Tag Archives: burials

Wishful thinking of Egyptologists

Image: dailymail.co.uk

Image: dailymail.co.uk

An interesting story appeared in the news the other day. Nicholas Reeves from the University of Arizona has been studying detailed scans of the inside of Tutankamun’s tomb, made by Factum Arte, which were produced in order to make a facsimile of the tomb. He believes that he has found on the images evidence that points to a hidden, sealed doorway within the tomb that may lead to an undiscovered chamber or series of chambers. All very exciting stuff. However, he also thinks that these chambers could house the remains of Nefertiti, the consort of Akenaten, and the woman who some believe may have been the mother of King Tut. I was slightly surprised when I first read this, as I thought she’d already been found in KV35 in the Valley of the Kings with a cache of other royal mummies, but after doing a bit of digging (no pun intended), it seems as though she was just one possible contender for these remains, and DNA testing carried out a few years back has disproved this and the maternity issue. However, I can’t help but feel that this suggestion is a bit premature, and is purely designed to provoke speculation, interest, media coverage, and increase the chance of permission being granted for work to take place in the tomb. Where is the evidence for this? It would be amazing if it was the case, but an undiscovered chamber of Tut-related tomb goods would be just as interesting and archaeologically valuable. I don’t think I’ll hold my breath on this one, but would love to be proved wrong.

Bust of Nefertiti. Image: en.wikipedia.org

Bust of Nefertiti. Image: en.wikipedia.org

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Skulls for sale

I mentioned in my last post that I had recently come across a story regarding the sale of  human remains. Well, at the start of this month, an auction was prevented from taking place in the US town of Hagerstown, Maryland, of the skull of a soldier killed in battle during the Civil War. This skull was uncovered on a farm in Gettysburg in 1949  and was thought to be the first sale of its kind, but was stopped after the hotel carrying out the auction received numerous complaints. Now, the skull has been ‘donated’ to the United States Parks Services in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, who can provide a proper burial.

Now, I don’t really think that I need to explain why I take issue with the thought of selling human remains- the fact that this was a part of a deceased individual’s body make the whole concept of possession and ownership faintly ludicrous. I can’t just go and sell a person, or remove their limb and then sell it, so why should this be okay and permissible once they are dead? The same issue arises for me with human remains in anthropological and museum collections, and even more so with the sickeningly immoral practice of one Gunter Von Hagen, who sells jewellery and framed images containing thin slices of preserved corpses. No thank you. You do not buy or sell the dead. People are people, and people were people, not commodities. I could get into a whole new Anthropology debate here over consumerism and consumption, but I won’t.

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Dulux paints from history: Mummy Brown

'Examination of a Mummy – A priestess of Amman' by Paul Dominique Philippoteaux c 1891. Image: Peter Nahum at The Leicester Gallery, London

‘Examination of a Mummy – A priestess of Amman’ by Paul Dominique Philippoteaux c 1891. Image: Peter Nahum at The Leicester Gallery, London

I don’t often do this, as I’m sure that nobody ever bothers to click on the links I provide, but in case anyone is interested, here is a ridiculously fascinating article about the trade in and use of Egyptian mummies for medicinal purposes and paint pigment up until the early 20th century. I learnt a great deal from this, and was somewhat repulsed and upset by it. Just think of all that history that we have lost due to the plundering of Egypt by Western nations for various reasons, and that blatant economic exploitation of the remains of the dead (which incidentally reminds me of another post I must write shortly, which I meant to get up last week but which totally slipped my mind), with no regard for their status as once-living individuals, and for what they could have told us about the past. How many famous pharaohs were there for the discovery, only to be ground up as cod-scientific medicines thanks to a misunderstanding of Egyptian embalming techniques? As an Archaeologist, it’s truly heartbreaking to think about, but all we can do is make the most of the knowledge and resources that we have now, conserve what we have of the past still to hand, and take these tales from history as both lessons in bad practice, and as interesting chapters in the history of the discipline. Spilt milk, and all that. Anyway- here’s the article. Do take a few minutes out to read it- it is well worth it.

http://www.artinsociety.com/the-life-and-death-of-mummy-brown.html

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A new low for TV and a slap in the face to proper archaeology

I’ve only heard about this programme recently, and so am aware that much has already been said about it, but National Geographic are planning on 13th May to air in the UK a ‘documentary’ entitled ‘Nazi War Diggers’. The clips of this show already released were quickly taken off the internet after the negative comments started, and to be honest, it is easy to see why. The programme sees a group of individuals (I can’t call them archaeologists, for the simple reason that they aren’t) digging up remains of fallen Second World War soldiers in Latvia, with the proposed intentions of  ‘sav[ing] this history from being looted or lost’.

However, the only ‘looting’ that seems to be taking place is that by the presenters of this programme. I have seen several television documentaries where battlefield archaeologists excavate French trenches and battlefields from WWI in order to return the bodies of loved ones to their families for proper reinterment. These excavations are carried out with sensitivity, for a legitimate reason, and by professionally trained archaeologists and osteologists using correct archaeological excavation procedures. I do not have an issue with this, and if this is what ‘Nazi War Diggers’ was about, then there would be no issue. The footage, however, that was released and the images abounding on the ‘net that have been taken from the programme or used to publicise it show a group of inept amateurs digging away with no regard for archaeological techniques or contexts (for example, using sharp tools close to bones, not recording the material found in any way, and pulling bones out of the ground using brute force, rather than carefully and slowly excavating around them), and much less regard for the individuals whose remains they are removing.

Dr Tony Pollard, the Director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at Glasgow University, has said this about the programme:

I’m appalled that a major broadcaster has sunk to the levels of exploitation television. I’ve been at the forefront of battlefield archaeology for fifteen years, and I have spent much time getting the subject taken seriously.

This just looks like they’ve gone around digging up bodies, because TV likes a dead body.

This shows no evidence of even the most basic archaeological principles – this is treasure hunting not archaeology.

I have seen human remains brandished like trophies before but in dodgy YouTube videos. The fact that this comes from a commissioned TV series is quite beyond belief.

The trailer on the internet was absolutely shocking, and very damaging for National Geographic.

Whether these bodies are those of Allied soldiers, German soldiers, or soldiers of any other nation, they should not be handled and removed in such a way that shows such basic disregard for common decency, human morality, the ethics of the past, or for people who were someone’s son, friend, father or brother. A pile of human bones is not just a collection of objects (it is indeed that, but not just that)- it is the physical presence of a person who is no longer alive and who is no longer in the world to defend and protect themself. There is no reason why these remains should be treated with any less respect than those buried in cemeteries or those held in museums, and the trivialisation of their removal and handling is lamentable. Not only do the diggers (I can’t call them excavators, because this suggests some sort of archaeological methodology has been adhered to) pull bones out of the ground, but they blatantly show scant knowledge of osteology or human anatomy, and worryingly little evidence of what they do with the bodies once they have removed them.

Not only is this programme a new low for television and its need to broadcast crap catering to the lowest common denominator, but it is also a shot in the foot for the once-respectable National Geographic, and a body-blow to the good name of archaeology, and battlefield archaeology in particular (which has a bad enough time of it as it is, with many people against such excavation, and which often finds itself having to defend itself way too much). I shall not be watching this programme for fear of throwing something through my screen whilst it is on, and have decided against posting any images to illustrate this rant, as I do not want to condone what those idiots have done in any way. As an archaeologist, I see the historic, scientific, practical and moral need to excavate human remains, and in recent years massive steps have been made in this field when it comes to repatriation of bones and body parts to those of other cultures, and in the general handling and study of such material. This, though, does not mean that I condone the gratuitous unearthing of individuals when there is no motive other than selfish self-publicity and the need to increase television viewing figures. Will the production team carry out tests on the bodies in order to return them to the families for reburial? Will they rebury them in a manner befitting a dead soldier? I think not, and it is truly shameful.

One last thought: I wonder if such a programme would be permissable were it Allied soldiers being excavated in France or Belgium in such a way? Is it because these individuals were ‘Nazis’ that such ill treatment is possible? Are we still to retain such pointless and ridiculous prejudices?

 

 

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An intact Bronze Age burial on Dartmoor

Okay, this post is a little late considering this story was in the media almost two weeks ago, but just incase you may have missed it, I thought I’d put it up anyway. Better late than never and all that.

In 2011, a Bronze Age cist was discovered on Dartmoor on Whitehorse Hill, near Chagford, containing an intact cremation burial.

The excavated cist being recorded. Image: Dartmoor National Park Authority

The excavated cist being recorded. Image: Dartmoor National Park Authority

Remarkable in itself for being undisturbed, this burial has been described as one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the last 100 years, as well as the most important ancient find on the moor, and the contents are soon to go on display to the public.

The cremation was wrapped in an animal pelt that had survived incredibly due to being buried in peat, and this fur also contained a fragment of textile (possibly a belt or sash) with a leather fringe, a bracelet (which I will discuss below), and a coil-made basket. Within this basket were discovered about 200 beads, with some made from shale, and others of amber traded from the Baltic, a flint flake and wooden disks believed to have been used as either stud earrings or inserted into a belt, made from spindle wood. This is a hard, fine-grained tree that grows on Dartmoor, which traditionally is used to make knitting needles, and these pieces are the earliest examples of wood-turning in Britain, being unique in the archaeological record of the island. Prior to this find, only eight beads had been found on Dartmoor from the Bronze Age within the last 100 years, and so this discovery has greatly increased the volume of material from this period that is available for study. 

The basket removed from the burial, which contained the beads, wooden earrings and flint flake. Image: BBC

The basket removed from the burial, which contained the beads, wooden earrings and flint flake. Image: BBC

A selection of amber beads and wooden earrings from within the basket. Image: BBC

A selection of beads and wooden earrings from within the basket. Image: BBC

However, despite the presence of amber suggesting a high status individual due to the magical associations with this material and its part in long-distance Continental trade, it is the bracelet that is of real interest due to the decoration included. The bracelet itself is made from woven cow hair, with 35 studs originally included (three are now missing) as decoration made from worked tin. This is particularly interesting, as it provides the earliest example of worked tin from the South West of Britain, and tin in itself is rare in the prehistoric record as decoration. As well as the bracelet, this excavation also revealed a bead made from tin.

The woven bracelet with tin decoration. Image: Dartmoor National Park Authority

The woven bracelet with tin decoration. Image: Dartmoor National Park Authority

It is believed that this burial belonged to a female aged between 14 and 25 who was of  a high social standing, and the location of the cist on a site 600 metres above sea level that would have been visible to much of the surrounding landscape suggests a person who needed to be seen and remembered by many people over a wide region.

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2013- Electric Puppet’s first 5 months in review

2014

Well- it’s New Year’s Eve, and time to reflect on what has gone on over the past year. For my family, this has been a big year, as we left the comfort and splendour of Oxford to return to our home city of Stoke-on-Trent; I graduated from university; I got my first job; we decided where we want to go with our life in the near and more distant future, thanks to an American man and his family on YouTube; I completed my first book of poetry, which had been languishing prior to this summer; I took the plunge and begun this blog, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a while; and have got back in contact with several family members that I haven’t seen for the best part of a decade thanks to Facebook. It has been eventful, and had also been emotional and tiring for all of us. Also, with any luck, next year should be just as eventful- beginning work; trying to get my book published; endeavouring to write the novel and short story collection that I’ve been planning for a month or so; and getting married. Yes: my partner and I are getting married next year!

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In terms of this blog, I will be getting up several ‘Thoughts on…’ posts for the books I have read recently- the first two Adrian Mole books, Penelope Lively’s ‘Heat Wave’, Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’, and Tove Jansson’s ‘Finn Family Moomintroll’- in the new year, and hopefully will get the first few up on New Year’s Day. For now, though, I thought that I would highlight a selection of posts from this blog that have proved popular, may have been overlooked, or are of relative interest for me.

I think that’s enough links to my other posts to be getting on with for now. Anyway- check some of these out if you haven’t already, or have a browse of the blog and see what you come across. Also, you can follow Electric Puppet on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/electricpuppetblog

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Lastly, here are a few fellow bloggers that I’ve come across in the past few months that you may find of interest:

Don’t Bend, Ascend

These Bones of Mine

Bones Don’t Lie

A Corner Of Tenth-Century Europe (written by one of my Anglo-Saxon lecturers from Oxford; he has since moved on to work at Birmingham University)

Museum Postcard

Prehistories

Interesting Literature

I hope you have a very happy New Year, and that 2014 will be good for you.

Image: The Telegraph

Image: The Telegraph

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The Strange Case of the Spontaneously Combusting Mummy

I haven’t posted on here for a few days, and am planning to get up a grand total of 4 ‘Thoughts on…’ posts (I’ve been reading quite a bit recently), but this caught my attention.

I have harboured an interest in the ancient Egyptians since I was 10, and before having children, I had intended this to be my chosen area of study, and later employment. Life intervened, however, and since then I have now realised that my real love in archaeology is the landscape and the Early Medieval period in England and Europe. Despite this change in focus, I have still held an interest and fascination in Egypt, and it was with great joy that I travelled several years ago with a very good friend of mine to the O2 in London to see the exhibition of treasures from the tomb of Tutankhamun.

tutankhamun-exhibition-london1

I cannot adequately describe my amazement at the grave-goods on display- “Wonderful things” indeed- in part due to the sheer quality and the beauty of the craftsmanship, and also because of the fame of some of the items that I was able to see in the flesh, as it were. However, since then I think any further discovery surrounding the boy pharaoh has paled in comparison, and I have paid these new finds about the cause of death or his life less and less attention. Until now, that is.

Egyptologist Dr Chris Naunton has re-examined some of the notes made by Howard Carter back in 1922 and analysed a fragment of flesh that was removed from the mummy to reveal that a chemical reaction caused by the embalming oils used led the body to burn within the inner-most coffin once it had been sealed. I don’t know the ins and outs of this research, as I can’t find a lot of information regarding it, but there is a programme on Channel 4 later in the week, and so I hope to be able to say slightly more on this once I’ve watched it.

Personally, I think that this sounds an interesting idea, and when you look at some parts of the body, it does perhaps look as though it may have been burnt, but… I don’t know. I’m not entirely convinced, to be honest. Surely there would have been some sort of heat damage to the inner-most coffin and the bandages, and Carter does record some sort of burn damage, but- I need to find out more to make any proper comment. Expect a follow-up post to this one!

 

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The jewelled saints of 16th century Europe, and other beautifications of the dead

The hand of St. Valentin. Image:  Paul Koudounaris

The hand of St. Valentin. Image: Paul Koudounaris

It has been a well-known fact in Christianity for much of its history that the presence of a saint’s body at a religious site makes it a much more enticing prospect for pilgrims, and by extension a very lucrative form of income. As such, there are numerous examples of monasteries and cathedrals throughout Europe that claim to hold saints remains- either entire bodies, particular body parts or items that belonged to a person or had touched a body- and in many cases several sites profess to possess the same relic. Some saints can quite comfortably be said to be where they are thought to be, such as St. Cuthbert at Durham Cathedral, whose elevation at Lindisfarne and subsequent removal to Durham was well documented. However, many others, such as the remains of John the Baptist, or pieces of the ‘True Cross’ are more suspect. Often, this dubious nature is down to enterprising, exploiting and morally corrupt clergy, who created false relics using randomly-discovered or disinterred bones to knowingly hoodwink unsuspecting and gullible pilgrims. However, sometimes this is down to simple confusion or misplaced assumption. It seems that both could be the case here.

In 1578, rumour spread that there had been found catacombs below Rome containing the bodies of thousands of early Christian martyrs. Many of these skeletons were removed from their resting places and transported to religious houses around Europe to replace relics that had been lost under the Reformation that had swept the Continent earlier that century. Whether or not these were actually the remains of the saints that they were believed to be will probably never be known, but I can see that misattributions may in many cases have been accidental and down to simple confusion. However, there is also the rather large possibility that some unscrupulous individuals did probably attribute remains to people that they may not have belonged to, and personally I think that many of the complete skeletons sent about the Continent may actually be composed of the bones of several individuals due to the often fragmented and jumbled nature of remains in catacombs.

This aside, the new relics were graciously received, and once they had been reassembled, they were often enshrined and decorated in costumes, wigs, jewels, crowns, gold lace, and armour as a physical reminder of the heavenly treasures that awaited in the afterlife. Many of these bodies have never been seen by the wider world outside of the religious institutions they are housed in, and have been recently photographed for the first time by the photographer Paul Koudounaris.

St. Albertus. Image: P.K.

St. Albertus. Image: P.K.

St. Benedictus. Image: P.K.

St. Benedictus. Image: P.K.

St. Deodatus

St. Deodatus. Image: P.K.

St. Friedrich. Image: P.K.

St. Friedrich. Image: P.K.

St. Getreu. Image: P.K.

St. Getreu. Image: P.K.

St. Valentius. Image: P.K.

St. Valentius. Image: P.K.

St. Valerius. Image: P.K.

St. Valerius. Image: P.K.

The whole enterprise may look somewhat bizarre and macabre to us now, but this is by no means the only time that such ornamentation has been employed, or the only culture in which it has been carried out. For example, that last image of St. Valerius has had jewelled eyes inserted into the orbits which is reminiscent of the cowrie shells inserted into the skulls of the Neolithic dead in Jericho around 6000-7000 BC.

JerichoSkullsLater, we see similar practices amongst the Aztecs:

A skull partially covered in jade, from Monte Alban Tomb 7. Interestingly, this skull was heald for a time at a convent.

A skull partially covered in jade, from Monte Alban Tomb 7. Interestingly, this skull was held for a time at a convent.

A mask made from a human skull with the back removed and lined with dear skin to be worn as a mask. This is meant to represent Tezcatlipoca, or ‘Smoking Mirror’, one of the four Aztec creator deities.

A mask made from a human skull with the back removed and lined with deer skin to be worn as a mask. This is meant to represent Tezcatlipoca, or ‘Smoking Mirror’, one of the four Aztec creator deities. Image: The British Museum.

Indeed, the Aztecs and other Meso- and South American cultures had a tradition of adorning corpses of ancestors and royalty when displaying them around the inside of their temples, and anthropological cases exist of extant tribes around the world carrying out such elaborate rituals of adorning the dead for display purposes. We could even include this famous piece of ‘art’:

'For the love of God' by Damian Hirst. image: Getty Images.

‘For the love of God’ by Damian Hirst. image: Getty Images.

All very interesting, and all very macabre!

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Two soldiers in the Italian ice

Following on from my two previous posts about an Iron Age tunic and an Iron Age horse discovered in a Norwegian glacier, I came across this story through a friend. In the Presena Glacier, part of the Italian Alps, there was uncovered last year the preserved bodies of two soldiers who were killed in the Battle of Presena in May 1918. It is thought from both their location and their uniforms that these two individuals may have been Austro-Hungarian mountain troops called Kaiserschützen, who fought against Italian Alpini to defend the mountains during the First World War. As could be imagined, the cold (reaching as low as -30°C), storm and avalanches killed as many people as the fighting did, but one of the two soldiers was found to have a bullet hole in his skull and a piece of shrapnel lodged inside. Due to the power of the glacier, the bodies were also fused together, but forensic analysis suggested that these people were both 17 or 18 years old. It is also interesting to note that these individuals were discovered in the same mountain range as Ötzi, the 5,000 year-old “Ice Man”, and that he was ironically in better condition due to having only been frozen and not crushed like the soldiers. Despite being separated by millennia and by wildly different cultures, these soldiers were found to be wearing coverings over their boots that had been made for them by the Russian prisoners used to transport ammunition and resources up the mountains, and which were very similar to those worn by Ötzi.

Once analysis had been carried out on the remains, they were buried in unmarked graves, as DNA- although present- was unidentifiable due to having no other identification on the bodies by which to narrow down who these boys were or where they came from. Again, this is in contrast to the “Ice Man”, who recently had around 16 of his descendents traced in Austria. The place in which they were interred was in the village of Peio, which is now in the italian province of  Trentino, but was in 1918 the highest village in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Emperor decided that as such, it should not be evacuated, as many other mountain villages close to the front line were, but after the war in 1919 it became Italian. This has led to Trentino and the neighbouring South Tyrol sharing a sense of belonging to both Austria and Italy, as well as meaning that in the “White War” that took place on the Presena Glacier and elsewhere in the mountains, the men fighting on opposing sides may have known one another before the war and been friends. Indeed, this previous familiarity and sense of similarity was seen when troops exchanged gifts on Christmas Day during the hostilities.

A slightly more disturbing discover this time from the ice, but again it shows that glaciers are a mine of information about the past- whether this is ancient or recent- and a precious resource that we need to protect in order that more information and more people are not lost and forgotten forever.

Image: Office for Archaeological Finds. Trento

Image: Office for Archaeological Finds. Trento

 

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The Mystery of the Late Anglo-Saxon African and the Confused Forensic Anthropologists

Back to archaeology for a bit. I came across this story from a number of sources yesterday, and having thought about it for a bit, it seems even more confusing and interesting than I had first thought. Back in June, two boys found a human skull in the River Coln at Fairford, Gloucestershire, and subsequently uncovered the majority of the rest of the skeleton. The remains did not belong to a recently deceased individual, and have been reported as having a C14 date of between 896 and 1025 AD, as well as being female and between 18 and 24 years old. However, the curious thing is that the remains have also been identified as belonging to a Sub-Saharan African. In itself, this fact makes for an interesting story and leads to various different interpretations and ideas about why an African woman was in England at this time. The most obvious is that she would have been a slave woman, and the next step would be to carry out some desk-based research of the Early Medieval period in Fairford to see whether their are any records of manor houses or large estates that may have had slaves.

However, the story gets a lot more interesting when it is noted that the forensic examination of the skeleton has not been made available to anyone, and the company that carried out the analysis haven’t made it known what features make them think that the body is that of an African; it doesn’t seem as though any DNA has been taken or any isotope analysis done to narrow down the place of the individual’s origin. And then there’s one other matter, that is best illustrated by a picture of the bones in question:

Fairford skeleton

Image: Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard

Does anything look… out of place? Here’s the image again, with several bits marked:

Fairford skeleton 2

 

Okay; quite a few bits marked. Let’s start at the beginning…

1. Well. What’s this bone? Two upper arm bones? I think that may be the tibia, which does indeed seem to be absent on the left leg.

2. …I think I need to come back to this one. It’s the best one by far.

3. The ulna seems to be upside down. See also 5.

4. I’m sure that the radius is upside down, as there is the bulb at the bottom that fits into the Glenoid cavity of the scapula. I assume the other arm has been similarly arranged, it’s just I can’t tell on the photo.

5. See 3.

6. The ilium is both upside down, and on the wrong side of the body. Ditto for 7.

7. See 6.

… and then we have the pièce de résistance…

2. That’s the sacrum. As in the bottom of the spinal column. I can only think that someone thought it was perhaps the sternum. But if they did, then they shouldn’t actually be a forensic anthropologist.

I really can’t understand how someone could put a skeleton together so badly- especially considering they are meant to be professionals. Strangely, those in question haven’t yet come forward or made themselves identifiable (another anomaly considering it should have been an anthropological company or department that has done the work, and thus be known to those who contracted them in the first place). I only did a course in forensic anthropology at uni, and i can point out the errors. One bioarchaeologist, Dr Kristina Kilgrove from the University of West Florida, has even set up a blog post asking readers to point out the errors, with many having never had any training. There may be even more errors, but I can’t make them out with the quality of the image. Feel free to post any comments and further thoughts or points I’ve missed, and I’ll follow this story with interest. I’m intrigued what proper analysis reveals about this skeleton, and will post updates as the news becomes available.

 

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An extraordinary kurgan discovery

Now, until I studied A Level Archaeology, I had believed a kurgan to be a villain from the 1986 film ‘Highlander’: 

Very nice, but he doesn't look much like a burial mound...

Very nice, but he doesn’t look much like a burial mound…

However, I am now older and slightly wiser, and can see the fascinating insights that these kurgans in their archaeological sense can provide us with. I can across an article earlier today on a Sarmatian kurgan excavated in the Russian Southern Ural steppes by the Institute of Archaeology (Russian Academy of Sciences), and it is truelly amazing what has been discovered. Until this point, I did not really know anything about Russian (or indeed any European) nomads except that some actually practised tattooing several millenia ago, but this find from the 1st millennium BC is the Iron Age equivelant to our own dear Sutton Hoo. These Sarmatians and other nomads called Scythians interacted with both Persian and Classical Greek culture whilst managing to retain their own distinct style that can be illustrated in some of the amazing artifacts uncovered from this recently-excavated kurgan. The finds are believed to suggest that this burial contained a woman- assuming that you subscribe to the dated and gender stereotyped view of 1970’s archaeological theory that women can be identified in the burial record by jewellery and mirrors. Osteological indications suggest a man, however, and I would be more inclined to believe this, to be honest.

The burial chamber showing the body, and some of the grave goods. The mirror is visible to the middle right of the image, and the silver container on the top left.

The burial chamber showing the body, and some of the grave goods. The mirror is visible to the middle right of the image, and the silver container on the top left. Image: Leonid Yablonsky.

Apparently, this particular mound had been excavated 20 years ago and had revealed 26 “golden” deer statuettes, but the section unearthed this year had been left unexplored. In a passage near the enterance the team found a cast bronze cauldron with a diameter of 102 cm, with handles decorated in a Scythian-Siberian animal style showing two griffins beak-to-beak:

The bronze cauldron. Image: Leonid Yablonsky

The bronze cauldron. Image: L.Y.

Detail of cauldron handle showing beak-to-beak griffins. Image: Leonid Yablonsky

Detail of cauldron handle showing beak-to-beak griffins. Image: L.Y.

Within the intact burial chamber, which measured 4x5m and was 4m deep, there was found a skeleton, and near to the skull, a wicker chest. This may have been a ‘vanity case’, and was filled with items including: a cast silver container with a lid; a gold pectoral; a wooden box; cages; glass; silver and earthenware bathroom flasks; leather pouches and horse teeth containing red pigments. There was also a large silver mirror, as well as items of clothing decorated with several plaques that showed flowers, rosettes and a panther leaping on a saiga’s (antelope) back. Breeches, a shirt and a scarf were found to have 395 pressed pieces of gold leaf sewn onto them, with the shirt having its sleeves embellished with multicoloured beads, and a fringed shawl was held together with a golden chain. Also, two cast gold earrings were decorated in places with cloisonné enamel and found on the skeleton, suggesting that they had been worn on the corpse. Less ornate were two stone mixing palettes that were discovered, along with gold-plated iron needles and bone spoons and pens decorated with animals- but it is believed that these were used to carry out tattooing. In all, there were over 1000 artifacts uncovered, and a few can be seen below:

Silver mirror. Image: L. Y.

Silver mirror. Image: L.Y.

Silver container. Image: L.Y.

Silver container. Image: L.Y.

Gold plague depicting a panther catching an antelope- not a particularly Russian image! Image: L.Y.

Gold plague depicting a panther catching an antelope- not a particularly Russian image! Image: L.Y.

Earring with visible enamel cloisonné detailing. Image: L.Y.

Earring with visible enamel cloisonné detailing. Image: L.Y.

This excavation has certainly opened my eyes to a society that I previously knew next to nothing about, and has certainly excited me to find out more about these Iron Age peoples. A couple of days of research are in order over the next few weeks, I think.!

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