Prologue :
What makes Scythian jewellery so distinctive is the vast majority of surviving objects are of gold, and gold of such a beautiful quality and excellent craftmanship. Furthermore, within the ancient worlds of the Near east, North Africa, and the Mediterranean cultures, where the beauty and workability of gold were exploited more thoroughly than in succeeding Western traditions, the gold of the Scythians has an unusual, if not unique position: it has survived, whereas most of the gold work of the Greeks, much of that smithed by the Etruscans, and virtually all that of the Achaemenids have been lost to us. Only the Egyptians surpass the Scythians in the quantity of their surviving gold work, precisely because both the Egyptians and the Scythians buried their gold with the dead in subterranean chambers.
Scythian Belt Buckle : from Siberia; in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg.
     Sketchpad  \Goldsmithing \Ancient steppe Artists \ Lost wax| Updated 01/07/08
golden scythian belt buckle
  " We see the archaic motifs of the crouched or coiled panther, the recumbent deer and caprid, and the large-beaked bird or bird head. These elements refer back to pictoral traditions that evolved in the art of nomadic peoples of central asia and south Siberia. "

 -- The art of the Scythians
Esther Jacobson

Artwork Details :
     Artists Description and comments relating to characters and concepts.


Client : Personal Folio Piece.
Medium : Pencil Sketch (on Cartridge) 20cm by 28cm :
Coloured and Enhanced in Adobe Photoshop 2008 a.d

Notes : I've had a few queries concerning the nature of this sketch, Its a rendering of a Scythian belt plaque The original is made of gold with turquoise inlays, (width: 15.24 cm height: 9.35cm) circa 3rd century B.C. from Altay, currently held in Czar Peter I's (Пётр Алексе́евич Рома́нов ) Siberian collection, stored at the Hermitage, St. Petersburg.
The buckle portrays a yak biting a snow leopard which in turn is shredding the tail feathers of a really big eagle who is tearing chunks out of the yak's neck. There may be a mirrored version of this plaque (Attached to the other end of the belt ).

One of the Clients I previously worked with afforded a great deal of interaction with jewellery making. Part of that job involves a lot of photo retouching and rendering the appearance of gold and other precious metals. The illustration above comes off as a a very rosy gold and the turquoise needs more of a matte finish.

Gold itself, in its pure form is 24 carats, it is a soft metal, much like lead, on Mohs scale of hardness, gold has a hardness value of 2 to 2.5. Diamond has a value of 10. Humanity has found that in order to make more durable jewellery, gold needs to be mixed with harder metals. This is the reason jewellery is not made in pure gold, it comes in 18 carats, 14 carats and 10 carats.

Notes on Scythians and their Culture :

Scythian Artisans worked with a diverse range of decorative materials such as gold ( being the most unifying aspect of Scythian art as mentioned above), wood, leather, finely carved bone (retrieved from Glittering çapraks - saddlecloths often made of goatskin), bronze (mirrors and pole topes), iron, silver (utensils), electrum and of course the extraordinary tattoos.
tattooed skin Altay, Pazyryk II 5th-4th century BC
All this from what has been extracted out of archaeological excavations or pillaged from the Scythian kurgans (burial mounds, for you Highlander fans). It begs the question has a far greater level of artwork been lost to us through the greed and plundering of the last 2 centuries ( as Herodotus mentions the Scythians made everything out of copper and gold ).

By the fourth century BC Scythian bridle trappings found in burials of the northern steppe zone beyond the Black Sea (referring to present day Ukrainian and Russian lands approx. north of the 48' parallel) reflected a determined adoption of the Thracian tendency to treat decorative objects in terms of flat, incised surfaces whereby established motifs such as Griffin (or Gryphon, a creature said to inhabit the Scythian steppes) heads, wings and feathering, were stylised into simplified yet easily recognizable forms.
There are several arguments mustered in support of the attribution of near Eastern and Greek craftsmanship for the best and finest of Scythian metalwork. There is, to begin, the assumption that Scythians did not have a clue how to cast gold before they came into contact with West Asian traditions. According to this line of reasoning, it was the Persian love of solid gold and the Greek sophistication in the working of this precious metal that attracted the Scythians attention to the possibilities inherent in solid gold or in such metal techniques as filigree and granulation. This supposition needs to be carefully qualified as the archaeological context is extremely fragmented.

As prosperity increased among the Scythians through trade with the Greeks, their nomadic lifestyle waned as more and more of the tribes settled down to a more rural existence. Permanent settlements began to spring up with greater frequency along the archeological record, such as the Bilske Horodyshche, a dig
in the Poltava Region of the Ukraine near Belsk, that gave up an ancient metropolis (1000 times larger than Troy) believed by Boris Shramko to be Gelonus, the Scythian capital (discussed by Herodotus), craft workshops and Greek pottery captured the attention of those excavating the immense ruin. Exquisite Felt appliqué wall hangings survive within the archaic catacombs at Pazryzk displaying fine artwork acknowledging their Great Goddess or exhibiting the stylised actions of Scythia's distinct anthropomorphic beasts. Further decorations demonstrate well conceived geometric motifs that predate the celts beautiful designs. Archaeologists have also uncovered felt rugs, well crafted tools and domestic utensils. Clothing uncovered by archaeologists has also been well made many trimmed by embroidery and appliqué designs. Wealthy people wore clothes covered by gold embossed plaques.

Animalia appears to be the primary subject matter among Scythian jewellers. From what we have retrieved from the earth focuses on stags, mountain lions, predatory birds, horses, bears, wolves and what has been deemed by the intelligentsia as 'mythical' beasts, for example Gryphons (γρυψ) : widely depicted throughout ancient Greece*, mostly on coins or as paintings or sculptures to impart good luck. The earliest depictions come out of Crete, where Gryphons were usually shown as royal animals and guardians of throne rooms. Again the intelligentsia postulate that The Scythians used petrified bones found in and about their steppes as proof of the existence of Gryphons 'attributing a level of gullabilty to the ancients that appears common among the scientific communities meme'. It has been suggested that these "Gryphon bones" were Protoceratops fossils (predecessor of the more familiar horned dinosaurs such as Triceratops), which are common in that part of the world.

The vigour of stylizations shown in the golden figures of stags in their reclining poses is astonishing, These were often the central ornaments for shields carried by fighters. In the most notable of these figures, stags are displayed with legs tucked beneath its body, head upright and muscles tight to give an impression of movement or life.

Archaeology :
The earliest archaeological discoveries in southern Siberia date from the beginning of the 18th century. Nicolaas Cornelius Witsen (dutch embassy: Moscow) received 2 consignments of objects in 1714 and 1716 consisting of forty gold articles, including neck rings (grivny) of the finest workmanship, belt plaques and other ornaments adorned with the now distinctive animal motifs. Witsen's collection survives today only as fine sketches within the pages of his book Nord en Oost Tartarie.
Upon Witsen's death the artifacts were sold at auction and melted down for their base pecuniary value. During the same time period, Nikita Demidov, presented the empress Yekaterina (Catherine) with "precious gold objects from Siberian tombs" These works (as well as over 100 pieces relayed by Prince Gagarin, the then governor of Siberia) formed the foundation of the collection held by the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. Catherine the Great was so impressed from the material recovered from the kurgans that she ordered a systematic study be made of the works. Reports of local officers began to contain reference to the discovery of ancient objects and the wholesale ransacking of kurgans by grave robbers and brigands.

One of the first sites discovered by modern archaeologists were the kurgans Pazyryk, Ulagan district of the Altay Republic (Алтай Республика), south of Novosibirsk. The name Pazyryk culture was Attached to the finds, five large burial mounds and several smaller ones between 1925 and 1949 opened in 1947 by a Russian archeologist, Sergei Rudenko; Pazyryk is in the Altay Mountains of southern Siberia. The kurgans contained items for use in the afterlife. The famous Pazyryk carpet discovered is the oldest surviving wool pile oriental rug.

A kurgan near the village of Ryzhanovka in the Ukraine, 75 miles south of Kyiv, found in the 1990's has revealed one of the few unlooted tombs of a Scythian chieftain, who was ruling in the forest-steppe area of the western fringe of Scythian lands. There at a late date in Scythian culture (ca. 250 - 225 BC), a recently nomadic aristocratic class was gradually adopting the agricultural life-style of their subjects. Many items of jewellery were also found in the kurgan.

A discovery made by Russian and German archaeologists in 2001 near Kyzyl, the capital of the Russian republic of Tuva in Siberia is the earliest of its kind and predates the influence of Greek civilisation. Archaeologists discovered almost 5,000 decorative gold pieces including earrings, pendants and beads. The pieces contain representations of many local animals from the period including panthers, lions, bears and deer.


*Ancient Greeks believed in the Gigantes (Γίγαντες)—Titans, heroes and semi-human creatures far larger than what would be now be considered the norm. Atlas, the Cyclops, and the Titans were among them, but possibly the greatest of them all was Pelops. Poets envisioned him as a handsome interloper from the east, with a shoulder blade made of ivory (after having a vegetarian Goddess inadvertently eat his shoulder). After winning a rigged chariot race, Pelops was said to have founded the Olympic games as a way to honour the gods for his victory. He also reigned over Greece's southern peninsula—the Peloponnese, whose name means "Pelops's island." At the peninsula's northwest corner stood Olympia, a religious complex that was the site of the Olympic games and of a shrine that claimed a relic of the mighty giant himself—his massive, ivory-white shoulder blade. During the Trojan War, the elephantine relic was reportedly shipped to the walls of Troy, as a talisman to bring the Greeks victory.

Greek writers, from the fifth-century B.C. historian Herodotus to the second-century A.D. travel writer Pausanias, chronicled sightings of the remains of giants. Immense, disarticulated skeletons appeared along unstable shorelines, and huge, jumbled bones poked from weathered hills and cliffs.

Today most if not all 'scholars' shelve stories of giant bones under fiction ( because ancient writers were stupid, and didn't have the proper institutions to tell them what to think and pretty much just pulled ideas out of their arses- creative thought is bad). But Adrienne Mayor, a folklorist and historian of early science, takes the Greeks at their word. "Since the 19th century," Mayor says, "modern paleontologists have discovered rich bone beds of giant, extinct mammals in the same places the ancient Greeks reported finding the bones of heroes and giants." She thinks what the Greeks actually found were isolated fossil bones of creatures like the southern mammoth. With no other way to explain the bones, the Greeks, being ignorant (as all ancient races would have to have been), conceived them as the porous calcified remnants of giant god-like characters.

In theory Mammoth bones would have dwarfed any living creature native to the lands of the ancient Greeks. The fossil beds that studded the Greek and larger Mediterranean world included those of Mammoths, Elephants, and other animals that had lived tens of thousands of years before the Greeks. More fragile bones, such as skulls, often didn't survive. But denser remains—shoulder blades and thighbones, which bear a resemblance to human bones—did.

"They also found fossil ivory tusks from extinct mammoths in the ground," Mayor says, "and they (must have) assumed the ivory was produced by the earth, like gems and minerals. In fact, the ancient Greek word for ivory, elephas, was the name they gave to elephants once they did encounter them." That first encounter probably didn't happen until the fourth century B.C., when Alexander the Great and his army advanced on Babylon and were met by a phalanx of Persian war elephants.

By that time, though, the myths of superhumans and giants were well established in the Greek mind. Could some of these characters have been inspired by finds of enormous fossil bones that couldn't otherwise be explained? Or did the myths come first—and when confronted with the bones, did the Greeks imagine them reassembled as the villains and heroes of the larger-than-life mythic world?

Personal Library :
Recommended Reading :
( links to if available)
The Art of the Scythians: The Interpretation of Cultures at the Edge of the Hellenic World (Handbook of Oriental Studies, Vol 2)(Hardcover) Esther Jacobson(-Tepfer) Leiden: E. J. Brill. 1995.
The Oxford Illustrated Prehistory of Europe(Hardcover) Oxford Barry Cunliffe (Editor) University Press, USA (May 12, 1994)
The Story of Archaeology: The 100 Great Archaeological Discoveries Paul G. Bahn (editor) Phoenix (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group); New Ed edition (1997)
The Scythians(Ancient peoples and places. 2) (Hardcover) Tamara Talbot Rice: Thames & Hudson. 1957.
The History of Herodotus. Trans : George Rawlinson: (Hardcover) University of Chicago 1952.
Herodotus: The Histories John M. Marincola (Editor), Aubrey De Selincourt (Translator) Penguin Classics (September 1, 1996)
The Ancient Civilization of South Siberia (Hardcover) Mikhail Gryaznov : Barrie & Rockliff, London 1969.
The First Horsemen: The Emergence of Man (Hardcover) Frank Tippet : Time-Life Books 1974.
The World's Last Mysteries Reader's Digest Association (January 1978)

A History of Russia Nicholas V. Riasanovsky (Author) Oxford University Press, USA; 5 edition (March 11, 1993)
The Archaeology of Ancient Turkey (Bodley Head Archaeology)(Hardcover) James Mellaart (Author) (April 1978)
Russian history atlas (Hardcover) Martin Gilbert (Author) Weidenfeld & Nicolson (1972)
Additional Reading:

Note to self : Do not lend books to people , they just don't return the good ones.

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