Chechen Folk Crafts

Чеченские ремеслаChechen folk crafts emerged several millennia ago. Several genetically interrelated archaeological cultures replaced each other in the area of original Nakh (Ancient Chechen) settlement in the North Caucasus from the 4th millennium B.C. through the Middle Ages.

Those cultures left ample archaeological materials testifying to an unprecedentedly high level of North Caucasian manufacture of arms, labour implements and pottery since the New Stone Age.

Excavations of Neolithic settlements in the various parts of the Caucasus revealed a wealth of Mesolithic flint tools—nuclei, scrubbers, chisels, and  blades; geometrical tools—segments, trapezes, inserts with tips cut rectangularly with retouch, and faceted cuneiform axes; chippers processed on either side; and a rough Neolithic arrowhead. 

The occupation layer of a Late Neolithic settlement in the central part of the North Caucasus[1] revealed diverse articles—pottery, pitchstone, flint and stone tools, and fragments of feebly fired clay. Flint tools were mainly represented by various types of scrubbers, piercers, sharp slabs, and knife-like slabs that might be inserted in sickles. A flint arrowhead and the halves of a stone mace were also found. Stone tools included polished rotund axes, chisels,    graters, pestles and whetstones. The pottery, of inferior clay, was crudely shaped by hand and feebly fired[2]. The vessels were not ornamented, only some of them had a stuck-on clay band or a horizontal relief projection along the upper edge[3]. An anthropomorphic clay figurine, also unearthed in the settlement, related to an ancient land-tilling cult. The presence of farm tools (grain grinders, graters and pestles) testifies to embryonic land-tilling in the North Caucasian New Stone Age.

каменный жерновTomb finds included stone scrubbers, slabs, flakes, pottery shards, stone bracelets, pendants made of deer tusks and ox incisors, and beads of diverse shapes. A small copper finger-ring unearthed in one tomb was the oldest metal article found in the North Caucasus for today[4].

Eneolithic finds are of no smaller interest. A burial mound near the village of Bamut in West Chechnya revealed small paste beads strewn all over the burial chamber, and a small flint slab retouched along the edges. A knife-like flint slab retouched along the edges and a round marlstone pendant were unearthed in a tomb in the vicinity of Grozny.

Pottery and metalwork reached a high level in the Kura-Araxes archaeological culture, which spread from Transcaucasia to the south-eastern and southern parts of the North Caucasus in the 3rd millennium B.C. The Kura-Araxes tribes mastered the entire cycle of bronze production from copper ore mining to foundry. The 3rd millennium B.C. made the Caucasus and Transcaucasia one of the principal Old World seats of metal industry[5].

Numerous copper smelting furnaces, and diverse bronze tools, weapons and jewels were unearthed in Kura-Araxes settlements—in particular, axes, flat adzes, knife blades, awls and spearheads.

Bone and clay spindle whorls, traces of textiles on pottery, and a textile fragment found in one of the Kura-Araxes settlements testify that the Kura-Araxes culture knew textile manufacture.

Kura-Araxes pottery is highly original, and so is its principal identifier.

Kura-Araxes pottery has a black glossy surface and pink lining inside. Some vessels, of a red-ochre colour, are identical to the later Maikop pottery. Pottery was made by hand of well stirred clay with various additives. Some vessels might have been made on a primitive potter’s wheel. Pottery is carefully finished and well fired in special furnaces[6]. Shapes are widely diversified—flat-bottomed vessels with a broad neck and rotund body with steep walls; large egg-shaped vessels with a disproportionally narrow bottom; round vessels with a cylindrical neck; jugs, pots, bowls, basins and goblets[7]. The pottery was never painted. Its decorative patterns—double spirals, concentric circles, rhombi and rectangles—were marked by simple and austere line[8].

The manufacture of labour implements and arms was no less developed in the following era of the Maikop archaeological culture, which spread in the North Caucasus in the 3rd and 2nd millennia B.C.[9].

Tribes of the Maikop culture reached a great degree of perfection in metalwork, as shown by local metal articles unearthed in tombs—bronze weapons, tools and vessels[10]. Maikop warriors were armed no worse than those of the state period of Egypt and Sumer with bronze-headed spears, bronze axes and daggers[11]. For longer than a thousand years, approximately to the middle of the 2nd millennium B.C., the Caucasus remained the only source from where metal was exported to the tribes of the pit and catacomb cultures in the adjacent parts of Eastern Europe[12].

Archaeological data also testify to the high developmental level of pottery. Maikop craftsmen knew the potter’s wheel, and produced vessels of widely diversified shapes and functions—pots, jugs, bowls, and large spherical and egg-shaped vessels.

Archaeological data of the North Caucasian, or Terek-Kuban archaeological culture, of the 2nd millennium B.C., which replaced the Maikop in the Kuban-Sulak interfluve, also testify to sophisticated crafts.

Marking North Caucasian pottery is the diversity of shapes and careful finishing. The vessels had a reddish-brown or black surface, and were decorated with impressed rope, triangular stamps or herringbone pattern.

North Caucasian tombs also contain numerous bronze articles testifying to well-developed metal production and finishing. Belonging to the most typical are adze-like axes, drilled bronze axes, two-edged leaf-shaped knives, bronze pins of diverse shapes, pendants, temple rings, bracelets and beads.

The progress of crafts reached its peak with the highly developed Koban archaeological culture, based in the Kuban-Sulak interfluve and genetically linked with the North Caucasian and Maikop cultures.

The Koban tribes elaborated copper ore mining and procession technologies sophisticated for their time, and made quality bronze[13]. They passed to handicraft metal industry. In particular, remnants of three metalworking shops, with a furnace in one of them, were unearthed in the Koban Serzhen Yurt settlement in East Chechnya[14]. Fragments of copper smelting crucibles, moulds, bronze bars, and numerous metal articles were found in the shops. Clay moulds for bronze jewellery were unearthed in the Bamut settlement in West Chechnya.

Koban bronze was an alloy of copper and tin, which was brought to the North Caucasus from Transcaucasia[15]. Labour implements, weapons, dishes, horse harness, liturgical articles and jewellery were made of it.

The Koban culture began to process iron in the 10th century B.C., and had shifted to it entirely by the 7th century B.C.

Koban tribes were excellent armourers. Their monuments abound in bronze and iron axes, daggers, spear- and arrowheads, dagger blades, and bimetal daggers with an iron blade and a bronze handle[16]. Ornate Koban bronze axes were marked by the greatest grace of form. Scythian-type swords and daggers, akinakes swords among them, occur in the tombs of the later stage of the Koban culture.

Numerous bronze jewels and garment decorations were also unearthed in Koban tombs—lavishly ornamented belts of sheet bronze, buckles of widely varied shapes, pins, clasps, bracelets, finger-rings and earrings.

Pottery was developed no less. Finds made in Koban settlements allow assume that it was also on the level of handicraft industry. Thus, remnants of potter’s workshops with furnaces were unearthed in the Serzhen Yurt settlement of the Koban culture in East Chechnya. Koban pottery was marked by quality manufacture and firing. It is represented by pots, bowls, mugs, pans and vessels of all shapes and sizes. The articles are mostly black, many with glossy surface. Koban vessels are lavishly decorated—most often, with geometric patterns.

Archaeological materials of the Alanian culture, which replaced the Koban in the Chechen-populated area in the first centuries A.D., reveal a high developmental level of craftsmanship, especially pottery.

Almost all pottery unearthed in settlements and tombs was turned on the potter’s wheel, and varies in shape and colour. There are pots with a turned-down upper edge, long-necked jugs, bowls, mugs, and pithos-like vessels for the storage of liquids and bulk stock. Glossy, of black or grey colour, this pottery is patterned in incisions, relief bands and various stuck-on decorations. Only few exceptions have no prototypes in Koban pottery[17].

Metalware is represented by tabulated bracelets with dot patterns, polished mirrors, earrings, beads and horse harness. A sabre, lavishly ornamented in gilded silver and gems, and probably owned by a local prince, was found in one of the catacombs in the vicinity of Zmeiskaya.

Rapid progress of handicrafts also marked the Vainakh era, the 15th-18th centuries. Archaeological finds testify to the development of arms manufacture, weaving and pottery. Sampling weaponry in contemporaneous tombs are sabres, daggers, knives, arrowheads, mailcoats and metal shields, and pottery—large vessels for the storage of liquids and bulk stock, jugs, bowls and saucers of diverse shapes.

The later Chechen craftsmen stayed true to ancestral traditions up to the mid-20th century.

чеченские кинжалы

Metalwork, especially arms manufacture, was extremely well developed. Chechen cold steel was highly sought throughout the North Caucasus and far outside it. Armourer dynasties passed the secrets of smelting and tempering steel from generation to generation. Gurda, Kaldam and Ters-Maimal sabres—excellently tempered, with blades lasting centuries—were known as priceless[18].

чеченское оружиеChechen daggers were also superb. Armourers later achieved the degree of perfection with rifles and pistols.

Pottery was none inferior to its millennia-long antecedents. Chechen craftsmen also excelled in making wooden vessels and copperware—basins, cauldrons, mugs and narrow-necked jugs.

Turned wooden tableware was popular in the 19th century. Many makes of lathes were used—hand-geared, treadle and hydraulic.

Carpentry and wood-carving were also extremely well developed. As he was travelling in the Chechen highlands in the 1920s, Austrian researcher Bruno Plaetschke made a large collection of excellent furniture, cradles, wooden vessels and other household utensils.

Chechen barrels and tubs were sold all over the Caucasus, as well as reed and bast mats, and wickerwork—in particular, baskets.

Chechen textiles and felt carpets and cloaks were also good.

Chechen clothiers were known throughout the Caucasus. Military tunics and Circassian coats were made of Chechen cloth, and Chechen women embroiderers excelled in decorating Circassian coats with gold and silver thread.

Chechnya was also known for tanners and furriers, with fine garments, footwear, and sheepskin coats.

Chechen jewellers were renowned for silverware and silver-trimmed weaponry and horse harness.

 



[1] The formation areas of proto-Nakh tribes.

[2] Мунчаев Р.М. Кавказ на заре бронзового века. – М., 1975. – с.73 (200)

[3] Марковин В.И., Мунчаев Р.М. Северный Кавказ. – М., 2003. – с.30 (181)

[4] Там же (Ibid), с. 32

[5] Крупнов Е.И. Древняя история Северного Кавказа. – М., 1960. – с. (153)

[6] История народов Северного Кавказа с древнейших времен до конца  XVIII века. – М., 1988. – c.51 (116)

[7] Мунчаев Р.М. Кавказ на заре бронзового века. – М., 1975. – с. 163 (200)

[8] Мунчаев Р.М. Кавказ на заре бронзового века. – М., 1975. – с. 161.

[9] These tribes are ethnically identified with the proto-Nakh.

[10] Chechens retained sophisticated culture of metal weapon manufacture up to the 19th century.

[11] Кореневский С.Н. Древнейшие земледельцы и скотоводы Предкавказья. – М., 2004. – с.85 (149)

[12] История народов Северного Кавказа. – М., 1988. – с.48 (116)

[13] История народов Северного Кавказа с древнейших времен до XVIII века. – М., 1988. – с.62 (116)

 

[14] Козенкова В.И. Поселок-убежище кобанской культуры у аула Сержень-юрт. – М., 1982. – (V.I. Kozenkova. A Shelter Settlement near theVillage ofSerzhen Yurt.Moscow, 1982), с. 42

[15]  Марковин В.И., Мунчаев Р.М. Северный Кавказ. – М., 2003. – с.171(181)

[16]Марковин В.И., Мунчаев Р.М. Северный Кавказ. – М., 2003. -  с.175 (181)

[17] Арсанукаев Р.Д. Вайнахи и аланы. – Баку, 2002. – с.166 (23)

[18] Асхабов И. Чеченское оружие. – М., 2002 (I. Askhabov. Chechen Weaponry.Moscow, 2002)

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