Variations in the Properties of Chernozems and Paleoenvironmental Conditions in the North Caucasus in the 4th Millennium BC according to the Results of the Study of Essentuksky 1 Kurgan


A short-term chronosequence of paleosols buried under different structures in the big Essentuksky 1 kurgan (North Caucasus) was studied. The kurgan was constructed in the second quarter of the 4th millennium BC (the Maikop culture). According to archaeological data, the kurgan construction continued for several decades. During this time, the morphological pattern and physicochemical properties of soils changed: the thickness of the humus profile and the content of organic carbon decreased, the contents of gypsum and carbonates increased, the zone of their accumulation shifted upwards the soil profile, and the transformation of carbonate pedofeatures took place. The most “arid” properties were found in the soil buried last in the studied chronosequence: the humus horizon of this soil is the lightest in color and has the lowest organic carbon content; the soil profile is most enriched in carbonates, which is manifested both at the macro- and microlevels of observation; the highest content of exchangeable sodium and magnesium is noted in the composition of exchangeable bases; a decrease in the magnetic susceptibility and a maximum in the gypsum content are observed in the second meter of the soil profile. During the construction of the kurgan, Calcic Chernozems (Loamic, Pachic) evolved into Haplic Calcisols (Loamic). A palynological analysis revealed a decrease in the area of forest vegetation and an increase in the share of herbaceous vegetation in the spectrum, including the appearance of steppe species and xerophytes in the region over the studied time. The climate of the studied time interval (the early stage of the Maikop culture in the North Caucasus) was arid and warmer than that at present.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1.
Fig. 2.
Fig. 3.
Fig. 4.
Fig. 5.
Fig. 6.


  1. 1

    A. L. Aleksandrovskii, “Natural environment as seen in soil,” Eurasian Soil Sci. 29 (3), 245–254 (1996).

    Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    A. L. Aleksandrovskii, A. B. Belinskii, A. A. Kalmykov, S. N. Kornenevskii, and J. van der Plicht, “Buried soils of the Bolshoi Ipatovskii kurgan and their role for reconstruction of paleoclimate,” in Materials on the Historical-Cultural Heritage of the North Caucasus, No. 2: Archeology, Anthropology, and Paleoclimatology (Nauka, Moscow, 2001), pp. 131–143.

  3. 3

    A. L. Aleksandrovskii, O. S. Khokhlova, and S. N. Sedov, “Bolshoi Ipatovskii kurgan: A view of soil scientist,” Ross. Arkheol., No. 2, 61–70 (2004).

  4. 4

    E. V. Arinushkina, Manual on the Chemical Analysis of Soils (Moscow State Univ., Moscow, 1970) [in Russian].

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    A. F. Vadyunina and V. F. Babanin, “Magnetic susceptibility of some soils of the Soviet Union,” Pochvovedenie, No. 10, 56–66 (1972).

    Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    A. F. Vadyunina and Z. A. Korchagina, Methods for Studying Soil Physical Properties (Agropromizdat, Moscow, 1986) [in Russian].

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    L. A. Vorob’eva, Theory and Practice of the Chemical Analysis of Soils (GEOS, Moscow, 2006) [in Russian].

    Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    T. A. Gabuev and O. S. Khokhlova, “Detailed dating of kurgans of Brut 1 burial place (Northern Osetia),” Ross. Archeol., No. 4, 16–25 (2012).

  9. 9

    A. N. Gennadiev, Soils and Times: Models of Development (Moscow State Univ., Moscow, 1990) [in Russian].

    Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    A. N. Gennadiev, S. V. Goryachkin, and V. V. Dvornichenko, “Application of the methods of soil science for the study of stratigraphy and morphology of kurgans in the semidesert zone of the European territory of the Soviet Union,” in Holocene History of Soils of the Soviet Union (Pushchino, 1984), pp. 233–235.

  11. 11

    A. A. Gol’eva and O. S. Khokhlova, “Reconstruction of great Sintashtinskii kurgan (Chelyabinsk oblast) based on paleogeographic data,” Izv. Ross. Akad. Nauk, Ser. Geogr., No. 6, 67–76 (2010).

  12. 12

    V. P. Grichuk, “Technique for processing of sedimentary rocks poor in organic residues for pollen analysis,” Probl. Fiz. Geogr., No. 8, 53–58 (1940).

  13. 13

    S. V. Gubin, “Diagenesis of soils in dry steppes buried under artificial embankments,” Pochvovedenie, No. 6. 5–13 (1984).

    Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    V. A. Demkin, Paleosol Science and Archeology: Integration in the History of Nature and Society (Pushchino, 1997) [in Russian].

  15. 15

    T. S. Demkina, A. V. Borisov, and V. A. Demkin, “Paleosols and paleoenvironment in the northern Ergeni Upland in the Latest Neolithic and Bronze ages (4–2 ka BC),” Eurasian Soil Sci. 36, 586–598 (2003).

    Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    M. I. Dergacheva, Archeological Soil Science (Siberian Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences, Novosibirsk, 1997) [in Russian].

  17. 17

    D. G. Zavarzina, A. O. Alekseev, and T. V. Alekseeva, “The role of iron-reducing bacteria in the formation of magnetic properties of steppe soils,” Eurasian Soil Sci. 36, 1085–1094 (2003).

    Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    G. B. Zdanovich, I. V. Ivanov, and M. K. Khabdulina, “Use of in situ study methods in archeology (Kara-Oba and Obaly kurgans in Northern Kazakhstan),” Sov. Arkheol., No. 4, 35–48 (1984).

  19. 19

    I. V. Ivanov, Evolution of Steppe Soils in the Holocene (Nauka, Moscow, 1992) [in Russian].

    Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    I. V. Ivanov and I. B. Vasil’ev, Humans, Nature, and Soils of Ryn Sands on the Volga-Ural Interfluve in the Holocene (Intellekt, Moscow, 1995) [in Russian].

    Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    K. B. Kolesnichenko, A Report on Archeological Sites in Predgornyi district of Stavropol Region in 2015, Vinsady-5 Kurgan, 2019, Archive of the Institute of Archeology, Russian Academy of Sciences (IA RAN), fol. 783, sec. 1.

  22. 22

    S. N. Kornevskii, “General concept on climate changes in the plain area of Cis-Caucasus at the beginning of the Copper-Bronze age in the second half of the 5th–4th millennia BC,” in Proceedings of the Interdisciplinary Scientific Conf. “Archeology and Natural Science in the Research of Cultural Layer of Archeological Objects” (Moscow, 2018), pp. 89–91.

  23. 23

    Yu. A. Lavrushin, E. A. Spiridonova, and L. D. Sulerzhitskii, “Geological-paleoenvironmental events in the north of arid zone over the last 10 thousand years,” in Ancient History of Northern Cis-Caspian Region (Samara, 1998), pp. 40–65.

  24. 24

    A. V. Lychagin, Report on the Excavations of Archaeological Sites in the Caucasian Mineral Waters carried out in 2014 by GUP Nasledie: Vinsady 2, Vinsady-4, and Skachki-3 Kurgans, Archive of the Institute of Archeology, Russian Academy of Sciences (IA RAN), sec. 1.

  25. 25

    D. S. Orlov and L. A. Grishina, Practical Manual on Humus Chemistry (Moscow State Univ., Moscow, 1981) [in Russian].

    Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    L. S. Pesochina, “Paleosol studies of Rossiiskii-2 kurgan mound in Rostov oblast,” in Proceedings of the All-Russia Conference on Archeological Soil Science in Memoriam of Prof. V.A. Demkin (Pushchino, 2014), pp. 144–150.

  27. 27

    L. G. Smirnova, Y. G. Chendev, N. S. Kukharchuk, A. G. Narozhnaya, S. A. Kukharuk, and V. G. Smirnov, “Changes in the soil cover under the impact of short-term climate fluctuations,” Eurasian Soil Sci. 52, 729–735 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    E. A. Spiridonova, A. S. Aleshinskaya, S. N. Korenevskii, and V. L. Rostunov, “Comparative analysis of environment of Maikop culture in Central Cis-Caucasus region,” in Materials on the Historical-Cultural Heritage of the North Caucasus, No. 2: Archeology, Anthropology, and Paleoclimatology (Nauka, Moscow, 2001), pp. 144–162.

  29. 29

    T. F. Tregub, “Correlation of paleogeographic events of the Neopleistocene, Upper Don, Central Russian Upland, Belarus, and Central Europe,” Vestn. Voronezh. Gos. Univ., Ser. Geol., No. 1, 51–57 (2012).

  30. 30

    O. S. Khokhlova, A. E. Papkina, A. A. Khokhlov, T. A. Puzanova, and F. G. Kurbanova, “Paleosol studies of Krasikovskii 1 kurgan in Orenburg oblast,” in Archeological Monuments of Orenburg Region (Orenburg, 2019), pp. 49–59.

  31. 31

    T. Alekseeva, A. Alekseev, B. A. Maher, and V. Demkin, “Late Holocene climate reconstructions for the Russian steppe, based on mineralogical and magnetic properties of buried paleosols,” Paleogeogr., Paleoclimatol., Paleoecol. 249 (1), 103–127 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32

    A. L. Alexandrovskiy, J. van der Plicht, and O. S. Khokhlova, “Abrupt climatic change in the dry steppes of the Northern Caucasus, Russia, in the third millennium BC,” Geolines 11, 64–66 (2000).

    Google Scholar 

  33. 33

    IUSS Working Group WRB, World Reference Base for Soil Resources 2014, Update 2015, International Soil Classification System for Naming Soils and Creating Legends for Soil Maps, World Soil Resources Reports No. 106 (UN Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, 2015).

    Google Scholar 

  34. 34

    O. S. Khokhlova, K. V. Voronin, V. Yu. Malashev, A. A. Golyeva, and A. A. Khokhlov, “Soil evolution and accumulation of loess-like material in the Chechen depression, Northern Caucasus, Russia,” Quat. Int. 76–77, 103–112 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35

    A. Papkina, O. Khokhlova, N. Morgunova, and T. Puzanova, “Evolution of soils of the Southern Urals in the Early Bronze Age on the basis of archaeological data (on an example of a burial ground Krasikovo I in the Orenburg region),” in Proceedings of the International Multidisciplinary Scientific GeoConference “Surveying Geology and Mining Ecology Management,” (SGEM) (Sofia, 2018), Vol. 18, pp. 181–188.

Download references


We are grateful to Professor Svend Hansen, Director of the Eurasian Branch of the German Archaeological Institute, for his help in radiocarbon dating of samples from the Essentuksky 1 mound. We are deeply grateful to T.F. Tregub for performing the palynological analysis.


This study was performed within the framework of state assignment no. 0191-2019-0046. The analyses of soil samples were supported by the Russian Science Foundation (project no. 16-17-10280) and by the “Nasledie” Limited Company (Stavropol).

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to A. E. Sverchkova.

Ethics declarations

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Translated by D. Konyushkov

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Sverchkova, A.E., Khokhlova, O.S. & Kalmykov, A.A. Variations in the Properties of Chernozems and Paleoenvironmental Conditions in the North Caucasus in the 4th Millennium BC according to the Results of the Study of Essentuksky 1 Kurgan. Eurasian Soil Sc. 53, 1687–1700 (2020).

Download citation


  • kurgan structures
  • short-term chronosequence
  • morphological and physicochemical properties of soils
  • palynological analysis
  • paleoclimatic reconstructions