Silver Scythian goddess plate discovered in Russia

It is the first object depicting figures from the Scythian pantheon to be found at the site.

An ornate silver plate decorated with images of a deity and griffins has been unearthed in a burial ground in the Voronezh region of Russia. It is the first object depicting figures from the Scythian pantheon to be found at the site, known as Devista V, located far from the main Scythian centres.

A silver plate decorated with the image of a fertility goddess and winged griffins has been found at Devista V, the first portrayal of gods from the Scythian pantheon discovered at the Russian site. Image: © Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The discovery was made in the 4th-century BC burial of a 40- to 49-year-old man in Mound 7 of the Devista V cemetery, during the 2021 excavation of the site by the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, led by Valeriy Gulyaev. The mound had been looted in antiquity, causing the roof of the chamber to fall in and thus preserving some of the goods buried within. These included an iron knife, the rib of a horse (probably the remains of a ceremonial meal), a spear head, three javelin heads, fragments of horse harness, the jaw of a young bear (which may be linked to a bear cult among the Scythian groups of this Middle Don region), and, in the north-east corner of the grave, a silver plate, once attached to wood by silver nails.

A winged figure wearing a horned headdress looks out from the 34.7cm- long plate. This is thought to be a fertility goddess known as Artimpasa, or, in ancient Anatolia, as Cybele. She is flanked by winged eagle-headed griffins. As is the case with some other Scythian finds from the Northern Black Sea region, Dnieper forest-steppe region, and the Northern Caucasus, this type of depiction reflects the mingling with traditions from Asia Minor and ancient Greece.

On the left end of the plate are two squares decorated with hybrid creatures, and, on the right, are two round buckles, each with a crowned anthropomorphic figure accompanied by griffins. It is not yet known who these figures represent, nor what object the silver plaque once decorated.