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The Pazyryks were a nomadic tribe of the region around the Altai Mountains, on the border of southern Siberia and Mongolia. During the twentieth century this region saw some great archaeological discoveries – the preserved remains of people from this ancient tribe.
The Altai Mountains. Image source: http://metagini.com/location/Russia/Potanina/86797/Pictures/
In 1924 Russian archaeologist Sergei Rudenko began the excavation of burial mounds in the Altai Mountains, in the Valley of Pazyryk. During this process, he uncovered five large
(burial mounds). It wasn’t until 1929 that he fully excavated the first of these mounds. He found in it a wooden burial chamber dating from the Iron Age (c.400BC). However someone had already found the chamber before him and had ransacked it, stealing the body and valuables. All that remained were the preserved bodies of ten horses.
Map of region where the bodies were found. Image source: http://www.tdgnews.it/en/?p=3002
Altai region. Image source: http://faculty.irsc.edu/faculty/jlett/Study%20Guide%20and%20Additional%20Resources%20for%20Biological%20Anthropology%20&%20Archaeology.pdf
Due to war it was 1947 before Rudenko continued his excavation of the other
. This process spanned two years. Yet again, all of the tombs had been robbed, although some good finds were made. Items probably seen as “less precious” remained, including leather, textile and wooden artefacts, and each tomb had between seven and fourteen horses, accompanied by decorated bridles, harnesses, saddles and coats. Each burial mound was assigned a number and called a “barrow”. In Barrow 2, Rudenko and his team found the bodies of a man and woman, which had been removed from their coffin. The man was tattooed with images of animals on his arms, legs and torso, although his left hand and leg were not preserved. The woman was only partially preserved, without tattoos and was probably a concubine or junior wife who had been buried with her master.
Skeletons were all that remained of the people who were buried in Barrows 3 and 4, but in Barrow 5 a man and a woman were found – the man lying on his back, the woman on hers on top of him. Amongst the other artefacts found in each grave were the remains of a small, tent-like stand, which was used for burning and inhaling cannabis.
Fifth Pazyryk burial mound. Image source: http://www.adventuretravel.ru/travels/eng/sightseeing/altai_world.htm
Decades later, another Russian archaeologist, Natalia Polosmak, made another brilliant find. In the summer of 1993 she uncovered “the Siberian Ice Maiden” in a sacred area - "the Pastures of Heaven" - high up in the Altai Mountains. The 2500 year old tomb in which her body was found also contained the remains of six horses. Other artefacts were also found, including very well preserved clothing, a hand mirror Along with the Icemaiden, a tattooed man, nicknamed “Conan”, was found. This burial site is still sacred to the people of the area, so the commander of the border guard provided the team with help in finding the burial mound, and with protection.
In 1995 Polosmak's husband, Vyacheslav Molodin, found another body in an undisturbed tomb. The “horseman”, or “warrior”, a tattooed man, was found with plenty of artefacts, such as his clothing, bow, arrows, axe and knife.
These great discoveries, of which the Ice Maiden is the most renowned and significant, led to much scientific research and have helped us to learn a lot about these people, their lives and deaths, and also about the ancient Pazyryk tribe, their culture, lifestyle and beliefs, which will be explored in other sections of this site.
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