From Academic Kids

Missing image
Horseman, Pazyryk felt artifact, c.300 BC.

Pazyryk is a local name for a valley in the Altai Mountains lying in Siberian Russia south of the modern city of Novosibirsk, near the borders with China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. It includes (or is part of) the Ukok plateau, where many ancient Bronze Age barrow-like tomb mounds of larch logs covered over by large cairns of boulders and stones have been found. In Russian, such "barrows" are called kurgans and the spectacular Scythian burials at Pazyryk introduced "kurgan" into general acceptance.

Some of the tombs were excavated by the archaeologist Sergei Ivanovich Rudenko beginning in the 1920s. While many of the tombs were already looted in earlier times, Rodenko unearthed sacrificed horses, and with them immaculately preserved cloth saddles, felt and woolen rugs including the world's oldest pile carpet and other splendid objects that had escaped the ravages of time. Other undisturbed kurgans have been found to contain remarkably well-preserved remains. Bodies were preserved using mummification techniques and were also naturally frozen in solid ice from water seeping into the tombs. They were encased in coffins made from hollowed trunks of larch (which may have had sacral significance) and sometimes accompanied by sacrificed concubines and horses. The clustering of tombs in a single area implies that it had particular ritual significance for these people, who were likely to have been willing to transport their deceased leaders great distances for burial.

The "Ice Maiden:" (4th c. BCE)

The most famous undisturbed Pazyryk burial so far recovered is the "Ice Maiden" found by archaeologist Natalia Polosmak in 1993, a rare example of a single woman given a full ceremonial wooden chamber-tomb in the 5th century BCE, accompanied by six horses. Her well-preserved body, carefully embalmed with peat and bark, was arranged to lie on her side as if asleep. She was young; her hair was still blonde; she had been 5 feet 6 inches tall. Even the Animal Style tattoos were preserved on her pale skin: creatures with horns that develop into flowered forms. Her coffin was made large enough to accommodate the high felt headdress she was wearing, which had 15 gilded wooden birds sewn to it. On a gold buckle retrieved from another tomb, a similar woman's headdress intertwined with branches of the tree of life are depicted. Her blouse was made of wild "tussah" silk; near her coffin was a vessel made of yak horn; and dishes containing gifts of coriander seeds: all of which suggest that the Pazyryk trade routes stretched across vast areas of Asia. Similar dishes in other tombs held Cannabis sativa, confirming a practice described by Herodotus.

Two years after the discovery of the "Ice Maiden" Dr. Polosmak's husband, Vyacheslav Molodin, found a frozen man, elaborately tattooed with an elk, with two long braids that reached to his waist, buried with his weapons.

Rudenko initially assigned the neutral label Pazyryk culture for these nomadic pasturalists of horses and dated them to the 5th century BC. The Pazyryk culture has since been connected with the Scythians, an Iranian people described by the ancient Greeks, whose very similar tombs are found across the steppes. It has been suggested that Pazyryk was a "homeland" for these tribes at one point before they migrated west. There is also the possibility that the current inhabitants of the Altai region are descendants of the Pazyryk culture, a continuity that would accord with current ethnic politics: DNA is now being used to study the Pazyryk mummies. Meanwhile, local unwillingness to see their presumed ancestors disturbed has closed the site to archaeologists for the time being.

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