Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 January 2016
This study addresses the development of an absolute chronology for prominent burial sites of Inner Asian nomadic cultures. We investigate Saka archaeological wood from a well-known gold-filled Baigetobe kurgan (burial mound #1 of Shilikty-3 cemetery) to estimate its calendar age using tree-ring and 14C dating. The Saka was the southernmost tribal group of Asian Scythians, who roamed Central Asia during the 1st millennium BC (Iron Age). The Shilikty is a large burial site located in the Altai Mountains along the border between Kazakhstan and China. We present a new floating tree-ring chronology of larch and five new 14C dates from the construction timbers of the Baigetobe kurgan. The results of Bayesian modeling suggest the age of studied timbers is ~730–690 cal BC. This places the kurgan in early Scythian time and authenticates a previously suggested age of the Baigetobe gold collection between the 8th and 7th centuries BC derived from the typology of grave goods and burial rites. Chronologically and stylistically, the Scythian Animal Style gold from the Baigetobe kurgan is closer to Early Scythians in the North Caucasus and Tuva than to the local Saka occurrences in the Kazakh Altai. Our dating results indicate that the Baigetobe kurgan was nearly contemporaneous to the Arjan-2 kurgan (Tuva) and could be one of the earliest kurgans of the Saka-Scythian elite in Central Asia.