Mystery of Aksubayevo findings: Bulgars, Kipchaks or Mongol warriors?

The versions of the buried bodies in the thousand-year-old cemetery found by Tatarstan oil workers in the south of Tatarstan

There has recently been known about the discovery of a cemetery in Tatarstan who might be thousand years old. While people speculated about the bones found in Aksubayevo District in social media, archaeologists have dispelled different rumours. Now the remains have been given to anthropologists for further research. Realnoe Vremya together with historians tried to find out who could have been buried in the south of the republic.

Unexpected finding

The information that oil workers had excavation works to lay an oil pipeline and found an old burial site in Aksubayevo District in Tatarstan appeared last Wednesday. The cemetery is located between the settlements of Kyzyl Tau and Novye Kiyazly.

The photo of the digs spread in social networks. The graves located not deep underground had different sizes. Bones of children and women were found among the remains. Then the diggers assumed that the burial site goes back to the 13-14th centuries.

Users who saw the photo began to make assumptions that the skeletons that were found were almost 2,5-3 metres long. Someone's version was that the graves were relatively new and refer to the first half of the 20th century, and bodies of executed people — either victims of the Civil War or “people’s enemies” of the 1930s — laid there.

A group of archaeologists headed by Konstantin Istomin went to the scene. The burial site turned out quite big — 200 metres in width and 300 metres in length. Nowadays about 150 skeletons have been found. Their sizes are quite normal: the height of adults didn’t exceed 170-180 cm. The burial site itself could have been created from the 10th to the 14th centuries. Moreover, there were almost no belongings next to the remains, except a nail and a ceramic fragment.

By the way, this year researchers have made a no less important discovery in Bolgar — an amber workshop dating back to the 13-14th centuries.

In Aksubayevo soil

It should be noted that Aksubayevo District hasn’t been thoroughly explored by archaeologists and historians like, for instance, the territories around Bolgar or Kazan. Head Research Fellow of the Institute of Archaeology of the Tatarstan Academy of Sciences Fayaz Khuzin told Realnoe Vremya that big towns of that period hadn’t been found in those places, only settlements were detected.

Kazan historians Bulat Khamidullin and Larisa Aynutdinova wrote in Realnoe Vremya that over 200 archaeological sites had been found in Aksubayevo soil. They refer to the bronze era, Imenkevo culture, the periods of Volga Bulgaria, the Golden Horde and Kazan Khanate. Here a lot of tumuli and groups of tumuli were found. For instance, findings next to the settlements of Aksubayevo and Vasilyevka, the villages of Sargachyovo, Staroye Uzeyevo, Takhtala, Cheremusha and others are known. Imenkovo and Bulgarian settlements, villages and ancient towns were detected close to the villages of Ilyashkino, Karasa, Novoye Aksubayevo, Staroye Mokshino.

There are Golden Horde gravestones (mainly referring to the 14th century, for instance, four gravestones and a fragment in the Novodyomkino cemetery). Archaeological sites were found around Scherben village: Scherben towns I and II, Scherben towns I-IV, Scherben burial site that go back to the so-called all-Bulgarian period.

Historian Dzhamil Mukhametshin, in turn, adds that there is information about precisely Golden Horde settlements in Aksubayevo District, though there were pre-Mongol. This territory was a part of Volga Bulgaria. With the coming of Batu Khan (1236 year) and the assault of Bolgar, these lands consequently joined the Golden Horde.

However, the historian doesn’t know any important events that happened on the territory of Aksubayevo District during the period of the 10-14th centuries.

“Such capital cities as Bolgar and Bilyar were destroyed. Other towns and settlements weren’t subjected to destruction. They simply automatically became a part of the Bulgarian ulus of the Golden Horde,” Mukhametshin says.

And Baty Khan’s first bet was located precisely in Bolgar. In 1395, Bolgar was set on fire by Tamerlane after the Battle of the Kondurcha River and was destroyed by Prince Paletsky in 1431.

Who is buried there? Versions

There have been found quite many gravestones of the Bolgarian type that refer to the Golden Horde period (13-14th centuries). According to Mukhametshin, in the pre-Mongol era, headstones hadn’t been put. The earliest headstone was put in 1270. It means that the cemetery discovered by the oil workers can be dated back to an earlier era — the times of Volga-Kama Bolghar.

According to the scientist’s another version, there could have been headstones here. But they consequently disappeared for different reasons.

The third assumption is that it’s the 14th-century Kipchak graves, and there could have been no headstones there.

“The next wave of Kipchaks was there in the 14th century. And they didn’t have headstones as well as Bolgars. As a consequence, they became a part of the Tatars,” Dzhamil Mukhametshin claims.

However, he stressed that the Kipchaks who lived in the Lower and Middle Volga River had Kurgan stelae — stone figures of a warrior or woman that were put above rulers’ grave or in a tribe’s sacral places, for instance, at the summit of holy mountains. A fragment of the head was also found on the territory of the Bulgarian ancient town. There is information that the Kurgan stelae stood in the neighbourhood of Bolgar and in the east of Tatarstan (Aznakayevo and Bavly Districts).

From the 10th century, the graves in these regions prove the Muslim way of burial but with few exceptions: the direction of the body, they weren’t buried in coffins. And the bodies found in Aksubayevo District had their heads looking towards the West and faces to the south — towards Mecca.

The archaeologists have given the findings to anthropologists in Kazan for further research. Then the specialists will be able to talk about those who lied in the graves with more accuracy. Now the site is secured and enlisted as a discovered cultural heritage site.

By Timur Rakhmatullin