The Maikop culture in the Northern Caucasus


Sergey Nikolaevich Korenevskij


The Maikop culture represents one of the most significant occurrences in the context of pre-urban agricultural and livestock communities of the Middle East and Caucasus. It covers the borderline area between south-west Asia and Eastern Europe, pre-Caucasian steppe and north Caucasus, where the cultural influences of southern peoples confront with tradition of
European population for ages. (Image 1) The study of Maikop culture began by the end of 19th century after the discovery of exceptionally rich tombs in Maikop (1897) and two stone tombs in Carska, present-day Novosvobodna (1898). The most extensive research was done in the end of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. After the seventies, in the
20th century, several monographs and journals dealing with the Maikop culture were published, including general research by R.N. Munčaev, S.N. Korenevki and A.D. Rezepkin. The issue of Maikop culture is undoubtedly very interesting outside the Russian federation, but it mostly involves the review of the results from modern-day Russian research. This tendency is
clearly visible in the works by A. Häusler, B. Govedarica, B. Lionne, F. Kohl, D. Anthony and others. The most important archaeological monuments of the Maikop culture are settlements and necropoles. Nowadays, we have information about several dozens of Maikop settlements and according to the material published, the most famous are Dolinsk, Ust-Džegutinsk,
Galjugaevsk 1, Sereginsk, Psekupsk i Boljšetegensk. The settlements investigated are mostly situated in the river valleys, at lower grounds close to the river banks. In the Caucasus foothills, the settlements are located on the plains at hill slopes. They are mostly open settlements, while cave habitats are very rare. Burying was done in tumuli – kurgans. In the
northern Caucasus, this tradition originates from the Chalcolithic, during fifth millennium BC. This phenomenon was further developed by the representatives of Maikop culture through the building of great multi-layered kurgans which apart from burial also had the role of sanctuary. Mounds are made of earth or of stone. In the case of earth kurgans, mounds
are occasionally made only of a layer of humus, but they are most frequently mounds of mixed earth. Stone kurgans are made by placing stones over the tomb which was later covered with a layer of earth. Besides, in Maikop kurgans, frequently there are circular stone walls – kromlexes – which can be single  or multiple depending on the phase of the burial and  rituals performed through. The most frequent are individual kurgans meaning that there were not subsequent burials of Maikop people in the mounds above primary grave. Kurgans with several Maikop burials are scarcely represented. In the research history of the sites from the framework of Maikop culture and Maikop culture area, two phases, crucial for the actual cultural and historical interpretation of this phenomenon can be outlined. The first phase is related to the discovery of monumental stone monuments along with numerous bronze and gold objects which, according to then known analogies, are interpreted as direct reflection of the progress achieved in Middle East cultures during 3rd millennium BC. In the opinion of the majority of the former researchers, at the beginning the representatives of Maikop culture took over the cultural achievements of the Middle East which were further perfected afterwards. The second opinion about the interpretation of this phenomenon is formed in recent period as a result of multiple radiocarbon dates what caused significant corrections of absolute chronology of Maikop
culture dating it to the 4th millennium BC. This imposed new cultural relations to the Middle East, but this time not to the  dynastic period but to previous, pre-urban cultures of Ubaid and Uruk. All this indicates a higher level of authenticity of Maikop culture, especially in the domain of metallurgy. Anyway, the Maikop culture, during its existences gained high
technological development and in metal processing it does not fall behind Middle East cultures. A significant breakthrough in the process of determining absolute chronology of Maikop culture was made through implementation of radiocarbon
dating. So far, within this framework, more than 70 dates were collected, which are mostly concentrated in three successive periods. The early period covers the time span from 40th to 37th century BC. Those dates are very scarce and they are related to the sites of Maikop (Galjugaevsko-Sereginsk) and Psekupsk variants in the area of Terek and Kuban, as well as
in Kuma–Manych periphery. The dates of the middle period cover the time period from 37/35th to 34/33rd century BC and they are related to the finds of all variants of Maikop culture. The most significant  Maikop settlements belonging to this period are Ust- Džegutin, Galjugaevsk, Novosvobodna and Dolinsk, necropoles in Klada or the grave 70 from Kurgan 1 in Zamankul which according to the finds is the closest to the Maikop kurgan. The dates of the late period cover the time span from 34th to 30/29th century BC and mostly belong to the group of Novosvobodna and the Dolinsk and Psekupsk variant. The cultural and social development of the Maikop culture reached the so-called chieftain level which can be compared to the late period of Sumerian pre-dynas tic period. Maikop warrior’s weapons do not fall behind  after Sumerian armies, but further development in this respect was not attained by Maikop culture. It  vanishes with oncoming climate warming during second phase of Subboreal and its disappearance is most likely induced by internal social changes as well. There is no clear standpoint in science, regarding
the issue of ethnical character of representatives of the Maikop culture, mostly having in mind the language groups of different nations (Indo-Europeans, Semites, Hattam, Adygei, Kabardini, Turks). The analysis of the archaeological material shows that Maikop culture consisted of four components, out of which every single one had its own path of origin. Among the variants there were close connections, particularly in general religious displays, funeral rituals, syncretism emergence and adaptation. Having this in mind, the Maikop culture cannot be considered as a product of a single ethnic group, nor it can be related to a single nation. However, it was definitely a local culture, coming from north pre-Caucasian area, strongly influenced
by northern Mesopotamia, eastern Anatolia and southern Caucasus through Kurin flatlands. The tradition related to spiritual customs of Maikop population shows both, the elements of the local Chalcolithic with familiar funeral ceremonies of burying
in kurgans, but also the contacts with eastern European cultures which could contribute to the creation of Maikop warrior elite. Archaeological sources also indicate that all foreign influences were more or less adapted to the features of Maikop culture, assimilating in quite specific pre-Caucasian features.  


How to Cite
Nikolaevich Korenevskij, S. . (2022). The Maikop culture in the Northern Caucasus. Godišnjak Centra Za balkanološka Ispitivanja, (41), 7–36.