Unique 2,300-year-old plaque with winged gods found in Russia

“The find has made an important contribution to our concepts of Scythian beliefs. In the first place, a particular number of gods are represented at the same time in one element ”: head of the expedition

Russian archaeologists have discovered a unique plaque depicting winged Scythian gods surrounded by griffins during their excavations of the Devitsa V cemetery in the Voronezh region.
Peoples of Iranian origin, the Scythians populated large areas of the Eurasian steppe between the 9th and 4th centuries BC. They were characterized by a culture based on nomadic herding and the breeding of riding horses.

“The find has made an important contribution to our concepts of Scythian beliefs. First of all, a particular number of gods are represented in one element at the same time. Secondly, it has never happened before that an element with represented gods has been found so far northeast of the main Scythian centers, ”said expedition leader Professor Valeriy Gulyaev of the IA RAS (Institute of Archeology of Russian Academy of Sciences).

The Devitsa V cemetery, named for the neighboring village area, was found in 2000 by the Don archaeological expedition of IA RAS. The site is located on the hill on the right bank of the Devitsa River and is a group of 19 mounds that are located in two parallel chains that extend from west to east.
However, an important part of the ancient burial mounds has already disappeared: the area of ​​the necropolis belongs to an agricultural sector and is being actively plowed.

Since 2010 the site has been systematically surveyed by IA RAS Don expedition specialists. During the excavations of the cemetery, some great discoveries have already been made. In 2019, a burial was found containing the remains of a female warrior and an elderly woman wearing a female ceremonial hat known as a calathus.

In a field season in 2021, the Don archaeological expedition continued to study the necropolis. Archaeologists began excavating Mound 7 in the central part of the Devitsa V Cemetery in the vicinity of Mound 9.

The main tomb referred to the Scythian period and dated back to the 4th century BC. It was located almost below the center of a mound and was a 7.5 x 5 meter wooden tomb. In ancient times it was covered with half oak beams that were supported by the seventeen large oak pillars in the tombs. This is the largest of all tombs found in the Devitsa V necropolis.

The burial mound had already been looted in ancient times. The thieves placed a large test pit and “cleaned” a central part of the burial, including the skeleton. However, at the time of the looting the ceiling of the tomb had already fallen and that is why some grave goods have been preserved in the mixture of earth and remains of trees on the margins of the tombs.

The elements found coincide completely with the main elements of the Scythian “triad”. Equipment, harnesses, and “animal-style” artifacts were found in a warrior’s grave.

There was a skeleton of a 40-49-year-old man in the grave. Next to his head, archaeologists found many small gold hemisphere plates that decorated the burial bed. Along with the skeleton were found an iron knife and a horse rib (probably the remains of the ceremonial meal), a spearhead and three javelin heads.

Scientists have been able to reconstruct the length of the weapon by relying on the counterweights on the bottom of the polearm to remain intact. The spear was about 3.2 meters long and the length of the javelins was about 2.2 meters. In the southeast corner of the tomb were fragments of three horse harnesses: horse bits, webbing buckles, iron valances, as well as Scythian pendants of iron, bronze, and bone.

Archaeologists have also found six bronze plaques in the shape of wolves with grimace laws that were decorated with horse cheeks, two on each harness. Next to the horse’s harness was a severed jaw from a young bear that attests, according to scientists, the cult of the bear. Apart from her, a molded cup and a large black glazed vessel have been found in different parts of the tomb.

In the northeast part of the tomb separated from other elements and a few meters from the skeleton a square silver plate was found nailed with many silver nails to a wooden base. The length of the plate was 34.7 cm, with the width in the middle 7.5 cm.

In the central part of the plate there is a winged figure in front of a Goddess of animal and human fertility. The Goddess is known as Argimpasa. His upper body is stripped and he has a cap, probably a horned crown, on his head. The Goddess is surrounded on both sides with the figures of winged, eagle-headed gryphons.

Representations of this type, where the traditions of Asia Minor and ancient Greece are mixed, are often found in excavations of Scythian burial mounds in the North Sea region, the Dnieper forest steppe region and the Caucasus of the North.

The left side of the plate is formed by two square plates decorated with the representations of syncretic creatures standing in the so-called heraldic pose (facing each other, close to each other with their legs). From the right side, two round buckles are attached to the plaque on each of which an anthropomorphic character with a crown on his head is depicted standing surrounded by two griffons. Who are those characters and what element was decorated with this plate remains an open topic.