Khvalynsk culture

Khvalynsk culture
Holocene Epoch
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Preboreal (10.3 ka – 9 ka),
Boreal (9 ka – 7.5 ka),
Atlantic (7.5 ka5 ka),
Subboreal (5 ka2.5 ka)
Subatlantic (2.5 ka – present)

The Khvalynsk culture was an Eneolithic (copper age) culture of the first half of the 5th millennium BC, discovered at Khvalynsk on the Volga in Saratov Oblast, Russia. The culture also is termed the Middle Eneolithic or Developed Eneolithic or Proto-kurgan. It was preceded by the Early Eneolithic or Samara culture, from which it came, and succeeded by the Late Eneolithic, or Early Yamna culture, to which it descended.


Extent and Duration

The Khvalynsk culture extended from Saratov in the north to the North Caucasus in the south, from the Sea of Azov in the west to the Ural River in the east.

A good sprinkling of calibrated C-14 readings obtained from material in the graves of the type site date the culture certainly to the approximate window, 5000-4500 BC. This material is from Khvalynsk I, or Early Khvalynsk. Khvalynsk II, or Late Khvalynsk, is Late Eneolithic.

Some regard Khvalynsk I as Early Eneolithic, contemporary with the Samara culture. Gimbutas, however, believed Samara was earlier and placed Khvalynsk I in the Developed Eneolithic. Not enough Samara culture dates and sites exist to settle the question.


The Khvalynsk type site is a cemetery, 30 m by 26 m, containing about 158 skeletons, mainly in single graves, but some two to five together. They were buried on their backs with knees contracted. Twelve of the graves were covered with stone cairns. Sacrificial areas were found similar to those at Samara, containing horse, cattle and sheep remains.

An individual grave was found in 1929 at Krivoluchie with grave goods and the remains placed on ochre, face up, knees contracted. A 67 m high earthen kurgan at Nalchik, approximately thirty metres in diameter, contained 121 individual graves of remains placed face up, knees contracted, on ochre with a covering of stone.


Khvalinsk evidences the further development of the kurgan. It began in the Samara with individual graves or small groups sometimes under stone. In the Khvalinsk culture one finds group graves, which can only be communal on some basis, whether familial or local or both is not clear. With the advent of DNA testing, perhaps someday it will be.

Although there are disparities in the wealth of the grave goods, there seems to be no special marker for the chief. This deficit does not exclude the possibility of a chief. In the later kurgans, one finds that the kurgan is exclusively reserved for a chief and his retinue., with ordinary people excluded.

This development suggests a growing disparity of wealth, which in turn implies a growth in the wealth of the whole community and an increase in population. The explosion of the kurgan culture out of its western steppe homeland must be associated with an expansion of population. The causes of this success and expansion remain obscure.

We do know that metal was available both in the Caucasus and in the southern Urals. The Khvalynsk graves included metal rings and spiral metal rings. However, there is no indication of any use beyond ornamental. The quality of stone weapons and implements reaches a high point. The Krivoluchie grave, which Gimbutas viewed as that of a chief, contained a long flint dagger and tanged arrowheads, all carefully retouched on both faces. In addition is a porphyry axe-head with lugs and a haft hole. These artifacts are of types that not too long after appeared in metal.

There is also plenty of evidence of personal jewelry: beads of shell, stone and animal teeth, bracelets of stone or bone, pendants of boar tusk. The animals whose teeth came to decorate the putative Indo-Europeans are boar, bear, wolf , deer and others. Some of these teeth must have been difficult to acquire, a labor perhaps that led to a value being placed upon them. Whether they were money is not known.

The hard goods leave no record of any great richness. There is some evidence that wealth may have consisted of perishable goods. A recent study of the surface of the pottery (also of many cultures), which recorded contact with perishable material while the clay was wet, indicates contact with cords and embroidered woven cloth, which the investigators suggest were used to decorate the pot.



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