Mirrors of the Sargatka culture in the Tobol-Ishim interfluve basin

Tigeeva E.V., Belonogova L.N. (Tyumen, Russian Federation)


             page 84–96

In this article, we provide a morphological and typological description of mirrors of the Sargatka culture discovered in the area of the Tobol-Ishim interfluve. Similar artefacts were found in places across a significant part of Eurasia, with quantitative investigations demonstrating their preponderance in the Lower Volga basin and the Aral Sea area. 12 mirrors were analysed using the atomic emission spectroscopy, X-ray fluorescence and spectral analysis methods. Data on metal processing techniques for 11 items were obtained by visual inspection and me-tallographic analysis. The results of atomic emission spectrometry, X-ray fluorescence and metallography showed that both local, traditional and unique, rare technologies had been used in their production. Most mirrors are made of high-tin bronze alloys containing 20–30 % of tin, which imparts a golden colour and lustre to the artefacts. Working with high-tin alloys is known to require special skills, since their forging can be performed only within a narrow temperature range. Reheating and water quenching are the final operations, aimed at strengthening the product during its operation. Stable uniform techniques and temperature regimes seem to have been applied when producing the Sargatka mirrors. The use of water quenching is considered to be an innovation in this locality, which distinguishes the metalworking of the Early Iron Age from the preceding Bronze Age. This allowed us to propose that the processing techniques and the finished products could have been imported from two mirror production centres located in the areas of the Volga river basin and the Aral Sea. The similarity of the artefacts under study indicates that they could have been manufactured at a single production centre. The destination of this centre is hard to determine due to the identity of the artefacts both in terms of their composition and common production pattern, which implies the quenching of hot-forged mirrors in cold water. Taking into account the traditional contacts of the Sargatka tribes, who settled the Tobol-Ishim basin, with the population of the Volga region, as well as the geographical proximity of these territories, we tend to suppose that this centre was located on the territory of the Volga river basin. Thus, a Chinese mirror from the Chepkul 9 burial ground is likely to have been professionally manufactured using a blank wax model for casting. Han mirrors were one of the most important and popular Chinese articles exported to other cultures, including the Sargatka culture. The area of the Sargatka culture embraced the northern branch of the Great Silk Road.


Key words: Early Iron Age, Tobol-Ishim basin, metallography, ancient metal production, mirrors, Sargatka culture.


DOI: 10.20874/2071-0437-2018-43-4-084-096




E.V. Tigeeva,

Tyumen Scientific Centre of Siberian Branch RAS, Malygina st., 86, Tyumen, 625026, Russian Federation


L.N. Belonogova

Tyumen Industry University, Energetikov st., 44, Tyumen, 625013, Russian Federation