Incense burners and altar dishes of the Sargatka Culture 

Zakh V.A.


Vestnik arheologii, antropologii i etnografii, 2021, 2 (53)


              page 6682




The paper concerns the so-called incense burners and small altar dishes found in the burial complexes of the Sargatka Culture in the forest-steppe region of the Western Siberia, as well as in the burials of the Cis-Urals nomads of the 4th2nd c. BC, which were used for burning and incensing of various substances. Compilation of materials allows forming a clearer view on the possible function of these objects, which is debatable amongst the researchers. The incense burners are small cylindrical stone or pottery vessels with considerable amount of talcum in the pottery clay. The altar dishes represent round, oval or subrectangular objects made of stone and clay with or without legs. The cylinder-shaped incense burners and altar dishes are, apparently, similar in function to each other. The absence of a high rim on the latter is compensated by a large area of the dish itself. The volume of the incensed substance would be nearly the same in both types of the burners, while sustaining burning on the altar-dishes would not require special means, such as wall penetrations alike those in the cylindrical incense burners. Few preserved burials contain incense burners alongside other, in our opinion related, objects flat-bottom vessels, sometimes with stone bases, which allows reconstruction of the implement in its assembled form and suggestion of a method of its application. The main item was an incense burner a container of a cylindrical or conical shape, usually with through-holes in the wall to allow air intake inside the ware, sometimes having nipple-shaped protrusions on the inner surface of the bottom increasing the surface area of contact with the incense substance. The incense burner would have been placed in a flat-bottom jar filled with smoldering embers and installed on a fire-resistant base. The studied objects and their handling resemble the ceremonial described by Herodotus as a ritual purification amongst the Scythians. However, in our opinion, it cannot be ruled out that they could have been used in the rituals involving hallucinogenic substances, performed with the aim of prophesizing, divination, to communicate with gods and spirits, which were practised by people of the Sarmatian and Sargatian (at least in the western part of the area) Cultures and administered, most likely, by special, elected persons. When those persons die, the implements would be placed into their burials as a grave goods.

Key words: Western Siberia, Sargatka Culture, settlements, burials, flat-bottomed vessel, incense burner, altar dishes, ritual ceremonies.


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Accepted: 25.02.2020

Article is published: 28.05.2021


Zakh V.A., Tyumen Scientific Centre of Siberian Branch RAS, Malygina st., 86, Tyumen, 625026, Russian Federation, E-mail:,