The Mysteriously Advanced Civilization Of Bronze Age Russia

“[Russia] is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” —Winston Churchill

In A Nutshell

“Arkaim” is the name given to the strange, eerily barren remains of a once-great, prehistoric settlement that sits on the steppe plains of Russia’s Urals. Once one of an estimated 20 towns, Arkaim pre-dates Troy by around 500 years, and was a flourishing city at the time the pyramids were being built. The site of strange burials, Scythian-style cave paintings, and heaps of folklore, it’s still up for debate as to exactly who these people were.

The Whole Bushel

It wasn’t even known of until the late 1980s, when it was found—like many important archaeological discoveries—quite accidentally. Archaeologists from Chelyabinsk State University had been dispatched to the site of a planned reservoir when two boys working with the dig team went exploring. They returned with the news of some odd embankments they had discovered, in an area where it was thoroughly expected the team would find nothing. In fact, construction on the reservoir had already begun.

The embankments were the remains of Arkaim, a circular, fortified settlement protected by adobe and clay ramparts constructed over a log frame. Roughly 150 meters (500 ft) in diameter, the protected structure also housed 60-odd family dwellings, partially dug out of the Earth and including hearths, cellars, and wells, along with structures to collect and redistribute water. Early metal-works and furnaces were also found in each, allowing each family to smelt their own bronze and tin.

And Arkaim wasn’t the only one of these settlements found. All told, more than 20 of the circular settlements have now been found throughout the southern Urals and northern Kazakhstan, suggesting a widespread civilization with a very set plan for constructing townships: townships that at first glance might seem barren, but have surrendered a number of their secrets to archaeologists.

The civilization was very horse-centric, and early horse-drawn chariots along with decorative tack have been uncovered. Nearby Stone Age cave paintings suggest that the civilizations’ dependence on the horse dates back even further than Arkaim.

Archaeologists also point to the rather odd burial traditions the civilization seems to have had. Many bodies were uncovered that had been buried in the fetal position, and some were uniquely posed. One grave contained the body of a man embracing a woman while she held a battle axe over his head.

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One of the things that has long been up for dispute among Russian archaeologists is the migratory paths of groups like the Indo-Europeans and the Indo-Aryans, as well as just how the Persian and Sanskrit languages spread throughout Asia and India. So it’s not entirely surprising that a number of wild theories have sprung up around the Bronze Age towns, all bending the facts just a little bit to fit the legends.

One such theory is that Arkaim is actually about 1,000 years younger than has already been established, making it the homeland of the prophet Zoroaster and the lands where he produced the holy book the Avesta.

Others have cited its circular construction as being parallel to great mythological cities like Asgard and Atlantis, suggesting that it was a race much more advanced than previously thought that actually designed Arkaim and the network of similarly constructed townships spread across the area. Some Russian writers point to the name, which is a combination of the words for sky (“Ark-ha”) and earth (“im”) as a clear sign that the civilizations were advanced, peaceful people, and that all the neolithic cities who share the same circular pattern were originally designed as centers of wisdom and religion.

And, of course, there are still those that insist that the distinctive, circular patterns of the towns—very impressive when viewed from above—were clearly used as an ancient, prehistoric spaceport.

Show Me The Proof

Archaeology and ethnic politics: the discovery of Arkaim
New Dawn Magazine: Arkaim: Russia’s Ancient City & the Arctic Origin of Civilisation
Arkaim: Prehistory on the steppe
Photo credit: ITAR-TASS

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