Burials covered in red dye found in Serbian barrows

Archaeologists excavating two barrow mounds in Vojvodina, in the northern part of the Republic of Serbia, have uncovered the burials of two men covered with red ochre dye.

Ochre is a natural clay earth pigment, a mixture of ferric oxide and varying amounts of clay and sand. When mixed with a large amount of hematite, or dehydrated iron oxide it creates a pigment with a reddish tint.

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The burials were discovered by the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IAEPAN) in two large barrow mounds first excavated between 2016-2018, of which the results of the study have only now been published.

Dr. Piotr Włodarczak from IAEPAN who led the excavations noted the lack of grave goods, but suggests that the ochre dye was seen as a ‘sacred colour’ for important funeral rituals.
The unusual height of those buried, suggests that the deceased originally came from the steppes of southern Russia or Ukraine, who found their way to Vojvodina around 5,000 years ago as part of a nomadic community.

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“The ritual use of ochre and the placement of individual burials in large mounds suggests that they are associated with communities inhabiting the Eastern European steppe areas ” said Włodarczak.

Similarities can be found with the Yamnaya culture, a late Copper Age to early Bronze Age archaeological culture, who would bury their dead covered in Ochre in tumuli (kurgans) containing simple pit chambers.

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