Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

4 - Ossuaries in Kurgan Burials: New Observations on the Burial Rituals in a Frontier Zone in Western Central Asia

Friday, July 6
2:40 PM - 4:10 PM
Location: Willow, First Floor

This paper investigates ossuaries (i.e., bone containers) dated to the first half of the first millennium C. E. based on the archaeological analysis of kurgan burials (i.e., burials with an aboveground mound). The ossuaries discussed in the paper were excavated from the cemeteries in the periphery of the Bukhara Oasis in Uzbekistan, a frontier zone at which nomads and sedentary inhabitants interacted. As a significant component of burial rituals, ossuaries found in Western Central Asia are often considered to be an indication of Zoroastrian tradition mainly related to the sedentary communities. Meanwhile, the role that the nomads played in the interregional transmission of Zoroastrianism is still highly controversial.


New finds of ossuaries from the 2017 excavation conducted by the presenter will be examined in this paper, along with the investigation of published materials. Through a comparison of archaeological contexts, this discussion shows the variable ways ossuaries were adopted in burial rituals. My appraisals of these burials also reveal that many ossuaries have appropriated the mounds or chambers of earlier nomads’ tombs. These post-construction activities indicate the various symbolism and signify a connection between burial practices among different generations within the local cultural context and landscape. These new observations establish a new paradigm for understanding the interactive transmissions of ritual practices among nomadic and sedentary populations. My paper also redresses the monistic interpretation that kurgan burials are the tombs of nomads.

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