tavropolos appeared right away and close to it people began to look for Taurus. And later, after the war with Napoleon, the Russian aristocracy, which increasingly started to pay attention to the Crimea, brought this image to the tops in their guides. Crimean megaliths, stone coffin burials located in the foothills and on the South Coast, began to be associated with the Taurians.

At the end of the XIX century the enthusiasts and local historians D.O. Shpak and M.M. Pechonkin collected quite interesting sample on the Heraklion Peninsula which was not similar to ancient or medieval antiquities. It was a molded shiny pottery with an ornament, partially filled with white paste, flint knives, various bone tools and stone graters. All these antiquities were determined by prehistoric times.

In the early XX century M.I. Repnikov studied the so-called Crimean dolmens – cemeteries of stone chests located on the slopes of the Crimean Mountains. He identified those monuments with legendary Taurians, following Dubois de Montpellier, and dated them to the Early Iron Age. In 1926, in a small popular science article devoted to his study of the prehistoric antiquities of the Crimea in the caves of Kizil-Koba, Kosh-Koba and near Neyzats, G.A. Bonch-Osmolovsky described very interesting sample that was different to the sample he had explored of the Stone Age’s bowl. Alike on the Herculean peninsula, that was moulded ceramics covered with ornaments and partially filled with white paste. By the researcher that selected culture was named as Kizil-Kobyn according to the place of discovery.


Dogwood-Kobin culture and the country of the Taurus
Bored lined ornamented korchaga from the settlement of Saharna Golovka in the Inkerman valley. Dogwood-Kobin culture, VII century. BC, the beginning of the Taurus period. Excavations by AK Takhtay, 1944

Now, upon centuries, we distinguish three periods of this culture – the senior pre-Tavrian, the junior pre-Tavrian and the Taurian. It’s clear from their names that only the last period of culture was associated with the Taurians. Based on the assertion that the most stable ethnic feature for barbarian societies was ceramics, very few descendants of the inhabitants of the settlements of the pre-Taurian periods of the Kizil-Kobyn culture remained at the beginning of the Taurian period. In general, the material complex and, above all, the pottery sets of the Taurian period corresponded to the synchronous monuments of the adjacent regions – the North Caucasus, the Ciscaucasia and the Kuban, the Don, the Left Bank of Dnipro and the Middle Transnistria. Such a “mix” in pottery was probably the result of some catastrophic demographic phenomenon in the northern Black Sea region, associated with the beginning of Scythian rule in the region and, in fact, the arrival of the next wave of nomadic tribes known by Novocherkassk-type sights. At least now we can talk about the formation of the “image” of culture at the beginning of the VII century BC and since then any radical changes in the typology of the material complex of the Kizil-Kobyn culture no longer occurred until its disappearance. So that was the population which the Greeks, founding their cities in the Tauride a century later, called as the Taurians.

Dogwood-Kobin culture and the country of the Taurus
Plan of ridge A of the necropolis of the Taurus of Urkusta I in the upper reaches of the Black River (by: Leskov, 1965).

Thus the Taurian period was divided into early and late stages. Early one (middle of VIII – middle of VI century BC) – was the time of formation of the Taurians’ culture when they used and managed the Crimean foothills. Late one (mid-VI – late IV / III centuries BC) – a time of coexistence with the Scythians in the north and the Greek cities on the coast. Three main groups of Taurians’ monuments were formed during the Taurian period – western, central and eastern. The western one was the basin of the Black River, the central one tended to the middle course of the Salgir (the area of ​​present-day Simferopol), the eastern one was located in the mountains in the upper reaches of the Zuya, Biyuk- and Kuchuk-Muskomiya rivers. There may have been a South Coast group, but it’s very poorly researched, so neither its chronology nor the nature of the settlements can be said nowadays.

The Western group was the oldest one in the culture and the Kizil-Kobyn culture began with it in the 12th century BC in fact. Its main settlement, Uch-Bash, disappeared at the beginning of the Taurian period. Instead, in the valley of the Black River there’re many small settlements with a rather poor material culture and in the upper reaches of the river – cemeteries of stone chests, cemeteries, abandoned by the population of the Black River valleys – Inkerman, Karakobyn and others. In this group the Kizil-Kobyn culture disappeared together with the intensification of contacts with the Greeks of Chersonesos in the mid-3rd quarter of the IV century BC. In the 2nd quarter of the IV century BC the Taurians’ settlements moved from the foothills and mountains to the borders of the choir of Chersonesos. Some way that population was involved in the economy of the ancient polis. However, some settlements remained in the foothills. Such contacts led to social stratification among the Taurians, as evidenced by the development of their necropolises during the IV century BC.

Dogwood-Kobin culture and the country of the Taurus
Finds from the necropolis of Urkust. Scale 5 cm. Excavations by O. Leskov, 1956-1957. Archaeological Museum of the Institute of Archeology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.

The phenomenon of social stratification, when only the top of the tribe was in contact with civilized Greeks and was getting rich from such contacts when the rest of the population was critically impoverished, can be traced not only in the choir of ancient Crimean cities but also in ancient centers of Southwestern Europe. As a result – at the end of IV century BC in the western group of monuments there’re no more settlements with a specific ethnic feature of the Taurians – black and brownish ceramics with mortise ornaments filled with white paste. Instead, there’re the settlements with a ceramic complex of the late Scythians, with whom the rests of the Taurians were assimilated.

The central group was the richest one in the culture of the Taurian period. Its population was probably the most active in contact with the Scythians than others, as soon as one of the main steppe routes from the Bosporus (Kerch Peninsula) to Perekop ran along Salgir. It dated from the break of VIII/VII centuries BC until the end of the III century BC. One of the last settlements of the Taurians was a small village at the site of Scythian Naples, but some period of time had been passed between the disappearance of this settlement and the emergence of Naples itself in the II century BC.

Dogwood-Kobin culture and the country of the Taurus
Finds from the necropolis of Urkust. Excavations by O. Leskov, 1956-1957. Scientific funds of the Archaeological Museum of the Institute of Archeology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.

The worst explored group was the eastern one, located on the northeastern slopes of Karabi-yayla and in the foothills. It arose in the second half of VIII century BC or at the beginning of VII century BC probably from the remnants of the population of the younger pre-Taurian period and migrants from the Caucasus due to the appearance of Novocherkassk’s nomads in the Black Sea area. In the IV century BC the sights of this group moved deeper into the mountains, where very archaic features of the ornament on the ceremonial ware of the Taurians were preserved. The group lasted for a good while – until the II century BC quite deeply in the mountains, transforming into the so-called eastern or Aivazov local type of the culture, which was influenced by the cultures of the Taman Peninsula. Part of the population probably assimilated with the nomads in the IV century appearing on monuments such as Krynichka.

The Taurians ran in small settlements in their valleys; their small ground houses covered with reeds were served as shelter from poor weather for them and their cattle. Distant (egg) cattle breeding was predominant part of their household, but they also knew agriculture but at a quite primitive level. Likely the crafts were not developed but in the V century BC the table ceramics became qualitatively accomplished, shiny on a color engobe, richly decorated with an ornament. Most probably the eastern group of monuments was formed involving blacksmith-ironworkers, as one of the earliest known settlements of this group (Seferek Koba) just emerged near the iron ore deposit as a metallurgical center.

In general, the disappearance of the Kizil-Kobyn culture and the Taurians as an ethnicity, what’s associated with its recent period, caused by the process of difficult economic relations with the Greeks and Scythians. And if, as a component, the Taurians were assimilated in late Scythian society, then their further traces in Greek society have not yet been discovered promptly.

Evelina Kravchenko

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The project was implemented with the support of the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation

Evelyna Kravchenko

Candidate of Historical Sciences, Senior Researcher at the Institute of Archeology of the NAS of Ukraine, Head of the Inkerman Expedition of IA NASU

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