Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences

, Volume 11, Issue 12, pp 6339–6352 | Cite as

Birds in burials: the role of avifauna in Eneolithic Tripolye mortuary rituals

  • Sarah Heins LedogarEmail author
  • Jordan K. Karsten
  • Mykhailo Sokhastskyi
Original Paper
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Avian Zooarchaeology: Prehistoric and Historical Insights


Bird remains are rare at Tripolye sites; therefore, researchers hypothesize that they were not an important economic resource for the Tripolye. The use of ornithographic iconography, vessels, and figurines suggests avifauna were important symbolically in Tripolye ideology. Here, we investigate the role of birds in a Tripolye burial context to assess their symbolic and/or economic significance in mortuary behaviours. We analysed bird remains from the Verteba Cave cemetery, located in western Ukraine and occupied by the Tripolye during phase BII through CII. Bird remains (n = 178) comprise approximately 2% of the faunal sample excavated among human burials from the cave. In contrast to species represented symbolically in Tripolye art, water and marsh birds are majorly underrepresented. The bird assemblage is dominated by grouse (Tetrao spp.), and common quail (Cortunix cortunix), but also includes birds of prey, corvids, and many songbirds. The large number of gamebirds leads us to conclude that the avifauna from Verteba Cave are likely the remains from funeral feasts or food grave offerings. It also supports the idea that birds were a seasonal and local economic resource. The presence of birds of prey, corvids, and male black grouse also suggests that feathers may have been a desired resource.


Birds Symbolism Economy Grouse Tripolye culture Eneolithic 



We would like to thank Dr. Jeremy Kirchman (New York State Museum) and Lydia Garetano (American Museum of Natural History) for their assistance with museum comparative collections. We would also like to thank Alexander Dudar for his expertise during excavations. Finally, we wish to acknowledge the work of the students who participated in the field seasons between 2008 and 2015, and diligently excavated and collected the small passeriform and quail bones.

Funding information

Funding to support this work was provided in part by the University at Albany Dissertation Fellowship Award and the UAlbany Benevolent Research Grant.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah Heins Ledogar
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Jordan K. Karsten
    • 4
  • Mykhailo Sokhastskyi
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity at Albany – SUNYAlbanyUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyNew York State MuseumAlbanyUSA
  3. 3.Department of Archaeology and PalaeoanthropologyUniversity of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
  4. 4.Department of Religious Studies and AnthropologyUniversity of Wisconsin OshkoshOshkoshUSA
  5. 5.Borschiv Regional Museum of Local LoreBorschivUkraine

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