2007/01/11

A Body Of A Nomad Found In Permafrost On Altai

Ancient 'warrior' found in permafrost:
RUSSIAN archaeologists have uncovered the 2000-year-old remains of a warrior preserved intact in permafrost in the Altai mountains region, the official Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily says.

The warrior was blond had tattoos on his body. He was wearing a felt coat with sable fur trimmings and was buried in a wooden frame containing drawings of mythological creatures with an icepick beside him, the paper said.

Local archaeologists believe the man was part of the ruling elite of a local nomadic tribe known as the Pazyryk. Numerous other Pazyryk tombs have been found in the area.

“This is definitely a very serious discovery. It's incredibly lucky that the burial was in permafrost so it was very well preserved,” Alexei Tishkin, an Altai archaeologist, was quoted as saying.

The original article adds also that the body was found on the border between the Altai republic (a part of Russian federation) and Mongolia. The local population of the Altai republic are upset by archaeologists 'disturbing' their predecessors and the historians have to explore the surrounding area of Pazyryk, mostly in Mongolia. It seems that the educational level in Altai is dropping faster than in other parts of Russia and Mongolia.

Alexey Tishkin says also that "this warrior is not a Scythian, as many newspapers have reported, he just lived at about the same time as the Scythians did." He doesn't seem to share the common (among the laymen, like me) idea that the Pazyryk people, in spite of their unusual appearance, were Scythians.

Two interesting articles about Pazyryk culture are:

Scythian Contemporaries

Ice Mummies: Siberian Ice Maiden

See also the web-museum of Novosibirsk State University.

5 comments:

pennifer said...

So are you saying, Dmitry, that b/c the local population objects to having their ancestors exhumed from their graves, that they are ignorant and uneducated? I don't understand the connection you draw between education and the discovery of this human's body.

Dmitri Minaev said...

I am sorry, Pennifer, if my notice sounds impolite. Yes, I think that a little cycle of lectures could help these people understand that the links between modern Altai people and the discovered bodies are very dubious.

I understand that some cultures may be very touchy to the exhumation of human bodies, even old ones, but there must some limit to the superstitions. Unfortunately, no education will help the people who protest against the explorations because their alleged forefathers, angered by the archaeologist, send earthquakes onto Altai.

Here are some articles on the protests of the local population:
Telegraph: Ice Maiden triggers mother of all disputes in Siberia
BBC: 'Mummy's curse' upsets Siberians

pennifer said...

Well, I just had a much more eloquent response disappear when my connection went bad.

I agree that the genetic connection is somewhat tenuous. Nonetheless, there is a certain historic continuity, and native Altaians have a strong cultural connection to those burial sites (Uch-Enmek, Ukok, etc.) and the stellae often found nearby.

Even if you proved it with a pretty DNA test, it won't matter, because for them, the connection is a matter of spiritual belief, their faith. That's not ignorance, unless you consider religion ignorant.

I wish that we knew exactly where the burial site was located. I've traveled in the Republic of Altai and discussed the very subject of these excavations with the local Russians and native Altaians and am following this story with great interest.

Do you know, is there any law on returning remains for reburial after scientific study is complete, like there is in the US?

Thanks for your interesting blog!

Dmitri Minaev said...

To tell you the truth, I do view religion in general as 'the bad thinking', if not ignorance. I could have been more tolerant to the situation in Altai, had I not known that these people received an average Soviet education, which was rather good and gave a consistent scientific worldview.

As for the location of the burial, I only know that the archaeologist are working in Mongolia, almost on the border with the Russian Altai.

AFAIK, there is no similar legislation concerning the reburial of human remains, but I will post a more detailed answer a bit later.

pennifer said...

Well, we'll have to agree to disagree then! :) I'm not a big believer in anything either, but I'm happy to let other people have it if it gives them comfort AND doesn't hurt me.