The Hermitage possesses over two million ancient and early medieval items, the largest and most remarkable such collection in Russia, including objects dating from the Palaeolithic to the Iron Ages, from the period of man's first development to the period when countries began to be formed. The items were discovered on Russian territory between the 18th century and the present.
The Palaeolithic Age is represented by stone and bone figurines including famous images of women and birds, over 20,000 years old, excavated at the Malta settlement near Irkutsk, and the Kostenky I settlement on the River Don. The collection of Neolithic objects from 3,000 BC is also extensive, of particular interest being the head of a female elk excavated at the Shigir peat bog in the Urals, a bone idol found in a settlement in the Pskov Region, and stone carvings of fish from the area of Lake Baikal.
Objects from the Early Farming Cultures (the Tripolye culture, 4,000-3,000 BC, and early farming culture of Southern Turkmenia, 6,000-3,000 BC) include pieces of painted pottery and female and animal figurines, while there are numerous finds from the region of the Southern Russian steppes and Northern Caucasus dating from the Bronze Age.
Rich and varied is the collection of artifacts from the Eurasian steppes: the Siberian Collection of Peter I, together with objects excavated at the Chertomlyk, Solokha, Kelermess and other burial mounds (7th-3rd centuries BC), in the Altai mountains (Pazyryk, Bashadar and Tuekta, 6th-4th centuries BC), Tuva and Minusinsk regions (Tagar culture, 7th-8th centuries BC), form what is probably the most famous and important section of the whole prehistoric collection. Many of the objects are in the so-called 'animal style'.
The history of nomadic cultures is also illustrated by relics of the Sarmatians and Huns (the Khokhlach burial mound, the Novocherkassk hoard, etc), and medieval nomads of the Eurasian steppes (Turks, Bulgars and Polovtsy, 7th-12th centuries AD). Stone figures created by the Turks and Polovtsy, and relics from the Pereshchepina complex and the ancient settlement at Sarkel are also of major significance. Alongside the items mentioned above, of no less interest are relics from the forest and steppe area and Zarubinets and Chernyakhovsk barrows (2nd century BC-4th century AD) including the well known Bosporan collection (4th- early 7th century AD), its items inextricably linked with the world of the nomads. A large number of items date from Ancient Russia (Rus), including numerous examples from Staraya (Old) Ladoga , the first capital of Rus, barrows on the Ladoga coastland and various hoards.
The collection also has a considerable number of items reflecting the medieval culture of Baltic tribes.
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