by Nathan Hamm on 1/17/2005 · 1 comment

PF has an interesting picture of a frontlet of a horse’s harness found in a Kurgan in the Altai Mountains. The Hermitage has more on the burial customs of the Scythian-Sakae period.

Large Altaic burial mounds were intended for those who occupied high positions in early nomadic society, such as chiefs, elders and priests. According to custom, the chief’s wife or concubine was also buried with him and all the dead bodies were embalmed. Deep graves were hollowed out for the burial, and many objects considered both precious and necessary were interred along with the bodies.

The tombs have produced a rich selection of clothing, footwear, domestic objects and harness, nearly all with elements of decoration in gold, silver, wood, horn, leather and fur in various styles including the famous Scythian-Siberian animal style. Ancient artists depicted beasts of prey, herbivorous and fabulous animals. There are representations of animal heads or isolated figures of running, lying or standing animals, and scenes of fighting, dramatic, dynamic and full of inner strength. The figures represented in the fighting scenes are typical of the art of Western Asia and of Graeco-Scythian art.

The ancient Altai nomads maintained cultural and trading links with the peoples of Central Asia and the Near East, and thus Chinese mirrors and silk, not to mention woollen textiles from Iraq, have all been found in the burial mounds

Some of the most stunning finds mentioned by the Hermitage are the world’s oldest pile carpet, the heavily tattooed body of a chief, and a saddle cover that looks like a very ornate shyrdak.

Mary Lynn E. Turner’s page on the Kurgan Woman of Pazyryk also provides great detail on the burial mounds. A few excerpts:

Finding tattoos on a Pazyryk woman was important, and enlightening. Of all the kurgans that had been excavated, “The Lady” was not only the first woman to be found with such markings, but only the second person, and both hers and the gentleman that Rudenko had found bore a fair amount of similarities, namely the deer motif. Theories abound as to why this is so. Were they nobility? Were the tattoos a mark of rank or a rite of passage, perhaps even personal achievement? Maybe they were even tied to therapeutic or spiritual treatments, taking on the aspects of the animal as needed. I myself am left to wonder if it was as someone else said a way to carry stories, a potent reminder made of mythical symbols to tell the tales and histories these people only carried in their heads and in their hearts. Either way, even after being frozen for almost 2,500 years, and then being subjugated to ill-treatment and negligence, “The Lady’s” tattoos are still a brilliant shade of blue today.

Thought to have died in early spring, the mummification process shows yet more similarities with the Scythians to the west. Internal organs were removed from an incision in the abdomen which was then sewn shut. More incisions were made, one across the back, one across the hips, another down the spine, and one more down the backs of each limb. Such cuts gave the mortician the ability to remove muscle from throughout the body and replace it with preservative materials such as peat and salt, as well as sedge grass and wool to fill the body out again. Once done, the corpse would be carefully sewn shut, dressed and interred. It is believed that because the woman had died so early in the spring, even preserved, her body did not have the chance to deteriorate as much as others that had been found. In short, for the Scytho-Siberians, preservation of the body was done to let the body survive the time between death and when the ground was soft enough to make a proper burial.

Be sure to visit the site for a picture of the incredible bridle and bit found on the horses in the mound.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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{ 1 comment }

catherine spode February 12, 2005 at 10:53 am

I ride Lusitano horses in the Gineta style and wish to do a performance based on the “Ice Lady”. I have seen the part of the harness which would hold the saddle in place from front to back, and I want to find images of the bit, the curb chain (which I believe she must have used) and the headdress.

I believe that to ride with this headdress she must have ridden in the Gineta style.

If you can help at all, please do. We also believe that her horses would have been descendants of Iberian horses.


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