Artefacts from the Turbinella pyrum shell found at 3rd–4th century sites in the Middle Kama region

Goldina R.D. (Izhevsk, Russian Federation)


                 page 97–107


Starting from the 1950s, researchers have been collecting original artefacts discs made of obviously non-local shells in the Middle Kama region. In the 1990s, the source region for such molluscs was determined to be the coastline of India. Since then, over 170 such artefacts have been found in burial grounds. These objects were used in the 3rd–4th centuries mostly as cover plates attached to leather belts produced by local masters. Their use as globular pommels attached to imported swords was less common. The discs were made in India, which is well known for having had several shell-processing centres, from the shells of the Turbinella pyrum molluscs. Goods made of these shells had been imported from India throughout Eurasia since the 4th–3rd mill. BC (Mesopotamia). They were found in the 1st mill. BC mounds in the Himalayas and East Pamir foothills, near the northern foothills of the Kyrgyz mountain range and in the steppe archaeological sites dated the 1st half of the 1st mill. AD. The densest distribution of such artefacts has been recorded across 20 sites in the Middle Kama region, with the most significant cluster being the Tarasovo burial ground located in Udmurtia (71 pieces). This site, known to be the largest Finno-Ugric site in Eurasia (1880 graves), is related to the Tarasovo (Cheganda) culture of the Pyanoborye historical community and covers the interesting period of the end of the Early Iron Age and the Great Migration Period. In the Tarasovo burial ground, the discs were found in 47 graves of 50 people (42 female and 8 male). In 43 and 7 cases, the artefacts consisted of belt cover plates and part of gift sets, respectively. 30 belts had one cover plate only; 5 belts had 2 cover plates; 8 belts had 3 cover plates. Two cover plates were decorated with round imprints making rosettes. A similar ornament was recorded on artefacts found in India and in the Krasny Yar burial ground (Orenburg region). Along with cover plates, the Middle Kama region features pendants and beads made of shells. The beads were most probably imported during the 2nd century AD, while the pendants, whose datings coincide, are likely to have been produced by local craftsmen from imported discs. Discs were imported mainly in the 3rd–4th centuries (except for the last quarter), with the import ostensibly ending during the Huns’ invasion. In different periods, discs were spreading from India to Eurasia through the Silk Road. Thus, they came to the Middle Kama region from Central Asia and from the Aral Sea region by means of the Ural river, the Belaya river and its tributaries. There, local craftsmen applied them according to their aesthetic sense. Pommel discs for swords arrived to all regions together with blades. The period of their distribution covers the 1st–3rd centuries AD.


Key words: Eurasia, India, the Middle Kama region, shells of mollusks Turbinella pyrum, the Great Silk Road, production centers.


DOI: 10.20874/2071-0437-2018-43-4-097-107




R.D. Goldina

Udmurt State University, Universitetskaya st., 1, Izhevsk, 426034, Russian Federation