The mysterious Polovtsian statues that watch over the Eurasian steppes

Silent and enigmatic, a large number of stone Polovtsian statues of ancient warriors occupy the Eurasian steppes.

The mysterious Polovtsian statues that watch over the Eurasian steppes

The History Of Polovtsian Statues

For much of the Middle Ages, the Polovtsians (a term derived from the Ukrainian polovtsy : blond) were warriors who swarmed through the Eurasian steppes. 

Starting from the area that Ukraine now occupies, these nomads came into conflict with the Kyiv Rus, the Hungarians and the Byzantine Empire itself, becoming a dangerous force of reason and prey during the 11th and 12th centuries.

But when in the 13th century Mongol invasions arrived, the Polovtsians were forced to retreat to more western territories such as Valaquia (Romania) and Moldova.

Behind them, they left a huge production of anthropomorphic statues, a cultural show that they inherited from a larger cultural sphere of the steppes. 

These monuments have been recorded since the Eneolithic period, in the fourth millennium BC, and can be found throughout Russia, Ukraine (mostly Eastern), Germany, southern Siberia, Central Asia, and Mongolia.

The mysterious Polovtsian statues that watch over the Eurasian steppes

Polovtsian statues in particular, represent both men and women. Standing male statues represent warriors ready for battle, so they commonly include Ruthenian-type helmets or (more rarely) a cap reinforced with fur or metal plates, a bib in the front, a saber, a whip, a Bow and a quiver with the arrows. Everything, of course, carved in the stone and with different combinations.

Apart from the military attire, the warrior’s representation also included more everyday objects, such as knives, flint and combs, which appear on the belts.

The mysterious Polovtsian statues that watch over the Eurasian steppes

It should be noted that the statues that have caps and not helmets, would be those that identified the richest members of society. These statues are also in a sitting position, with sacks and devoid of any weapon except for a knife. The objects carried by these last stone works suggest that the men of the Polovtsian elite earned their prominent positions in society not through war or military expertise, but through animal husbandry, commerce, and tax collection.

As for the statues of women, they are commonly depicted wearing an elaborate outfit and a striking headdress – the kind that many fans of the ancient astronaut theory think of as “reptilian” -. They also have numerous ornaments, such as hoops, necklaces and amulets. Like its male counterpart, female statues carry everyday objects in their belts. An iconic feature is that her breasts are bare, in what is believed to be a symbolic show of strength and immortality.

Here we also find sitting and standing sculptures. It is believed that the first were the wives of the warriors and the last were the wives of the wealthy Polovtsians. However, and despite the fact that many of the female statues represent prominent wives, it is also true that a few show fierce warriors.

Vessel of souls

One of the greatest mysteries about these sculptures is that they seem to hold a kind of vessel under the stomach. These containers take various forms, such as plates, jugs, cups and chalices. And these varied forms are conditioned by the amount of theories to try to explain what they were used for. For example, there are researchers who argue that they could be urns that symbolically contain the ashes of their ancestors, or have some purpose of ritual sacrifice, or be the place where the soul or spirit of those represented on the rock was housed.

The last theory led to the Orthodox Church destroying some in the 16th century and then using the stones for its own constructions. Also, during the World Wars of the twentieth century, they were victims of target shooting practices by soldiers.

This is how the centuries have made a dent in most of these mysterious monuments scattered throughout the steppes of Eurasia. Today, its main enemy is the lack of official policies by the authorities for its conservation and, in many cases, restoration.

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