Ariets Research Blog

May 2, 2009

Physical Anthropology of the Alans

Filed under: -Scythians, Indo-Europeans, Physical anthropology — Ariets @ 5:50 pm

Whereas their height and the color of their skin did not markedly set the Huns apart from many Romans, the difference between Huns and their Germanic and Alanic white-skinned and tall subjects and allies must have been striking. The Alans were a tall, blond people. In the Middle and Late Sarmatian graves in the Volga region lay men as tall as 182, 185, 187, and 189 centimeters (Rykov 1925, 66, and 1926, 103, 117, 123).

Though we do not hear of Alano-Hunnic marriages, the Mongoloid strain in the Alans of Sapaudia shows that such marriages were fairly common. The leader of Stilieho’s Alanic auxiliaries was a small man; among his ancestors were probably Huns (This presupposes that ALL Alans were white-skinned and tall in the eyes of O. Maenchen-Helfen. Present Astrakhan and Kasimov Tatars have a good proportion of lighter-haired people, and Kipchak name – etymologized as Blond Sakas in Türkic- have their ethnonym translated in many languages with implication of straw-colored hair- Translator’s Note).

The material from Hungary, Slovakia, and Rumania is by far too small to determine the numerical relationship of the various races in the Hunnish hordes. Besides, most of the skulls come from the graves of poor people. The prominent Huns, or, to be more cautious, some of them, cremated their dead. Some E+M skulls might also be Alanic. There were individuals of the South Siberian type among the Sarmatians at Kalinovka in the Volga region. The skulls in the graves at Saint Prex, canton Vaud, with their considerable Mongoloid admixture, were in all probability the skulls of Alans or descendants of Alans. Such a half breed was also the man in whose grave at Vienna-Simmering objects were found that could be Hunnic. The man himself was 180 centimeters tall (Vlcek 1957, 403, 406, 410-414), thus clearly not a Hun.

Two chalk eidola have come to light from Alanic graves of the fifth century A.D. at Baital Chapkan in Cherkessia. One is round in cross section, modeled on one side only, the shoulders being indicated by round projections (fig. 19); the other eidolon is merely a cone, somewhat wider in the upper part.

FIG. 19. Chalk eidola from an Alanic grave at Baital Chapkan in Cherkessia, fifth century A.D.
From Minaeva 1956, fig. 12.

This list is incomplete. Many Sarmatian eidola mentioned in excavation reports are neither properly described nor properly illustrated. A few examples follow: a piece of wood with a human head in a kurgan at Susly in the former German Volga Republic; two stone “stelae” in a cemetery at Zemetnoe near Bakhchisarai in the Crimea; wooden statues, 56 inches high, in a barrow in the former okrug Salsk, southeast of Rostov; an anthropomorphic copper figure in a kurgan between Kapustin and Pogromnoe at the border of the Astrakhan and Volgograd oblasts.

Some of the small terracotta, lead, and copper figures in Sarmatian graves in the Kuban area, excavated by Veselovsky, but never published, may have been dolls. A small bronze figure in a Late Sarmatian grave at Ust-Kamenka, district Apostolovo, Dnepropetrovsk oblast, might also be a doll; its leather belt, with a bow at the back, is well preserved; the absence of a loop indicates that the statuette was not carried around the neck as an amulet. The silver figure of a mustachioed man in a short coat found in a grave in the cemetery at Novo-Turbasly near Ufa, datable to the fourth or fifth century, had a loop at the back.

Minaeva compared the Alanic eidola from Cherkessia with the pieces of chalk in Late Sarmatian graves which for a long time have claimed the attention of Soviet archaeologists. In the Early Sarmatian cemeteries at Berejnovka and Molchanovka, no pieces of chalk were found, but many of realgar (arsenic ore – Translator’s Note). The same is true for the Don region. From most excavation reports, one gets the impression that the lumps of clay were just thrown into the grave pit. However, there are exceptions. In Susly, kurgan 35, in the grave of a woman with a deformed skull, the chalk lay in a small, round vessel with a hole in its side. In the Late Sarmatian graves at Ust-Labinskaya the pieces were carefully placed next to clay vessels; one was in a bowl and five were in pitchers, intentionally kept away from the corpses they were allegedly to purify. It seems that it was rather the shape of the chalk pieces than their color that counted. Many seem to be merely irregularly shaped cones and pyramids, but others had been worked over. The piece in kurgan 8/3 in Susly looks like the cocoon of a silkworm. In the Late Sarmatian grave of a woman, in Focsani in Rumania, lay a rather remarkable “piece of chalk” (fig. 20). Almost 12 centimeters high, it represents a human being: the round line of the chin separates the head from the body; eyebrows, pupils, nose, and mouth are crudely but unmistakably rendered.

FIG. 20. Chalk figure from a Late Sarmatian grave in Focgani, Rumania. (Height ca. 12 cm.)
From Morintz 1959, fig. 7.

So far, no sandstone or chalk eidola have been found in Hungary. In view of the very small number of Alanic graves in the Danube basin, this is not surprising. A curious find proves the identity of the religion of the Alans in Hunnic Hungary and Cherkessia. At Füzesbonyban, a cone-shaped cavity, lined with polished clay, contained a horse skull. There was no cemetery nearby; nothing similar is known from Hungary. But in Cherkessia, in Baital Chapkan and Atsiyukh, three such small “graves” with only the skull and the fore- and hindlegs of a horse have been found, again unconnected with other burials. If the Alans in Cherkessia put eidola in their graves, those in Hungary almost certainly did the same.

The Alans in Hungary stayed as pagan (i.e non-Christian – Translator’s Note) until the end of the Hunnic kingdom as those who in the beginning of the fifth century moved to Gaul. About 440, Salvian of Marseilles spoke about the greedy pagan Alans. In the sixth century a few Alans in Gaul were Christians. We hear of St. Goar from Aquitania whose parents, Georgius and Valeria, had already been baptized (MGH, scr. rer. Merov. IV, 411, this source may have escaped Agusti Alemany in his Sources On The Alans – Translator’s Note); they apparently had left their compatriots and moved into a Roman milieu which, however, did not prevent them from giving their son a pagan Alanic name, Goar. In an inscription in Spain, St. Martin is praised for converting the Alans. In any case, by the middle of the fifth century, the Alans in Gaul were still pagans. Their king, Goachar (Goar), rex ferocissimus, was idolorum minister (Vita Germani 28, MGH scr. rer. Merov. 7, 272)  If this is not a conventional phrase, Goachar’s eidola were probably not different in shape from those in the Sarmatian graves in the East, though possibly bigger.

In his admirable study of the Sauromatian cult objects, K. F. Smirnov assumes that the small chalk eidola in the burials were replicas of large stone statues like the one in kurgan 16 at Tri Brata. He lists more of its kind, unfortunately mostly undatable. Still, one needs only to compare the piece of chalk from Foesani with the stone figure from Tri Brata to see that the main, if not the only, difference between them is their size. The same is true for a stone figure found at khutor Karnaukhova near ancient Sarkel on the lower Don and a small clay statue, a pyramid with a round head from Znamenka south of Nikopol on the lower Dnieper. Both are Sarmatian. Had the eidola which Muageris melted down been of small size, he would not have received more than a few solidi when he exchanged the metal for Byzantine money. This speaks for the assumption that, in analogy with the Sarmatian custom, the Huns in the Crimea, and and not only there, also had small eidola. This seems to be borne out by two eidola from Altyn Asar in ancient Khwarezm. They are of unburnt clay, the one 8 centimeters high and the other 4 centimeters high. The upper strata of the lower horizon in the “Big House” are datable to the third or fourth century. The eidola belong to the same Hunnoid civilization as the bone lamellae and the clay cauldrons from Altyn-asar. The extremely crudely modeled eyes, nose, and mouth are barely indicated by dots and strokes. The small clay cauldrons from Altyn-asar are, as we saw, replicas of bigger copper cauldrons. Therefore, we may conjecture that the eidola from Altyn-asar stand likewise for bigger ones worshipped by the Hunnoid population in Khwarezm in the third or fourth century.

In her analysis of the pottery from Altyn Asar, Levina found numerous parallels to the Late Sarmatian civilization on the lower Volga and to the west of the river, but neither she nor Tolstov noticed that one eidolon has a typically Sarmatian tamga cut into the clay. Exactly the same tamga is carved on the side of a stone slab at Zadzrost near Ternopol in former eastern Galicia (fig. 21 ). On the front are more tamgas, likewise typically Sarmatian. The slab is no less than 5.5 meters high, and below 1.21, above 1 meter wide. How it got into the northwestern Ukraine, where Sarmatians never lived, is obscure (what’s not obscure is how an imminent expert on the subject can be so impervious to the facts outside of his ideological paradigm – Translator’s Note).

FIG. 21. Stone slab at Zadzrost, near Ternopol, former eastern Galicia, marked with a Sarmatian tamga. (Height 5.5 m.)
From Drachuk, SA 2, 1967, fig. 1.

Some Polish archaeologists took it for a Gothic monument, others saw in it a Turkish kamennaya baba (stone matriarch, a Rus’ ragtag moniker for Türkic gravemarker – Translator’s Note) with Runic letters; Drachuk, who discussed it most recently, regards it as a symbol of Sarmatian power. Actually, it is an eidolon, the biggest known so far: the upper part, carefully cut and set off the carelessly cut lower part, represents the head and the neck of the figure. It is in large size what the clay eidolon from Bykovo is in a small size. Similar stone slabs, to decide whether the eidola from Altyn Asar were those of Huns under Sarmatian influence or of Sarmatian under Hunnish influence. Because of the Hunnish cauldron and the bone lamellae, the former seems more likely.

Source: In English, in Russian.

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: