Статья 'Bolshekaraganskaya Valley – a Proto-Indo-European boundary of ancient civilization' - журнал 'Genesis: Historical research' - NotaBene.ru
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Genesis: Historical research

Bolshekaraganskaya Valley – a Proto-Indo-European boundary of ancient civilization

Ulchitckii Oleg Aleksandrovich

PhD in Architecture

Head of the department, Docent, the department of Architecture, Magnitogorsk State Technical University

455000, Russia, Chelyabinsk Oblast, Magnitogorsk, Uritskogo Street 11, office #324

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The object of this research is the territory of formation of fortified settlements of the Bronze Age in Southern Ural – Bolshekaraganskaya Valley and adjacent territory within the Chelyabinsk Region. The subject of this research is the territorial-geographic complexes and historical-theoretical approaches towards studying the fortified settlements of ancient Ural in dynamics of their development. The author explores such aspects of the topic, as the formation of the center and core of resettlement of the Bronze Age in the basin of Bolshaya Karaganka River, which joins Ural River in southern part of Chelyabinsk Region, the territory also known as Arkaimskaya Valley. Special attention is given to localization and layer-wise fixation of the fortified settlements, as well as typology of their morphogenesis. Research methodology is built on the theory of historical-architectural comparativism and comparative analysis of patterns of the fortified settlements in their layer wise fixation. The main conclusion is defined by the most comprehensive review of the typology of fortified settlements of South Ural of the Bronze Age. The analysis of planning analogues determined the typological and morphological similarity of the objects, succession of construction traditions in territories with the advanced urban development systems of Middle Asia. The results of analysis provided certain clarifications in determining the unique morphology of the plans of fortified settlements related to multi-functionality of the objects, virtually first known in history at the moment of research, living and industrial fortified structures with the dominant metallurgical function. The research results allow suggesting the origin of Sintashtinsko-Petrovsky city-forming fortification system in compliance with the ancient architectural and urban traditions in Middle Asia at the early development stages of Indo-European states.

Keywords: fortified settlements, historical heritage, ancient civilization, Bronze Age, Proto-Indo-European frontier, Sintashta, Ancient Ural, Bolshekaraganskaya Valley, planning structures, settlement systems


Looking at the results received in the course of historical, archeological, ethnographical and other surveys in the Southern Ural [1,3,4,6,7,9,11,14,19] it should be noted that general considerations regarding the typology and origin of ancient structures in the region have not been properly investigated yet. The multiplicity of interpretations enables using the materials available to develop new scientific knowledge about ancient fortified settlements of the Bronze Age in the Southern Ural.

In the period from 1969 to 2013 over 20 fortified settlement ruins were found in Chelyabinskaya oblast (region), Orenburgskaya oblast (region), the Republic of Bashkortostan and Northern Kazakhstan: Alandskoye, Andreevskoye, Arkaim (Aleksandrovskoye) [7, pp. 8‑23], Bakhta, Bersuat (Yagodny Dol), Zhurumbay, Isiney-1, -2, Kamysty, Kizil-Chilik (Parizh), Chekatay, Shikurtau [2], Kizilskoye, Konoplyanka, Kuysak, Olgino (Kamenny Ambar) [11, pp. 71-74.], Rodniki, Sarym-Sakly, Sintashta-1 [5, pp. 17-43], Sintashta-2 (Levoberezhnoye) [13, pp. 113-139], Stepnoye, Ustye, Chernorechye III [4]; Ulak-1 [14], Selek [18], Streletskoye, Shibaevo-1, Kamenny Brod, Zarechnoye (Figure 1). Arkaim is the most well-known and studied settlement initially named Aleksandrovskoye [1, pp. 15] (named after the nearest village). Currently, archeological digs are carried out in the south of Chelyabinskaya oblast and adjacent areas of Eastern Orenburzhye, Bashkortostan and Northern Kazakhstan.

Scientific methods have been used to define and justify key factors that contributed to the emergence, development and decline of Southern-Ural fortified settlements (based on thesis research materials): 1) surface copper ore deposits that were developed by crude methods [10, pp. 140‑141]; 2) characteristics of the region’s geographical environment, in the Middle Bronze Age, that influenced the settlements’ arrangements. Earlier territorial settlements are characterized by living together nomadic (semi-nomadic) and sedentary settlements. This lead to a territorial interaction: mine – fortified settlement – non-fortified settlements.

Each fortified settlement is characterized by a complex of planning and engineering methods as well as sepulchral sites. The area of one structure within defensive walls was from 8 (Isiney) to 34,000 sq.m2 (Chenorechye). Fortified settlements were used as territorial centers resembling citadels from the early Middle Ages in Central Asia and Iran, i.e. “akr” and “kale” [12, pp. 264‑268]. In the Southern Ural such centers are found 20-40 km from each other, often in fluvial plains.

Even though fortified settlements were constructed on the same pattern which can be seen in their planning structure before three main types were identified [21, 2016]: Early Sintashta, Classic Sintashta and Petrovka types.

The architecture of fortified settlements absorbed social organizational and geographical features. What complicates the determination of the origin of the Sintashta-Petrovka culture is the fact that its distribution is not geographically associated with borders of early Indo-European states and there are no written sources.

Figure 1 – Layout of the Bronze Age fortified settlements in the Southern Ural (XVIII–XVI BC)

The objective of this study is to expand the scientific knowledge about the typology and origin of the Bronze Age fortified settlements in the Southern Ural using comparative-historical methods to analyze historical monuments of the Sintashta-Petrovka culture of the 15-16th centuries BC.

Specific objectives are:

‑ to clarify and define the typological membership of the fortified settlements in question;

‑ to analyze their locations in Bolshegaraganskaya valley;

‑ to consider potential relations between the Sintashta-Petrovka architectural and structural traditions and ancient urban planning traditions in the Central Asia and earlier Indo-European states.

Based on results achieved it is hypothesized that earlier fortifications of the Bronze Age in the Southern Ural are linked with traditions in the ancient Eurasian states. A new systematization form has been offered based on structural and typological features, with the location and typology of all known fortified settlements detected as of the survey moment.

Research methodology

The survey is based on the comparative-historical method most extensively developed by historians and art historians. It looks most reasonable for the study of architectural and archeological facilities, their origins and relations with analogs. The comparative method in architectural surveys originates from professor B. Fletcher, a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects [20]. When applied to the ancient architecture it is a constitutive way to search for relations between objects in question and earlier and later analogs based on the similarity of their volume and planning structures.

Recent archeological surveys made with the comparative method refer to surveys of G. Curinschi‑Vorona who formulated the scientific categorical concept of the comparative architecture science. Comparative models were taken as the most efficient for ancient ruined monuments.

In this survey the comparative method is used as a basis to define investigation methods built on theoretical considerations of Russian scientist and architecture historian V. Grekov who separated three main aspects in the study of ancient settlements: a form of ancient structures as one of the most important historical sources; a specific social characteristic (number of structures, dimensions, development level, etc.); chronology.

The following comparison criteria must be pointed out in the survey:

– morphological: the general layout and layout of individual planning elements;

– historical: dating, layer-by-layer fixation of facility forming stages;

– geographical: territorial and geographical location of facilities.

The comparative historical method offers certain advantages only when historical data about ruined facilities in question are absent completely or partially (particularly, written sources). This facility category includes Sintashta-Petrovka monuments. It should be noted that the comparative historical method also has certain disadvantages: no accurate results and erroneous conclusions made with such approach. Additional archeological data must be used in order to mitigate the risk of false conclusions.

Research results

When studying analogs of the Bronze Age fortified settlements in the Southern Ural the first thing to do is to have a look at well-known Asian and Indo-European sites as the geographical criterion in this case is the basic one. One can develop a uniform concept of planning traditions when analyzing certain planning structures: from Sintashta-Petrovka to later ones: Central Asian, allegedly successive ones.

Khorezmian towns on the right and left banks of Amudarya provide insight to the layout of fortified settlements identified as clan settlements [17, pp. 18] (nomadic communities becoming sedentary) and sedentary settlements of the 6-4th centuries BC. The most archaic type of settlements known in the history of Central Asia are so called fortresses with inhabited walls [16, pp. 9]: Kyuzeli-Gyr and Kalaly-Gyr (VI‑III BC). Also, non-residential structures, allegedly cult or household building, were found in this reasonably large settlements. The fortification level of Kalaly-Gyr was quite complicated for fortresses of that time: numerous towers along walls, gates with complex pre-gate labyrinths in the center of each wall, etc. Another settlement type is a fortress with the tepe house-to-house design. Such structures are found over all territory of Central Asia. Earliest fortresses with sun-dried earth brick structures were found on Anau hill in Turkmenia. They also include the large fortified community house in Ak-tepe fortresses (close to Ashkhabad) and Namazga-tepe (near Kaakhk). They existed in Central Asia from the end of 3000 BC which is explained by stable cultural traditions in the region.

The layout of fortresses with house-to-house structures is illustrated by Dzhanbas-kal. Initially it was a single compact complex of buildings that belonged to one clan and later, when the clan split these buildings also separated into several residential quarters populated with families [16, pp. 15]. Special attention should be given to the parallelism in the development of urban planning traditions in regions located at various geographical distances. For example, similar grouped buildings were found in eastern countries and the Sumerian and Akkadian empires of 2000 BC. However, the so called southern type of dwellings popular in Babylonia is most similar to the northern-type fortresses with inhabited walls known to be common in the territory of future Assyria, Kazakhstan, and the Urals. At the same time, settlements with house-to-house structures started to appear. Khorezmian fortresses with inhabited walls were built as closed forts. Dwellings were arrayed along the walls. Defensive structures were at the same time walls for outer dwelling arrays. The internal free space was used for community livestock.

Settlements with house-to-house structures cannot be called towns as they are just chaotically located large houses referred to as arrayed houses by S. Tolstov [17, pp. 10]. These houses tend to merge inside fort walls into quarters typical for ancient towns. The architectural and planning basis of fortresses with inhabited walls was used as a model for Central Asian towns of the antique period, in particular, for arranging fortification walls combined with dwellings.

At the moment, based on recent survey results, regarding Sintashta-Petrovka fortified settlements in the Southern Ural [21, pp. 5-9], there are four main types identified: Early Sintashta (type-1) with inhabited walls, Petrovka (type-2) with inhabited walls, Late Sintashta (type-3) with inhabited walls, Petrovka (type-4) with house-to-house structures (Figure 1). In addition, it was determined what influence was made on types of settlements in the territory of today’s Kazakhstan and Central Asia. The Petrovka style evolved into Sargarinskaya-Alekseevskaya line patterns.

Thus, in order to build a working hypothesis the location of fortified Sintashta-Petrovka settlements are supposed to have certain borders and a territorial expansion vector. However, it is not confirmed yet as the formation of facilities is limited by Bolshegaraganskaya Valley except for a few fortified settlements such as Isiney, Alandskoye with separated burial mounds located to the south of the valley and Shibaevo–I to the north of major settlement locations.

As noted by some researchers there are two types of the volume and planning structure typical for earlier stages of the Central Asia urban planning: with round and rectangular layouts corresponding to the two main architectural planning methods, i.e. a ring-shaped settlement around an open yard and a house-to-house settlement with adjacent rooms (typical for ancient settlements in Kazakhstan).

The preservation and replication of Sintashta a urban planning traditions in other cultures, especially with developed statehood remains an open issue.


The agglomeration of fortified settlements suggests a certain territorial cluster or isolated trading settlements in the territory of a developing settlement oasis from where bronze or bronze articles were possibly shipped to Mesopotamia, Egypt or Indus areas. Following the working hypothesis it can be stated that the territory of Southern Ural fortified settlements formed as a distant trading settlement of some community with a developed state system.

Based on the Central Asiatic typological analogs, 1000 BC or later periods such as the 12-13th centuries DC which had morphological similarity with the Bronze Age fortified settlements in the Southern Ural it can be assumed that their residents carried a garrison life style. The functional structure of fortified settlements in the Southern Ural is little different from Central Asiatic analogs. At any moment their residents were prepared to defend their fortress or move inland. Such ways of forming fortifications in the area, in fluvial plains and river bends, on the relief suitable from the defense point of view, can only be compared with garrison settlements, purposeful establishment of trading settlements or oases that could become permanent for tens and hundreds of years on the developed areas to pursue specific objectives of a developed society with an established state system. These objectives could include territorial and economic expansion, extraction of natural resources that went into the state’s treasuries and long-term military campaigns. These considerations can be supported by certain historical and archeological facts such as chariot remains in Sintashta burial mounds of the 17-16th centuries BC and a burial mound complex in Olgino fortified settlement (Kamenny Ambar). The average age of people buried there is 35-45. It is ruefully concluded that little is known about death reasons and information available is not sufficient to make any scientific conclusions. This is only a starting point for investigations [22].

Due to the isolation from the civilization, in fields, there were no proper conditions for the development of wheeled transport as an institution of organized military forces. Chariots and harnesses were not manufactured in large quantities in the Southern Ural and possibly were imported, thus the wheeled transport phenomenon can be called “borrowed”. No chariot or harness remains, with few exceptions, were found (bone psalia, wheel imprints in the burial mound soil: Sintashta burials (СB) 28, 29, 30 [5, pp. 200-219; 15, pp.176-189]; mounds near Berlik settlement [7, pp. 71-78]).

Based on archeological atlas data, the territory of the Southern Ural and Kazakhstan was inhabited evenly along rivers ever since the New Stone Age. By the 16th century BC architectural traditions changed significantly but settlements continued evolving regardless of Sintashta fortification levels. In some cases ruined fortified settlements (such as Kizilskoye in the Ural River) were used for Alakulskoye and Fedorovskoye settlements in the 14-13th centuries BC [8, pp. 20-22].


The survey of the typology and origin of Bronze Age fortified settlements in the Southern Ural produced specific scientific results. The analysis of planning analogs revealed a typological and morphological similarity of the facilities, continuity of construction traditions in territories with developed state systems. The comparative historical method was extensively used to define and justify the typology of Bronze Age fortified settlements in the Southern Ural; it is directly related to fortified structures used for living and manufacturing purposes. Similar structures are typical for distant trading settlements with garrison layouts.

The graphic comparative method used to analyze planning structures has become a valuable contribution to the survey methods taking the comparative approach to the next level. The survey highlights the similarity of these facilities with planning structures of different cultures in terms of structures, shapes, dimensions and organization patterns.

The results of this survey allow making suggestions about the origin of the Sintashta-Petrovka town-forming fortification system, inheritance and continuity relations with ancient architectural and urban traditions in the Central Asia at early stages of Indo-European states. This survey experience contributes to the advanced development of the historical and architectural science in the sphere of historical reconstruction of architectural facilities and the comparative historical analysis of ancient architecture and urban monuments.

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