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Russian J. Theriol. 14(1): 85–104

© RUSSIAN JOURNAL OF THERIOLOGY, 2015

Horse remains from the Gnezdovo archaeological complex,
Smolensk Region, Russia
Irina V. Kirillova* & Natalia N. Spasskaya
ABSTRACT. The paper summarizes results of the archaeozoological and taphonomic studies of the
osteological materials from floodplain settlement (complexes “Nastil 2”, “Fire 1”) and burial mounds of the
medieval Gnezdovo. Mostly cranial remnants of the complex “Nastil 2” are characteristic of so-called
“storages” sacrifice, which is recorded for this site for the first time. Animal bones of the “Fire 1” layer were
heavily affected by the fire that changed bone tissues in various degrees depending on the temperature.
Horse remains of the burial mounds Ts-255 also bear traces of a fire affect, which could be indirect (for
example, through a thin soil layer). It changes previous idea of the way the inhumation by indicating
cremation. Horse remains of the Gnezdovo show differences in the size class and proportion of skeletal
elements. Gracile first phalanges of the horse of the Ts-191 burial indicate their belonging to a southern
race. This feature is absent in other remains thus suggesting heterogeneity of the horse breed composition in
the Gnezdovo. This is consistent both with the heterogeneity of ethnic composition and with the presence of
imported artifacts in the burials. Specificity of the Gnezdovo burials with horses (a separate horse burials;
a burial of a rider with his horse; a horse belonging to one owner) demonstrates a special relationship of the
residents with riding horses.
KEY WORDS: burial, horse, Gnezdovo archaeological complex, Middle Ages.
Irina V. Kirillova [ikirillova@yandex.ru], “Ice Age” Museum, All-Russian Exhibition Centre, Bld. 71, Moscow,
129223, Russia; Natalia N. Spasskaya [equusnns@mail.ru], Zoological Museum of the Lomonosov Moscow State
University, Bol’shaya Nikitskaya st., 6, Moscow, 125009, Russia

Остатки лошадей из археологического комплекса Гнёздово,
Смоленская область, Россия
И.В. Кириллова, Н.Н. Спасская
РЕЗЮМЕ. Представлены результаты археозоологического и тафономического изучения остеологических материалов из пойменной части поселения (комплексы «Настил 2», «Пожар») и курганов
археологического комплекса Гнёздово. Преимущественно черепные остатки из комплекса «Настил
2» характерны для так называемых «закладных» жертв, которые отмечены для памятника впервые.
Кости животных из слоя «Пожар» претерпели значительные изменения из-за теплового воздействия, изменившего костную ткань в различной степени, в зависимости от температуры. Кости
лошади из кургана Ц-225 также несут следы термического воздействия, которое могло быть и
опосредованным (например, через тонкий слой грунта). Это корректирует прежнее мнение о
способе погребении (ингумация) и скорее указывает на кремацию. Выявлены различия в размерах и
пропорциях костей и индивидуальные особенности. Грацильность первых фаланг, отмеченная
только для скелета лошади из кургана Ц-191, указывает на её принадлежность к южной породной
группе и неоднородность породного состава в целом. Это согласуется с этнической неоднородностью населения, отмеченной антропологами, и привозными предметами в погребениях. Специфика
Гнёздовских погребений с верховыми лошадьми (отдельное погребение лошади; захоронение
всадника с конём; конь, принадлежавший одному хозяину) демонстрирует особое отношение
жителей к ним.
КЛЮЧЕВЫЕ СЛОВА: захоронения, лошади, Гнёздовский археологический комплекс, Средневековье.

* Corresponding author

I.V. Kirillova & N.N. Spasskaya

86

Introduction
The Gnezdovo archaeological site has been studying during more than 130 years, providing extensive
collection and data on the economic structure, economic relationships, natural conditions and time of the formation of particular objects and layers of the complex.
Some principal questions concerning history of the
Vladimir-Suzdal Rus’ have been resolved. The most
important materials were obtained by excavation in the
Gnezdovo necropolis, which includes about 4.5 thousand burial mounds dated from the beginning of the
10th century to the beginning of the 11th century (Avdusin, 1991). Among the burials, complexes with burnt
corpses prevail containing bones of various animals, in
particular horses. The mounds of the Central group
include 26 complexes of this sort (40.9% of mounds),
ten of them containing horse bones (Zharnov, 1992).
The first explorers of Gnezdovo reported about several
complete horse skeletons and skulls (Sizov, 1902;
Spitsyn, 1905). Unfortunately, they have been lost subsequently without examination. Andreeva (1980) provided the only archaeozoological publication devoted
to burial mounds. Osteological materials from the site
of ancient settlements of Gnezdovo are only partially
investigated by now and poorly considered in publications. At the same time, few works considering the bone
specimens provide some information valuable for reconstruction of the life of medieval Gnezdovo population (Ermolova, 1967; Andreeva, 1963, 1980; Kirillova, 2007). New materials obtained during recent excavations and the study of previously collected bone
specimens allowed a better understanding of this unique
archaeological complex. The present study provides
results of a new investigation of those materials.

Materials and methods
We studied materials of two complexes:
A. Floodplain part of the settlement (excavated by
V.V. Murasheva, The State Historical Museum, 2005–
2006): (1) object “Nastil 2”, dated latter half of the 10th
century, and (2) “Pozhar 1” layer, the terminal layer of
the settlement of Gnezdovo, dated the boundary of the
10th–11th centuries.
B. Horse skeletons from three burial mounds of the
Central group of Gnezdovo: Ts-142, Ts-191 and Ts255 (excavated by a Smolensk archaeological expedition of Moscow State University (MSU) in 1975–1978).
The first two skeletons (specimen nos. S-106950 and S106951, respectively) are preserved owing to E.G. Andreeva in the collection of the Zoological Museum of
MSU (ZMMU). The third comes from burial Ts-255, it
is stored at the Archaeological Department of the Historical Faculty of MSU, however, the skull, except for
small fragments, is absent. This skeleton was transferred to the Zoological Museum of MSU in 2009
(specimen no. S-186120).

We also examined copies of archive materials stored
at the Archaeological Department of the Historical Faculty of MSU.
Postcranial bones and tooth row were measured
following the method proposed by Gromova (1959,
1963) and Eisenmann et al. (1988), using callipers
(with a metering error of 0.1 mm). The individual age
and sex of animals was determined based on the extent
of tooth eruption and wear (Kuleshov & Krasnikov,
1928; Korneven & Lesbr, 1932; Dyurst, 1936), taking
into account the condition of cranial and postcranial
bones (obliteration of sutures, state of compacta, etc.).
To estimate the horse body height, we used the
length of limb bones corrected by coefficients of Kiesewalter (1888) and Gromova (1949, 1959, 1963). For
the metacarpal and the metatarsal, the correction coefficients are 6.41 and 5.33, respectively. Classification
of size groups of horses is adopted after Vitt (1952). It
is based both on reconstructed withers height (on Kizewalter) and on the size of particular bones. These two
systems of evaluation of the horse size provide slightly
different results. Although Vitt had criticized Kiesewalter’s approach, our checking of Kiesewalter’s coefficients for metapodial bones showed that this method
provides most precise estimation of the withers height
measured in the same live animals (Spasskaya, 1999).

Description
A. Horse bones from the floodplain part of
Gnezdovo
Bones from the “Nastil 2” complex are mostly poorly preserved; many of them being affected by fire. Only
teeth are completely preserved. Table 1 shows composition of the animal remains. As it follows from the
Table 1, the specimens are mostly skull fragments and
teeth of the horse, cattle and pig. In each case, the bones
preserved in one site belonged to the same adult individual. Bones from the “Pozhar 1” layer are of intermediate preservation, some are poorly preserved, considerably fragmented, brownish-reddish, frequently with
non-uniform dark grey and black spots. A distinctive
feature of the assemblage is a great proportion of bones
that underwent the influence of fire, 246 specimens of
816. However, these data are based on the condition of
bone surface and do not correspond to the true number
of burned specimens, since the surface often lacks a
trace of the effect of high temperature, but as the bones
are broken their spongy tissue is often smoked or burnt,
or similar traces are seen on the planes of bone cracks.
In particular, pig teeth are frequently represented by
enamel crowns, which are more resistant, while dentine
of the crown and roots is strongly charred and easily
crumbled, or even absent. The same is true for the teeth
of Equus and Bos, with the only difference caused by
greater height of their crowns, so that they seem complete, although their dentin filling is also easily crumbled. A prominent manifestation of taphonomic fea-

Horse remains from the Gnezdovo

87

Table 1. Composition of mammal remains from the “Nastil 2” complex.
Taxon

Number of
specimens

Equus caballus,
horse

16

Bos taurus, cattle

38

Sus domesticus, pig

7

Larger ungulates
Total

121
182

Skeletal elements
skull (4 fragments), upper cheek teeth (11, including 10
complete); scapula (1)
skull (8 fragments), upper and lower cheek teeth (25, including
1 complete), metatarsal (2), ankle bone (1), calcaneus (1),
phalanx 2 (1)
skull (1, strongly damaged), upper teeth cheek (6, including 4
complete), female
Small fragments of skulls and teeth

Size class
m
sm
sm

Fig. 1. Slag fused with the mandibular symphysis of domestic pig (SHM, without number).

tures of the “Pozhar 1” layer is provided by the right
mandible of a young pig with symphysis containing a
conglomerate of small coals, bone fragments and sand
particles (Fig. 1). A similar effect is observed as one
throws an object on live coals of a stove in order to bake
rather than burn it. Actually, this conglomerate is a slag
fused with the bone.
Table 2 shows the composition of animal remains in
the “Pozhar 1” layer.
Some characteristics of bones from the “Pozhar 1”
layer are as following:
Cattle. The proximal part of metacarpal 1 displays
malformation in bone tissue (periosteosis). The distal
metatarsal fragments (7 specimens) are represented by
a series a similarly treated bones. However, because of
poor preservation, the specimens lack a trace of treatment (cuts etc.). This was probably fragmentation during preparation. These bones belong mostly to adults.
Pig. The mandibles belong to three females and two
males. The individual age of two subadults represented

by three jaws is identified as 18–20 months old based
on the condition of dentition (M3 incompletely erupted
in a female and non-erupted in a male). Assuming that
mass farrow used to occur in March and April, the time
of slaughter of these two animals fells on autumn.

B. Horse bones from the Gnezdovo burial
mounds
A horse skeleton from the burial mound Ts-142, the
specimen S-106950, ZM MSU (Fig. 2). It was found
almost without accompanying equipment; archaeologists suggested that a neighbouring burial mound contained a grave of the warrior having had owned it
(Andreeva, 1980).
As Avdusin et al. (1975; pp. 134–135) commented,
a well-preserved horse skeleton lying on the right side
was found at the bottom of a pit, with its head turned
north-westerly. In the pit, the skeleton lied obliquely,
with its head and neck shifted towards the vertebral

I.V. Kirillova & N.N. Spasskaya

88

Table 2. Composition of mammal remains from the “Pozhar 1” layer.

Taxon

Total
number of
specimens

Number of
carbonised
Skeletal elements
specimens
Mammals (unidentifiable more precisely)
skull, teeth, ribs, vertebrae, scapulae, large cylindrical
bones

Size
class

Larger

450

175

Medium-sized

37

20

Equus caballus,
horse

2

–

scapula (1), metatarsus (1 complete)

sm, m

184

20

skull (3), upper jaw (2), teeth (146, including 17
complete), hypoglossal bones (2), lower jaw (7),
thoracic and lumbar vertebrae (4), rib (1), scapula (1),
metacarpals (3), pelvis (2), femur (1), articular tarsals
(2), metatarsals (8), phalanges 1 and 2 (2)

sm, m

39

–

lower jaw (2), teeth (34, including 4 complete), vertebra
(1), scapula (1), femur (1)

sm

5

2

horn-core

sm

Bos taurus,
cattle
Capra hircus /
Ovis aries
goat / sheep
Ovis aries,
sheep

ribs
Specimens identified to species

Sus domesticus,
pig

99

29

skull (1), upper jaw (4), lower jaw (8), teeth (60,
including 5 complete), ulna (1), femur (1), cannon bone
(5), metapodia (8), ankle bone (1), calcaneus (1),
phalanges (9)

Total

816

246

–

–
–

sm, m
–

Note: (m) medium-sized and (sm) small size classes of animals.

Fig. 2. Field map of the Ts-142 burial (after Avdusin et al.,
1975).

column. The skull was broken into a number of pieces.
With the content of the pit being examined, accumulations of coal pieces (about 10 × 5 cm) were found at
both sides of the cervical vertebrae. The fore legs were
curved inside and positioned above the body at the
inclined south-western wall of the pit. The hind legs
were extended and also positioned above the body at
the south-western wall of the pit. The horse skeleton
was 160 cm long. A bronze plate was found between its
ribs in the area of its belly surrounded by a decomposed
organic matter.
This skeleton belonged to a 15–16-year-old stallion
(“adult” after Andreeva, 1980). The bones were well
preserved, greyish yellow, without a trace of charring;
many of them were fragmented in the bed or in the
course of extraction. In the skeleton, the following parts
and elements were preserved:
(1) The cranial skeleton consists of 39 axial skull
fragments and 9 mandibular fragments. The tooth rows
are completely preserved and deserve more detailed
description. Rudimentary P1 is absent. Horizontal
grooves are observed on the lateral parts of crowns of
almost all upper and lower teeth at the occlusal surface.
They are especially well expressed on the external
surface of molar rows of the both mandibular rami. The
upper corner teeth are worn non-uniformly (Figs. 3A,
3B). Small wear facets are present on the upper internal

Horse remains from the Gnezdovo

89

Fig. 3. Incisor and canine rows of stallion from the Ts-142 burial (ZMMU, no. S-106950), internal view: (A) upper teeth, I3 sin and I-3 dex magnified corner teeth (turned for approximately 90º), left (sin) and right (dex), respectively. Arrow
indicates projection on the occlusal surface connected with malocclusion. (B) lower teeth. Magnified specimen displays a
wear facet passing onto the posterior surface of corner teeth. On the right side this character is more strongly pronounced.
Both figures show that canines are worn.

part of both lower canines. The upper canines are worn
much more intensely, with smooth internally inclined
wear facets at the level of the proximal quarter of these
teeth. The upper anterior premolars (P2) are worn sharply asymmetrically (Figs. 4–6). The right premolar is
worn almost to its root. The lower anterior premolars
are also asymmetrically worn. Thus, occlusal surface in
the left p2 is situated at almost the same level as in all
other teeth, and the crowns of upper and lower anterior
premolars are almost equal in their height. At the same
time, the posterior part of p2 projects 5–7 mm higher on
its right side than its occlusal surface, and its crown is
considerably higher than that of P2. Right p2 has traces
of intravital microsplits, which are smoothed apparently by contact with the bridle bar;
(2) Three hypoglossal bone fragments;
(3) The vertebral column is almost complete (ex-

cept for the caudal region): there are 7 cervical, 18
thoracic, 5 lumbar, 5 sacral (4 complete) and 1 fragmentary caudal vertebrae;
(4) The sternum (5 fragments);
(5) The ribs: 11 specimens (2 complete), including
5 left and 6 right; 10 fragments of distal cartilaginous
parts of ribs;
(6) The pelvic bones and scapulae are morphologically completely preserved, but were fragmented during extraction;
(7) Large cylindrical limb bones are completely
preserved; the left humerus consists of several fragments;
(8) Bones of the distal limb regions are completely
preserved, except for the sesamoid bones.
Tables 3 and 4 include measurements of teeth and
bones of this specimen.

90

I.V. Kirillova & N.N. Spasskaya

Fig. 4. Upper tooth rows of horses, occlusal view: (A) stallion from the Ts-142 burial (ZMMU, no. S-106950); asymmetrical
wear of anterior premolars against bridle bar, seen on the left anterior premolar and well pronounced on the right side. (B)
upper tooth row of living mustang, without wear facets caused by harness (ZMMU, no. S-186105).

Fig. 5. Left tooth rows of stallion from the Ts-142 burial (ZMMU, no. S-106950), external view. Upper and lower anterior
premolars symmetrically worn against the bridle bar.

Horse remains from the Gnezdovo

91

Fig. 6. Right tooth rows of stallion from the Ts-142 burial (ZMMU, no. S-106950), external view. Upper and lower anterior
premolars strongly asymmetrically worn against the bridle bar.
Table 3. Measurements of the horse teeth from Gnezdovo (right / left mandible).
Burial mound

Burial mound
Measurement (mm)

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21

Upper cheek tooth
Р2 tooth length
Р2 maximal breadth
Р3 length of the protocone
Р3 tooth length
Р3 maximal breadth
Р3 length of the protocone
Р4 tooth length
Р4 maximal breadth
Р4 length of the protocone
М1 tooth length
М1 maximal breadth
М1 length of the protocone
М2 tooth length
М2 maximal breadth
М2 length of the protocone
М3 tooth length
М3 maximal breadth
М3 length of the protocone
Length of the tooth row
Length of the premolar row
Length of the molar row

S-106950
ZM MSU

S-106951
ZM MSU

30/41.5
19/24
–/9.2
27/29.6
30.5/27
11.8/10.2
27.3/30.7
27.9/27
12/11
25.7/25.4
26.5/27
13.2/13
26.5/26.2
25/25
14.2/13.2
30.7/30.5
23.5/22.7
13.8/14
174.5/180.2
88/100
82/82.5

–/36.7
–/24
–/8.5
–/27
–/27
–/10
–/27.4
–/26
–/11
–/23
–/24.7
–/12
–/23.8
–/26
–/13.2
–/27
–/22.7
–/14.2
161.2
90
78

Measurement (mm)

S-106950
ZM MSU

S-106951
ZM MSU

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17

Lower cheek tooth
Ñ€2 tooth length
Ñ€2 maximal breadth
Ñ€2 length of the postflexid
Ñ€3 tooth length
Ñ€3 maximal breadth
Ñ€3 length of the postflexid
Ñ€4 tooth length
Ñ€4 maximal breadth
Ñ€4 length of the postflexid
m1 tooth length
m1 maximal breadth
m1 length of the postflexid
m2 tooth length
m2 maximal breadth
m2 length of the postflexid
m3 tooth length
m3 maximal breadth

34.5/30.5
14.8/17.2
–/16.5
27.8/28.8
15.7/19.7
13/12
27.5/27.5
19.2/19.8
11/10.5
26/25.7
17.2/17.7
7/7.02
26.5/25.7
15.6/16
8.2/7.7
34.7/34.7
14.3/14

31.5/29.2
17.4/14.8
17.5/18
25.1/24.3
20.1/17
12.8/12.4
25.1/25
17.9/19.2
12.5/12
22.4/22.8
15.5/20.1
8.2/7.4
23/23.2
16.9/17.2
7.2/7.6
29.1/29.2
12.5/14.1

18

m3 length of the postflexid

11/10.6

8.6/9.7

19

m3 length of the talanoid

8.5/9

7/7

20

Length of the tooth row

176.2/176

160/158

21

Length of the premolar row

91.2/91.2

84/82.4

22

Length of the molar row

86/88

78/78

–

–

–

51,5

66

235

34,7

Minimal breadth

49,2

–

32,5

32,2

36

26,2

Depth of the diaphysis

—

30,6

38

39,2

Distal maximal depth of the
keel
Distal maximal depth of the
medial condyle
Minimal breadth

50,7

–

36,2

Proximal depth
Distal maximal supra-articular
breadth

Distal maximal articular breadth

29,2

56,3

Proximal maximal breadth

44-са

235

221,6

–

–

–

–

–

Maximal length

Metacarpal

81

79,5

Distal depth

102,5

Distal maximal breadth

Proximal depth

94

–

76

Proximal maximal breadth

–

172

–

–

279,5

296

–

462,5

Radius

Minimal breadth

Distal depth

Distal maximal breadth

Proximal maximal breadth

Maximal length

Femur

Measurements

Distal maximal breadth

—

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

37,0

Depth of the diaphysis

Proximal depth
Distal maximal supraarticular breadth
Distal maximal articular
breadth
Distal maximal depth of
the keel
Distal maximal depth of
the medial condyle
Minimal breadth

Proximal maximal breadth

Maximal length

Metatarsal

Minimal breadth

56,0-са Distal depth

73,2

77,0-са Proximal depth

87,0-са Proximal maximal breadth

283,5-са Maximal length

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

S-106950 S-106951 S-186120
ZM MSU ZM MSU ZM MSU

Maximal length

Greatest length of one half
Length of the ilium to middle
point of the acetabulum
Length of the ischia
Length of the foramen
obturatum
Breadth of the foramen
obturatum
Length of the acetabulum
Breadth of the ilium (between
tuber coxae and tuber sacrale)
Humerus

Pelvis

Measurements

30,6

31,2

33,1

40,2

50,5

48,2

43,7

54,2

277,2

39

69,3

81

49

89

344,2

42,3

119,5

98,3

125,5

401

–

26-са

–

–

–

–

–

–

259-са

—

—

—

–

–

–

42

85,5-са

80,5-са

107-са

375,5-ca

Tibia

Measurements

Proximal depth

Astragalus

Minimal breadth

Distal depth

29

32,4

34

40

49,3

49,8

46,7

49,6

Distal maximal depth

Proximal maximal depth

Proximal maximal breadth

Distal maximal breadth

Length of the proximal part

55

32

48,6

55,3

105,2

118,5

62

Maximal depth
Calcaneus

38

57,7

68,2

40

60,6

59,2

40

46

71,2

96,2

101

368,8

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

38,7

37

60,3

–

–

339,5-са

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

39,6

46

97,5

92,2

94,8

349,6

S-106950 S-106951 S-186120
ZM MSU ZM MSU ZM MSU

Distal articular depth

Distal articular breadth

Maximal breadth

Length medial condyle

Length lateral condyle

272,7 Maximal length

—

—

40,7

46,1

87,2

317-ca Maximal length

47,2

127,2 Distal maximal breadth

93,4

121,2 Proximal maximal breadth

388,8 Maximal length

S-106950 S-106951 S-186120
ZM MSU ZM MSU ZM MSU

Table 4. Measurements (in mm) of the horse skeletons from burial mounds (ca — measurements are given in parentheses, adjusted for the bone damage).

92
I.V. Kirillova & N.N. Spasskaya

48,7

27

37,7

47,2

27

Proximal depth

Distal maximal breadth

Distal depth

Minimal breadth

Distal articular breadth

Distal articular depth

83,1

56,5

39,2

46

25,5

37,2

44,6

26,7

Maximal length

Proximal maximal breadth

Proximal depth

Distal maximal breadth

Distal depth

Minimal breadth

Distal articular breadth

Distal articular depth

Posterior first phalanx

57,8

36,2

Proximal maximal breadth

85,5

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

26,8-са

37-са

83-са

Maximal length

Posterior second phalanx

Minimal breadth

Distal depth

Distal maximal breadth

Proximal depth

Proximal maximal breadth

Maximal length

Anterior second phalanx

Measurements

–

–

36

–

–

36

Minimal breadth

Distal depth

Distal maximal breadth

Proximal depth

51,9-са Proximal maximal breadth

78-са

26,7

44

36,5

26,5

46,3

36,4

58

87

S-106950 S-106951 S-186120
ZM MSU ZM MSU ZM MSU

Maximal length

Anterior first phalanx

Measurements

46,4

28,4

47,8

32,9

53

47,8

48

27

52,4

34

55,5

47,2

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

S-106950 S-106951 S-186120
ZM MSU ZM MSU ZM MSU

Articular breadth

Articular depth

Maximal breadth

Maximal height

Maximal depth

Posterior third phalanx

Articular depth

Maximal breadth

Maximal height

Maximal depth

Anterior third phalanx

Measurements

53,2

29,2

69,8

40

51

51,7

29

69,5

45,5

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

–

S-106950 S-106951 S-186120
ZM MSU ZM MSU ZM MSU

Table 4(continued).

Horse remains from the Gnezdovo
93

94

I.V. Kirillova & N.N. Spasskaya

Fig. 7. Field map of the Ts-191 burial (after Avdusin et al.,
1976).

A horse skeleton from the burial mound Ts-191
(specimen S-106951, ZM MSU) was found along with
a human skeleton.
According to the Field Report (Avdusin et al., 1976),
the funeral pit is rectangular, 225 × 275 cm, positioned
in the centre of the burial mound, it cuts a fire pit. The
funeral pit is bordered by a 5–20-cm-wide band rich in
ash. At a depth of 235–240 cm, decomposed wood 10–
15 cm thick borders the pit alongside its perimeter. The
human skeleton was in the northern part of the pit, with
its head positioned northerly. The well preserved horse
skeleton was in the southern part of the pit, to the right
of the human skeleton (Fig. 7), oriented eastwards. The
horse was put on its right side, with its fore and hind
legs slightly bent. Fore leg bones have small pieces of
charred wood. Close to the bend of fore legs, there were
remains of a wooden saddle covered with leather using
bronze rivets. An iron bit and stirrups were found near
the saddle and a bridle was under the saddle (Avdusin
et al., 1976, pp. 119–123).
The both skeletons are very poorly preserved, with
most of the bones being fragmented in the bed or during
extraction. Completeness of external part of the compacta and direct evidence of charring are observed on
almost all bones (Fig. 8); in many specimens compacta
continues to crack and fall off.
The horse skeleton in question includes the following pieces:
(1) The skull consisting of eight fragments. The left
upper row of cheek teeth is preserved in the jaw. Rudimentary P1 is absent. The occipital condyles and basal
part of the occipital both display distinct traces of
charring. Dentine of the upper incisors crumbles easily,
but the teeth retain their shape due to enamel elements.
The mandible is preserved almost completely. Traces
of charring are particularly well pronounced on the left
side; the ascending ramus of the lower jaw was burnt
almost completely; the dentaries are distorted, so that
the alveolar edge diverged from the tooth row. Lower
incisors are strongly damaged, while lower cheek tooth
rows are complete. The anterior parts of the occlusal

Fig. 8. Femora of stallion from the Ts-191 burial (ZMMU,
no. S-106951), anterior view. Left femur (on the right in the
figure) displays charred internal part in the sites where compacta is absent, while damaged compacta lacks a trace of
charring. In the right femur (on the left in the figure) compacta is slightly damaged, traces of charring are weak.

surface of both upper and lower P2 show a specific
even wear, which is more intensive than in the other
cheek teeth. The p2 is worn to a much greater extent
than P2, which is apparently caused by constant friction
against metal elements of the harness. A significant
wear is although marked on the upper canines. The
internal surface of the dentary is well preserved, without any trace of the fire. Table 3 shows the tooth
measurements.
(2) The vertebral column is represented by 31 fragments, all with charring traces.
(3) The humeri (2 pieces) show traces of charring
throughout the surface, which are intense in the middle
of the diaphysis.
(4) The forearm bones. The ulnae are absent, while
both radii are present. The right bone is represented by
an external part only, while its left counterpart has its
diaphysis burnt out.
(5) The pelvic bones are almost complete, with both
rami preserved. The ilia are charred externally, which is
particularly well pronounced on its left side.
(6) Both femora are preserved, the left bone is
charred (Fig. 8).

Horse remains from the Gnezdovo

95

Fig. 9. Lower tooth rows of stallion from the Ts-191 burial (ZMMU, no. S-106951): (A) view from above; (B) right ramus,
external view. Arrow indicates oblique wear of the anterior premolar against the bridle bar.

(7). Both cannon bones are preserved; the middle
part of the right bone and upper part of the diaphysis of
the left bone are charred.
(8) The metapodials. The metacarpal is only preserved on the left side, with the middle part of the
diaphysis charred. Both metatarsals are preserved,
strongly charred in the diaphyseal part for half of the
bone depth; small sites of intact compacta on the articular surfaces are present.
(9) All articular bones of the carpus and tarsus (7
specimens) display traces of charring. The ankle bones
(2 specimens) are almost complete; the calcaneus is
single, strongly charred.
(10) The patella (1 specimen) is strongly charred.
(11) The first phalanges (probably one anterior and
one posterior) are strongly charred in the middle and
lower parts, with better preserved proximal articular
surfaces.
Table 4 show these bone measurements.
A horse skeleton from the burial mound Ts-255
(specimen S-186120, ZM MSU). Horse and human
skeletons were found in a common pit, which cut the
fire pit under the mound (Fig. 10). The pit is bordered
by a dark ash ring (30–35 cm wide) and filled with sand
impregnated with ash and coal particles. The human
skeleton was just partially preserved, oriented westerly.
The horse skeleton was to the right of the human skeleton. Avdusin et al. (1978, pp. 55–57) observed that the
former was completely preserved, oriented south-westerly. The horse lays on its right side, with its fore and

hind legs bent towards the trunk. Pelvic bones of the
horse were displaced to the right side, and the right hind
leg was under pelvic bones. The horse harness found in
the burial includes a two-part ring bit with cheek pieces,
iron stirrup and buckles for belts.

Fig. 10. Field map of the Ts-255 burial (after Avdusin et al.,
1978).

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I.V. Kirillova & N.N. Spasskaya

Because of lack of the skull and the pelvic bones, it
is impossible to determine exact individual age and sex
of this horse. However, judging from the fusion between epiphyses and diaphysis of the postcranial bones,
it was an adult.
In the Field Report (Avdusin et al., 1978) charring
was not marked. The burial is referred to the chamber
type and regarded as an inhumation. However, our reexamination of the horse skeleton revealed undoubted
traces of a thermal effect distributed non-evenly. Some
of them underwent a greater disruption than others; and
even different areas of the same individual bones vary
strongly in preservation. The right femur and right
cannon bone are well preserved. Large cylindrical bones
of the fore limbs (humerus, radius, metacarpals) are
however poorly preserved. Apart from the fire, preservation of the bones was influenced by soil active substances: in the metatarsals, left cannon and in some
other bones, the compacta surface shows distinct rough
microsculpturing (resulting from corrosion by acids).
In the horse skeleton, the following bones were
identified:
(1) The cranial bones (37) are represented by small
fragments of the otic, occipital, zygomatic bones, zygomatic process of the frontal, braincase, and three fragments of the left ascending mandibular ramus (a part of
the articular process).
(2) In the vertebral column, the following were
recognised:
– Five strongly damaged cervical vertebrae (except
for the epistropheus) and 1 fragment. The bones are
poorly preserved, easily crumbled, usually fragmented,
but some fragments are possible to put in natural position to reconstruct particular bones;
– 16 thoracic vertebrae. Those identified as the 1st
and 4–16th show the effect of high temperature on the
left side, with expanding sometimes, at the vertebral
centrum base, onto the right side. Almost all neural
spines are disrupted, with the left lateral spine being
preserved in the three first thoracic vertebrae;
– Four (anterior) lumbar vertebrae. In the first of
them, the neural spine is disrupted. The lateral processes are preserved on the right side and disrupted on the
left side in all vertebrae.
– Three caudal vertebrae.
The articular facets and vertebral centra lack any
trace of diseases or other individual features, except for
the centra of the last two thoracic vertebrae, which
show distinct age changes.
(3) The ribs are represented by 35 fragments, including 11 articular fragments of right ribs and 4 articular fragments of left ribs; 11 rib fragments have distinct traces of fire.
(4) The scapulae (4 fragments). The right one is
represented by two large fragments of the articular part,
with its compacta strongly damaged (charred). The left
one consists of two very poorly preserved charred fragments.
(5) The humeri (two bones) and one small fragment
of the lesser tubercle of the left bone. The left humus is

complete, very poorly preserved. The colour of intact
surface is whitish yellow; more than half of the bone
extent lacks an external compacta layer and is dark
brown, up to black due to charring. A split of this bone
indicates that the compacta blackening varies in depth
in its different portions and the charred layer overlies a
light intact compacta layer. The thermal effect is most
pronounced on the entire posterior surface of the bone
(which lacks an external compacta layer) and on its
distal epiphysis, which is considerably disrupted. However, an anterior part of the bone, where compacta is
not completely lost, also shows a charred surface. The
right humerus is satisfactory preserved, with whitish
yellow compacta. The proximal part is lost on the
anterior side up to one-third of the bone extent. In
contrast to the left bone, distinct charring traces are
absent, but spongy tissue in the broken site is much
darker than compacta; it is dark brown. The external
compacta layer is disrupted on the internal and posterior surfaces of the distal bone part, as in other bones of
the skeleton that underwent thermal influence. The same
is true for the proximal part, particularly for the internal
and posterior surfaces of the epiphysis.
(6) The ulnae (two bones) are strongly damaged.
The left bone retains its articular part and a tubercle
fragment. The thermal effect is observed on the tubercle and the posterior part. In the right bone, the tubercle
is not preserved and the proximal part is charred.
(7) The radii (two bones). In the anterior part of the
left bone, the external part of compacta is almost completely disrupted, exposing the underlying charred layer (which extends deep into the bone for half of the
compact layer thickness). The lower third of the anterior bone surface is most strongly charred. It is to be
noted that initially the thermal traces were apparently
hidden under the upper compacta layer, which lacks
any trace of the thermal influence. The right bone was
affected by high temperature to a lesser extent and these
traces are mostly hidden by the external layer which
looks intact. Fragments of compacta exposed to the
thermal effect are on the medial, lower anterior and
proximal parts of the bone.
(8) The splint bones (four pieces). Two hind bones
are almost complete. In one posterior and in one anterior bones, their proximal parts are not preserved.
(9) The femur (two bones). The right bone is satisfactory preserved (in particular, in the diaphysis), it is
charred; its greater trochanter lacks compacta. The left
bone is poorly preserved, with a rough surface of the
diaphysis (corroded); its medial condyles, lesser and
third trochanters are disrupted. The effect of high temperature is not observed on the surface or inside of the
bone.
(10) The cannon bones (two specimens). In the left
bone, compacta is strongly disrupted on the external
surface of the proximal joint. The diaphysis has a rough
microsculpturing (corroded compacta). The right bone
is better preserved. Traces of thermal influence are
distinct in the distal epiphysis (internal part); its proximal epiphysis has slight injuries.

Horse remains from the Gnezdovo
(11) The metacarpals (two specimens). The left
bone shows strong traces of fire (charring under the
compact part); a charred bone tissue is exposed where
the external part of compacta was lost. The proximal
part is not preserved. The greatest damage is observed
on the posterior and partly internal surfaces of the bone.
The right bone is strongly charred (almost burnt); compacta is completely disrupted within the anterior lower
part and internal (lateral) surface of the bone; charring
is observed on the internal side under the proximal
articular surface.
(12) The metatarsals (two specimens) are almost
complete. In the right bone, the thermal effect is distinct
on the anterior surface (insignificant) and on the lateral
surface under the proximal epiphysis. The entire surface of the diaphysis of the left bone has a rough
microsculpturing (corroded compacta); compacta becomes more even close to the epiphyses.
(13) The first phalanges (three specimens). The
right anterior phalanx is almost complete. In the left
anterior bone, the distal part (thermal effect is evident;
external compacta layer is lost) and the upper posterior
part of the proximal articular surface are disrupted. In
the left posterior bone, the entire posterior surface and
the distal part are disrupted.
(14) The second phalanx (one fragment without
compacta).
(15) The third phalanx (one strongly disrupted fragment).
(16) The patella (one specimen). The external compacta layer is disrupted on one side, exposing a charred
bone layer.
(17) The carpals and tarsals (nine specimens). The
ankle bone and the calcaneus are strongly charred; the
upper part of the calcaneal tubercle is not preserved; the
posterior edge of the bone body, ridges of the pulley
and posterior surface of the ankle bone are charred. The
left ankle bone and left calcaneus are better preserved;
the medial ridge of the pulley and posterior part of the
bone are only slightly charred. The calcaneal tubercle is
disrupted.
Table 4 shows bone measurements.

Results and discussion
A. Horse bones from the settlements of
Gnezdovo
In the osteological collection from the settlements
of Gnezdovo, proportion of the horse specimens is
relatively small, which is evident from the materials
collected at different periods. Thus, in a sample of 416
mammal specimens extracted in 1967 from the western
part of the settlement of the site and identified to the
species level, only 5.5% remains belong to the horses
(Ermolova, 1967). In later samples from the Central
hillfort, the proportion of the horse bones was 10.3%
and, in the eastern part of the ancient settlement of

97

Gnezdovo, it was 4.2% (Andreeva, 1980). However, it
is not quite clear from which assemblage (cultural layer, pit or construction) these remains originated, which
would be important for interpretation of these materials. In the Horizon 5 of the floodplain settlement of
Gnezdovo (collected by V.V. Murasheva in 1999–2001),
only 4.8% (25 specimens) remains of domestic animals
were those of the horses. They include cranial and
mandibular fragments, teeth, vertebrae, ribs, and fragments of large cylindrical bones. Such a composition of
the remains, along with the absence of small limb bones,
is apparently due to a small sample size. The specimens
belong to mature animals, some of them bearing traces
of cutting and biting.. This feature was emphasised
already by Andreeva (1980), who commented that the
horses had been of great importance as a combat resource and probably draft animals, so only animals that
had lost working ability were slaughter (for food). A
small proportion of the horse specimens was also observed in the sample from the “Pozhar 1” layer.
In some pits and constructions of Gnezdovo, however, the proportion of the horse remains among mammal specimens may deviate strongly from the average
to either much higher or lower values (Kirillova, 2007).
Interpretation of composition and origin of the horse
bones may be beyond the scope of alimentary use of
these animals. Apparently, a record of such kind orginated from the “Nastil 2” complex of the floodplain
settlement. A specific composition of mammal remains
(mostly skull fragments of adult horse, cattle and pig,
each represented by a sole individual) suggests purposeful burial in this site. Similar “storages” are well
known from excavations in Novgorod, Suzdal and other medieval Russian cities. They are usually regarded
as sacrifices for successful building, a tradition retained
from the pagan time and widespread in different peoples and different historical epochs. The position of
skulls (heads) of domestic animals in such a burial or
even dog carcasses at the base of particular buildings
suggests a pagan rite, intended for guarding buildings
and builders against the evil spell (Sedov, 1957; Sedova & Belen’kaya, 1981; Sedov & Sedova, 1983). The
horse skull (head) was the most traditional sacrifice in
this case.
Taphonomic features of bones from the “Pozhar 1”
layer (a floodplain part settlement of Gnezdovo) seem
rather important for treating not only this layer, but also
burial mounds. Bones that underwent the influence of
the fire are divided into three groups:
(1) Burnt to whiteness (calcined) due to the effect of
the strongest fire.
(2) Charred to blackness due to effect of a lower
temperature flame.
(3) “Baked” bones which underwent “slow heating”
(for example, by coals that did not provide open flame).
Another probable situation may be the absence of direct
contact with the fire source. This occurs when an object
is isolated from the fire by a non-combustible layer (for
example, soil) or lies at a distance.

98

I.V. Kirillova & N.N. Spasskaya

It is difficult to reconstruct events that occurred
several centuries ago in Gnezdovo. However, a strong
fire established by different methods in the layer named
“Pozhar 1” could affect not only buildings, but also
bone remains that were already in the ground, in the
cultural layer.
The above types of thermal effects on the bone
matter are also observed in the specimens from burial
mounds considered below.

B. Horse skeletons from burial mounds
A horse skeleton from the burial mound Ts-142.
Stallion bones display a number of features specific to
this animal. They are divided into three groups: (1) agedependent, (2) resulting from the use of the saddle
(“professional”) and (3) caused by various other factors.
The first group comprises the following characteristics:
– Intravital degradation of compact bone matter,
which is particularly well pronounced on the distal
articular pulleys of the humeri;
– Excessive porosity of bone tissue in the internal
part of the cervical vertebral corpora (in the spinal
canal);
– “Loosening” of compact matter, with sharp expansion of nutrient foramen up to 3–5.3 mm on the
posterior lower surface of os carpi intermedium, which
is symmetrical on both fore limbs;
– Increase in nutrient foramina on two sides of the
posterior thoracic vertebrae and in the calcaneus, ankle
bones and first phalanges (signs of osteoporosis);
– Disruption and corrosion of the articular surface,
slight smoothening resulting from sliding and friction
of bones against each other on the articular facets of the
ankle bone and calcaneus and disruption of compact
matter in tarsal 4, which is usually caused by imperfection of synovial fluid due to friction against neighbouring bones in the joint (arthrosis).
The above characters of stallion bones from burial
mound Ts-142 could have resulted from natural agedependent changes. This also concerns the fusion of
splint bones with metacarpals on the medial side.
The second group of bone features witnesses intense use of the saddle. They comprise the well-developed tubercles for attachment of ligaments on the lateral surface of phalanges 1, which result from increased
locomotor load, and the state of dentition. The arthrosis
in the joints of the distal limb regions is possibly also
caused (or intensified) by the horse use as a working
animal. The most prominent characters of this group
concern the dental system.
The premolars. It is evident that the anterior premolars of the stallion from the burial Ts-142 were worn
due to constant contact with a high-strength element of
the harness, i.e. its metal bridle bar. This is usually
observed in lower teeth (Antony & Brown, 1989; Bendrey, 2007). However, in this case, wear is also mani-

fested on the upper anterior premolars. Note that, in this
burial, any harness elements were not found, though
they occur in other burial mounds of Gnezdovo.
A sharp asymmetry of wear facets on the upper
anterior premolars may result from an individual feature of this animal (a habit of “gnawing at iron element”
primarily on the right side, which could have developed
during training) and the manner of riding characteristic
of its horseman. The latter may be explained, for example, by a habit of the horseman to stop a horse turning it
to the right or predominant use of his right arm. As a
rule, anterior premolars of a riding horse are rather
uniformly worn against the bridle bar; in particular, this
is observed in a stallion from the burial Ts-191 (see
below) and in the living horses.
The incisors. These teeth usually escape contact
with the harness elements and non-uniform wear of
these teeth is usually caused by the horse misbehaviour
(for example, it possibly used to gnaw at certain objects) or malocclusion (Korneven & Lesbr, 1932). In
this case we deal with malocclusion, since the wear
facets extending onto the posterior side of both lower
corner teeth (Fig. 3B) are accompanied by projections
on the posterior part of the occlusal surface of the upper
corner teeth (Fig. 3A). Occlusion of other upper incisors and all lower incisors is even (Fig. 3).
The third group includes characters which origin is
difficult to derive from a particular main factor. In this
case we deal with pathologies in two regions of the
vertebral column. The 4th posterior thoracic vertebra
(that is 15th) has an excessively strongly developed
metapophysis on its right side, which is directed along
the vertebral column axis (Fig. 11). Lumbar vertebrae 3
and 4 are fused in the area of their metapophyses, with
fusion being pronounced to a greater extent on their left
side (Fig. 12).
Pathologies in the thoracic and lumbar regions of
the vertebral column caused by the use of riding horses
were recorded in a number of works (Levine, 1999,
2005; Levine et al., 2000). Pathologies frequently developed because of pressure of the horseman sitting
directly on the horse back, in particular, as the saddle
design did not compensate non-uniform load on the
horse vertebral column. The development of these processes could have been connected with the use of the
soft saddles, which were widespread a thousand years
BC and probably later.
Kirpichnikov (1973, p. 36) presumed the use soft or
pad saddles in Europe at the beginning of the Middle
Ages, i.e. “… low saddles, with low pommels, round (in
cross-section) shelves and, probably, pad sitting.” The
pathologies marked in the thoracic and lumbar regions
of the vertebral column of the stallion could have resulted from both intense use of saddled horse and natural ageing processes.
The skeleton belonged to a 15–16 years old stallion,
with biologically good condition of bones. Notwithstanding the above pathological changes and other individual features of bones and teeth, its life-span was

Horse remains from the Gnezdovo

99

Fig. 11. Excessively strongly developed metapophysis of the 15th thoracic vertebra in stallion from the Ts-142 burial
(ZMMU, no. S-106950).

The stallion was buried in a separate chamber, i.e. it
did not fall into the burial by an accident. Perhaps its
owner survived it. The situation is evidence of a high
status of the owner, on the one hand, and special relation to the horse, on the other hand. This is indirectly
confirmed by the conclusions derived from the bone
material.
Predominant wear of premolars on the right side
(“accumulated” feature) is probably accounted for by
the horse belonging to the same owner.

Fig. 12. Lumbar vertebrae 3 and 4 fused at metapophyses in
stallion from the Ts-142 burial (ZMMU, no. S-106950).

rather long for medieval horses. The development of
specific dental features of the stallion from burial Ts142 took a long time. The asymmetrical wear of cheek
teeth was connected with the habit of gnawing at the bit
mostly on the right side. At the same time specific wear
of the upper corner teeth resulted from malocclusion,
and greater manifestation of the character on the right
side was probably caused by this habit.

A horse skeleton from the burial mound Ts-191.
Almost all bones of this skeleton display distinct traces
of charring. The compacta surface of other parts of the
skeleton is apparently disrupted by leaching in active
soil medium of the sites “weakened” by the thermal
effect. A similar preservation pattern of the bones is
characteristic of the Gnezdovo beds, which fall in the
fire zone. At the same time, traces of the fire are frequently absent on the bone surfaces, but sometimes
observed in the internal parts (spongy tissue) of bones.
Judging from the structure of dentition and wear
pattern of the incisors, the skeleton belonged to a young
stallion of 5–6 years old (6–7, after Andreeva, 1980).
The specific wear of anterior premolars (Fig. 9) was
probably caused by their constant friction against metal
elements of the harness. The fact that the stallion was
used saddled is supported by the presence of the bits
and stirrups in the same burial.
Like the skeleton from burial Ts-142, this one shows
individual morphological features as follows. Compacta of the first phalanges is charred strongly externally
and disrupted. Only some sites of the proximal articular
surfaces are preserved, although available specimens
are sufficient to recognise that the phalanges are unusu-

100

I.V. Kirillova & N.N. Spasskaya

Fig. 13. First phalanges, anterior view: (A) living domestic horse, unknown breed (ZMMU, no. S-102019); (B) stallion from
the Ts-142 burial (ZMMU, no. S-106950); (C) living domestic horse, Shetland pony (ZMMU, no. S-106942); (D) stallion
from the Ts-191 burial (ZMMU, no. S-106951); (E) extant kulan (ZMMU, no. S-74802).

ally slender (Fig. 13). Based on a thorough examination
of the phalanges, we concluded that the fire affected
only the state of compacta, without changes in size and
proportions of these bones.
However, other bones are usual in size and proportions. This feature made us to search for analogues
among southern horse breeds, such as the Arabian or
Akhal-Teke horses known for their slender legs. The
bone length (estimated as 83 mm with correction for
disruption by charring) falls within the dimensional
range of the Arabian horse known to be usually 80–85
mm long (Kiesewalter, 1888; Osborn, 1907; Brauner,
1916). The Arabian horse has a wider upper end of the
phalanx (57.5–59.1% of the bone length) than donkeys
(50.6%) also having gracile phalanges (Brauner, 1916).
In addition, the Arabian horse have rather thin metapodia; the width-to-length ratio of metatarsals is 9.9–11%
(Chersky, 1881; Osborn, 1907; Clutton-Brock & Burleigh, 1979). In the stallion from the burial Ts-191, this
parameter is 10%.
Stallion phalanges from burial Ts-191 look similar
in proportions to phalanges of the domestic donkey.
However, the structure of elements of occlusal surface
of the cheek teeth, proportions of the skeleton and the
structure of other bones undoubtedly show that they
belong to the domestic horse (Equus caballus Linnaeus, 1758). To date, we have no comparative materials
enabling precise allocation of the stallion in question to
some particular breed group. We can hypothesise that it
comes from remote (probably southern) rather than
local areas (import or trophy?). A similar find of a very
thin-legged stallion is known from a burial dated 1
century AD in the Karaganda Region. Its phalanges are
similar in proportions to kulan, Hemionus hemionus
Pallas, 1775 (Barmintsev, 1958, p. 24).
It should be emphasised that attempts of breed identification of the bone remains are objected frequently

by experts. Such an identification based on dimensional
parameters only is embarrassed by confusion of the
breed characters with those caused by maintenance
conditions. It is well known that pedigreed and large
animals under unsatisfactory conditions (underfeeding,
not heated stables etc.) may decrease in size, deviate
from norm in various organs and systems, etc. However
this process usually proportionally involves particular
parts of organism (skeleton). Taking into account good
biological state of the bones (excluding natural age
changes), we propose that light and gracile first phalanges of the stallion from the burial Ts-191 are breed
points rather than caused by its living conditions or
individual features.
A horse skeleton from the burial mound Ts-255.
Chamber burials in Gnezdovo are not numerous (Zharnov 1991). This type is represented by the burial mound
Ts-255. It is designated in the Field Report as an inhumation (Avdusin et al., 1978; pp. 55–57). However, as
it follows from the field description, excavations revealed a fire pit, ashen ring around the burial pit and ash
and coal inclusions. It should be noted that the burial
was occurring in an active soil strata for a long time,
with intense processes of accumulation and washout of
solutes. Apparently, ash inclusions are only remains of
initially abundant products of the burnt organic matter.
This factor probably affected many bones of the skeleton, as is revealed in the present study. However this is
not always evident because of disruption of specimens
in enclosing matter and during extraction of bones.
According to the field observation, the horse skeleton lays on its right side. A thorough study shown that
bones on the left side were burnt to a greater extent than
on the right side. Similar damage of thoracic and lumbar vertebrae (greater disruption of the left lateral processes) could have occurred when bones were extracted

Horse remains from the Gnezdovo
from enclosing matter because of their fragility resulting from the thermal effect. The character of damage of
the skeleton suggests that the fire was set above the
horse corpse.

Habitus and size of the horses from medieval Gnezdovo
Only a few horse bones found in the settlement are
suitable for measurements. The metatarsal from a pit in
the central part of the settlement is 242 mm long and
43.7 mm wide in its distal part (Kirillova, 2007). It was
inferred from these data that the horse was 129 cm tall
at the withers, i.e. “below average” according to the
classification of Vitt (1952), it fits the “small” class by
the bone length. The metatarsal from the floodplain
part of the settlement (excavated in 2005) is 275 mm
long and, hence, the horse was 146 cm tall at the withers
— i.e. it fits the “medium” class, just as it does according Vitt’s classificatoin. Andreeva (1980) provided
measurements of a metacarpal from the settlement,
which correspond to 127 cm of height at the withers
(“small” after Vitt).
Based on the metapodia measurements, the height
at withers of the stallion from burial mound Ts-142 was
estimated as 147.7–150.6 cm — “above average” (after
Vitt). Based on the measurements of humerus, radius,
femur, metacarpal this horse was regarded as “medium”, but it was considered to be “above average” based
on its tibia and metatarsus cannon bones measurements
(after Vitt); this agrees with conclusions made by Andreeva (1980).
It is impossible to measure the majority of the horse
bones from burial mound Ts-191 because of their poor
preservation. However, it seems plausible that this stallion was medium-sized. The height at withers estimated
by us based on the metatarsal length is 138 cm, this
agrees with the assignment of this horse to the mediumsized class or possibly “below average” by its bone
lengths (after Vitt).
The animal from burial mound Ts-255 was about
145 cm (“above average” after Vitt) However, it belongs to the “medium” group according to its tibia and
metatarsus lengths and to the “below average” group
according to the remaining bones (probably due to their
being damaged).
Horses from Gnezdovo are rather diverse in size;
horses from the settlement (“working”) are 127.5–146.5
cm tall at the withers; horses from the burial mounds
(“riding”) are 138–150.6 cm tall. Horses from Gnezdovo are somewhat larger than contemporaneous horses:
136.7–138.8 (Novgorod: Tsalkin, 1956), 142 (Novgorod, Rurik’s central hillfort: Sablin, 2007), 135.3–137.8
(Pskov: Tsalkin, 1956), and 117–131 cm tall (Latvia:
Bertasius & Daugnora, 2001). However, it is to be
noted that these estimates are applied only to the individuals currently suitable for examination, while involvement of a more representative new sample of at
least two or three dozen medieval horses from Gnezdovo can change them.

101

Chersky (1881) and subsequently Brauner (1916)
proposed a classification of the horses based on the
width-to-length ratio of their metacarpals. According to
this classification, the stallion from burial mound Ts142 belongs to the medium-legged group. At the same
time, most of the horses from Rurik’s central hillfort of
Novgorod belong to the semithin-legged type (Sablin,
2007). In Grodno (12th and 13th centuries), all horse
types have been recorded, although semithin-legged
and medium-legged forms prevailed (Tsalkin, 1954).
Thus, it is evident that, in the early Middle Ages, a
wide range of the dimensional and constitutional horse
types was characteristic not only to Gnezdovo but also
to other sites (see, for example, Swiezynski et al.,
1989).

Taphonomic remarks
A thorough study of preservation of the above horse
skeletons from the Gnezdovo burials (Ts-191, Ts-255)
shown that they are similar in taphonomy to each other
and to the specimens from the “Pozhar 1” layer.
Both horse skeletons (corpses) undoubtedly underwent the influence of fire. 1 Judging from the character
of damages, an effect of the fire on the bones was not
necessarily direct (as in the case the corpse were put
into a fire place). In both cases, bones burnt to whiteness (calcined, as in other burials of Gnezdovo) have
not been recorded (Andreeva, 1980). According to the
colour scale developed for reconstruction of the temperature effect on cremated remains (Walker et al.,
2008, Fig. 19–23), horse skeletons from the burial
mounds Ts-191 and Ts-255 were exposed to a relatively low temperature corresponding to “grey charring”,
i.e. approximately 200ºC.
However two points should be kept in mind. First,
this value is rather approximate and may require correction, which is beyond the scope of the present study.
(In addition, we were not intended here to prove by
physical and chemical methods the fact that the state of
bones was caused by fire rather than any other thermal
factor; we adhered to the “fire” version, since it seems
evident). Second, as it follows from the above description of a number of skeleton parts, they were exposed to
different temperatures, as some bones are charred to
blackness, others look unaffected by the fire. Thus our
temperature reconstructed based on prevailing colour
of the bone surfaces is rather rough.
The above damage types of bones connected with a
relatively low temperature of burning was probably
developed because of the following:
1. the horse corpse were completely or partially
covered with soil and the fire was set above it, i.e. the
fire had an indirect effect;
2. wooden building enclosing a corpse was burnt
(Ts-191) and burning was not completed for some
reason;
1
We had no way of studying human skeletons from these
burials. In the Field Reports (Avdusin et al., 1976; Avdusin et al.,
1978) the inhumation rite was recorded (see above).

102

I.V. Kirillova & N.N. Spasskaya

3. thermal influence was more or less remote;
4. the horse corpse was in a fire pit (i.e. without
open flame) or covered with the smoldering coals.
Traces of fire on the horse bones from the burials of
Gnezdovo were previously described in detail by Sizov
(1902). In particular, he found a slightly scorched complete horse skeleton in an isolated burial with a few
artefacts. Regarding this finding, he assumed that the
horse was killed and burnt in the fire of a large burial
mound and then brought with some coals and artefacts
which did not belong to the horse furniture (p. 11).
Another burial contained a horse skeleton lying on a
charred board overlying charred logs. This was underlain by a fire pit covering the entire surface of excavation of the burial mound. Sizov proposed that the horse
has been killed before it was put on the board among
large hot coal pieces and covered with them (p. 12).
Sizov’s interpretation agrees with the results of our
taphonomic study of the horse skeletons from the Ts191 and Ts-255 burials.
The study of the horse skeletons from the burial
mounds of Gnezdovo shown that these were personal
rather than simply riding horses (“a horse of its saddle”). These individual, but prominent cases of buried
horses suggest a special (maybe battle?) status of the
horses and particular importance of the pair “warrior–
horse.” Some workers believe that burials of this kind
reflect a social character emphasising the role of military elite (Solov’eva, 1971; Kulakov, 1990).

Conclusion
The study of the horse remains from the Gnezdovo
archaeological complex has shown the following:
1. The kitchen midden of settlement and central
hillfort contains rather few remains of exclusively adult
animals, suggesting that they were used up to complete
depletion of their resources.
2. These horses belong to the small and small–
medium size classes. The horses from the burial mounds
are somewhat larger than those from the settlement.
The habitus and individual morphological and morphometric characteristics of the horses from three burial
mounds of the Central group (Ts-142, Ts-191 and Ts255) are evidence of heterogeneous breed composition
and origin of these animals. This agrees with the heterogeneous ethnic composition of human population revealed by anthropologists based on the presence of
imported artefacts.
3. Taphonomic features of the horse bones from the
Ts-255 burial show that the generally accepted treatment of materials of the burial as inhumation requires
correction. This concerns at least horse remains.
4. The specificity of medieval Gnezdovo burials
with horses (separate horse burial; burial of a horseman
together with horse; horse belonging to one owner;
sacrifice) shows special relation of local people to
riding horses.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS. We are grateful to T.A.
Pushkina for an opportunity to use archival materials,
to A.B. Kuz’min for help with taking photographs, and
to P.A. Kosintsev and I.Y. Pavlinov for scientific editing and valuable advice, G.S. Rautian for editing the
article. Funding for the work carried out by National
Alliance of Shidlovskiy “Ice Age”.

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Parole chiave correlate