Category Archives: RUSSIA

CT Scan of Siberian Mummy Reveals Wounds and Tattoos

CT Scan of Siberian Mummy Reveals Wounds and Tattoos

Male Tashtyk mask is kept in the State Hermatage Museum. CT of the mask layer.

He was from the mountainous region of modern-day Khakasia, aged 25 to 30 when he died 1,700 years ago. Another CT scan showed the face of his gypsum death mask that was all the rage with the ancient Tashtyk people, who were settled cattle-breeders and farmers known for their idiosyncratic burial rituals.

The scan gives it a red punk look but it is believed that the pigtail it was wearing would have been taken off before his death. He is also the only Tashtyk mummy so far found with tattoos.  But the most striking and unexpected aspect is a long suture on the side of his face: from the left eye to the ear.

A scar that had been sewn up. 

The most striking and unexpected aspect is a long scar on the side of his face: from the left eye to the ear.

Archaeologists want more research on this but the current best guess is that this suture was stitched after his death – perhaps to mend his disfigured face after a wound, possibly a fatal blow. In other words, to improve his looks before his journey to the afterlife.  Final confirmation is still needed that this facial embroidery was postmortem, however. For now, it is not ruled out that this repair job was done at the end of his life. 

Dr Svetlana Pankova put the male head into the CT scan.

Nor was this the only evidence of intervention by ancient surgeons on this Tashtyk man found at the Oglakhty burial ground, and laid to rest in a burial log house.  His skull was trepanned in the temporal area on the left side,’ explained Dr. Svetlana Pankova, curator at the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, and keeper of the Siberian collection of the Department of Archeology.

The hole is rather big – 6 by 7 centimetres. It was made postmortem.  Expert analysis shows the hole was made by the series of blows with a chisel type or hammer type tool.’ Dr Pankova said: ‘We think that it was made to remove the brain during an elaborate burial rite.’ Likewise, she thinks the facial scar can be explained in similar fashion. 

‘His skull was trepanned in the temporal area on the left side.’

‘They took all these postmortem rites very seriously, and did not save on this,’ she said.   They could not just put a mask on the disfigured face. It would be great to attract an experienced surgeon to research this suture, to get full clarity.  Was it postmortem or might it have been made in his lifetime? 

‘Our research is complicated by the fact that we cannot take the mask away from the face (it would cause too much damage)  so we must research this stitching using other methods. The archaeologists were intrigued to finally see the face under the death mask, the painting of which ‘adds some unnecessary emotional impressions’

Male mask has black stripes on a red background, plus the lower part of the mask was destroyed and man’s teeth can be seen.

Dr Pankova said the mask ‘has black stripes on a red background, plus the lower part of the mask was somewhat destroyed and man’s teeth can be seen. 

‘So all together it creates such an aggressive look.’ Yet under the mask ‘there was nothing aggressive in this face. 

‘It was the face of a calmly sleeping person. 

‘It was the face of calmly sleeping person.’

‘The mask was very close in appearance to the real face.

‘For the first time we see the real face of a young man of this time.

‘The computer scan allowed us to see, so to say, three layers – the layer of the mask, the layer of the face without the mask and layer of the skull.’ The face of the woman lying in the same burial chamber – also buried in a fur coat – has not been revealed with a CT scan.

Svetlana Pankova: ‘I would really like to make CT scan of female mummified head.’

Or anyway not yet. 

‘I would really like to make CT scan of female mummified head,’ she said. I’m planning to find a clinic which can do this research and decipher it for us.’ For now, we do not know who the woman was and how she and the man were related. 

Children’s fur coat was also found in the grave

A child’s skeleton was also found in the same grave. 

So, too, were two burial ‘dummies’ – an extraordinary phenomenon akin to stuffed dolls or mannequins.  These may be explained by the merging of two cultures or traditions: one that buried their dead, the other that cremated.  The dummies appear to represent the remains of those who were cremated. Yet there is also evidence that men were more usually cremated while women and children were buried. 

He is also the only Tashtyk mummy so far found with tattoos. Infrared photography.

‘The dummies in full height, kind of mannequins, were made of leather, filled with tightly twisted grass,’ said Dr. Pankova.

‘In the chest area, there were leather pouches with charred bones remaining from cremations.’ She told The Siberian Times: ‘The mummies, male and female, were dressed in fur coats, and they had masks on their faces. The head of one of the dummies did not preserve. 

‘The dummies in full height, kind of mannequins, were made of leather, filled with tightly twisted grass

‘Sadly, probably rodents sneaked in and spoiled it. The second dummy has the face, covered with bright red woollen fabric, with eyes and a nose. On the head was a piece of Chinese silk.’  The Tashtyk culture existed between the first and seventh centuries AD in the area of so-called Minusinsk Basin of the Yenisei valley.

‘The second dummy has the face, covered with bright red woolen fabric, with eyes and a nose. On the head was a piece of Chinese silk.’

They were settled cattle breeders and farmers.

In 1969 Professor Leonid Kyzlasov excavated the Oglakhty burial ground and found this masked man in tomb number four. We made the radiocarbon dating using larch of the log house indicating the third to fourth centuries AD.’ The Oglakhty necropolis was originally found in 1902 by a shepherd, who fell into one of the graves, saw the people in a wooden chamber with whitish masks on their faces, got scared, and fled.

In 1969 Professor Leonid Kyzlasov excavated the Oglakhty burial ground and found this masked man in tomb number four.

His mother-in-law was more fearless, sneaking in, and looting some items. A local official and researcher Alexander Adrianov heard about this and started excavations in 1903, unearthing three graves.

Russian Scientists Revive 32,000-Year-Old Flower

Russian Scientists Revive 32,000-Year-Old Flower

From 32,000-year-old seeds, the oldest plant ever to be “resurrected” has been grown, beating the previous record-holder by some 30,000 years.

Fruiting (at left) and flowering plants of Silene stenophylla regenerated from tissue of fossil fruits

In the course of the study, a team of scientists from Russia, Hungary and the USA collected frozen Silene stenophyll seed back in 2007, while investigating about 70 ancient ground squirrel hibernation burrows or caches, hidden in permanently frozen loess-ice deposits in northeastern Siberia, in the plant’s present-day range.

The age of seeds was estimated to range from 20,000 to 40 thousand years with the use of radiocarbon dates and time from the Pleistocene era. Rodents would normally eat the food in their larders, but in this case, a flood or some other weather event got the whole area buried.

Since the rodents had placed the larders at the level of the permafrost, the material froze almost immediately, and did not thaw out at any time since. More than 600,000 fruits and seeds thus preserved were located at the site.

Years later, a team of scientists at the Russian Academy of Sciences went on to successfully revive one of them: a flowering plant from a 32,000-year-old fruit!

The immature fruit of Silene stenophylla buried in permafrost more than 30,000 years ago

The accomplishment surpasses the previous record for the oldest plant material brought back to life, of 2000 years set by Judean date palm seeds. The team led by David Gilichinsky used material recovered in the 2007 research project.

The researchers first attempted to germinate mature seeds recovered from the fruit. When these attempts failed, they turned to the fruit itself and were able to culture adult plants from placental tissue. The team grew 36 specimens from the tissue.

The plants looked identical to modern specimens until they flowered, at which time the petals were observed to be longer and more widely spaced than modern versions of the plant.

Seeds produced by the regenerated plants germinated at a 100% success rate, compared with 90% for modern plants. Scientists are unsure why the observed variations occur.

Clonal micropropagation of Silene stenophylla regenerated from the placenta tissue of immature 30,000-y-old fruits buried in permafrost deposits. (А) Initial shoot initiated from placental tissue in vitro. (В) Stages of clonal micropropagation from primary shoots to rooted plants.

According to Robin Probert of the Millennium Seed Bank, the demonstration is “by far the most extraordinary example of extreme longevity for material from higher plants” to date.

It is not surprising to find living material this old, but is surprising that viable material could be recovered,” she added.

The reasons for the success of the experiment can be manyfold. The Russian scientists involved speculated that the tissue cells were rich in sucrose which acted as a preservative.

They also noted that DNA damage caused by gamma radiation from natural ground radioactivity at the site was unusually low for the plant material’s age and is comparable to levels observed in 1300-year-old lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) seeds proven to germinate.

The revived plant at full blossom stage.

Probert hopes that the techniques developed in the resurrection of Silene stenophylla may one day be used to resurrect extinct species.

Paleontologist Grant Zazula, who has previously disproven claims of ancient regeneration, said: “This discovery raises the bar incredibly in terms of our understanding in terms of the viability of ancient life in the permafrost.

New DNA analysis reveals ancient Scythian warrior was a 13-year-old girl

New DNA analysis reveals ancient Scythian warrior was a 13-year-old girl

Throughout Greek mythology there existed a tribe called Amazone, comprising only of women, and a hunting tribe that tamed horses and fought.

While it is said that Amazon exaggerated the tribal tribes that lived on the Black Sea coast, the Scythians of the nomadic horse races that appeared in the record from around the 9th century BC were actually girls of age 13 years old. DNA tests revealed that there was a ‘female warrior’.

The myth of ‘ female warriors ‘ has been considered a purely imaginary product for many years but in the last years, archeological evidence has been found of the existence of female warriors.

Remains of the young ancient Scythian warrior.

By the end of 2019, it was revealed that the two Scythian warriors found in western Russia, buried about 2500 years ago, are women.

The two female warriors were buried together with the other women, and the burial items included an iron knife, over 30 arrowheads, and a harness for horse riding.

It is said that one of them was wearing a headdress with a flower-shaped decoration at the age of 40 to 50 years old, and the other was buried at the age of about 30 to 35 years old, straddling a horse.

‘We can say that these two were indeed horsemen,’ said Valerii Guliaev, an archaeologist at the Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Guliaev’s research team seems to have discovered 11 women who were buried under the armed condition in the past 10 years, and female warriors were undergoing the same burial ceremony as male warriors.

The Scythian remains with the headdress

In the wake of Guliaev’s findings, another research team focused on the Scythian warriors found in the Tuva Republic in 1988.

Varvara Busova, an archaeologist at the Russian Academy of Sciences, discovered that the warrior was a young man because he had found burial items such as axes and bows that would normally be housed with men and no burial items associated with women such as beads and mirrors. It was thought to have been.

The warrior was housed in a larch casket with various weapons and was partially mummified.

When the research team examined the DNA of the body, it was found that the body was female and that the age was not even 14 years old. Girl warrior is wearing, such as fur coats, coat dipodidae seems to have been made by Awa connect the skin.

Radiocarbon dating of burial items suggests that the girl was buried between the 7th and 5th centuries BC, but Busova’s research team wants to more accurately identify when the girl was buried. thinking about.

In addition, it may be possible to find out the cause of the girl’s death by performing restoration work of the burial goods and CT scan of the body.

Historian Adrian Mayer pointed out that the Scythians had female warriors because they were small as a social group. ‘Since they lived in a small tribe, it makes sense that everyone in the tribe is a stakeholder. They all had to contribute to defense, war, and hunting.’ Says Mayer.

By Vladimir Semyonov

A mysterious bag containing 54 severed human hands found in Russia

A mysterious bag containing 54 severed human hands found in Russia

Russian police launched an investigation after a mysterious bag of 54 severed human hands was discovered at a popular fishing place near the Siberian city of Khabarovsk, the Siberian Times reports.

In Siberia, a fisherman made a gruesome discovery walking along a riverbank last week: A bag containing 27 pairs of human hands, severed at the wrist.

But according to the Russian government, it’s not the work of a hand-obsessed killer, but a forensics laboratory, which – erk – was improperly disposing of its biowaste.

According to The Siberian Times, the fisherman initially spotted just one hand peeking out of the snow as he walked by the Amur River in the southeastern Russian city of Khabarovsk.

That discovery led the fisherman to the nearby bag, which also contained medical bandages and plastic shoe coverings commonly used in clean facilities such as laboratories and hospitals.

Initially, the provenance of the 54 hands was unknown, but the Investigative Committee of The Russian Federation acted swiftly and determined their origin was a Khabarovsk-based forensics laboratory.

“The biological objects (hands) found are not of a criminal origin, but were disposed of in a manner not provided for by law,” the Committee wrote in a post on Telegram Messenger in Russian.

A macabre bag containing 27 pairs of human hands found in a bag on Amur River island. Mystery over who the hands belonged to, when they were chopped off, and why.

It’s not known why the laboratory severed the hands in the first place. Sometimes hands and feet are the only parts of the deceased recovered, although the sheer quantity in the bag makes that explanation seem unlikely.

The removal may have also been for identification purposes, a practice that is not unheard of. Controversially, back in 1989, a UK coroner severed the hands of 25 disaster victims to record fingerprints before deterioration could set in. But those were extreme circumstances, and the decision attracted significant ire.

Besides, fingerprints can definitely be taken and stored without requiring the hand to be severed from the body.

Russian authorities are conducting an investigation into the incident to find out all of the circumstances surrounding the incident. They’ve only been able to obtain just one set of prints from the hands, but the lab itself will likely yield more information.

“Based on the audit results, a legal assessment will be made of the actions of officials of the forensic medical institution in the city of Khabarovsk responsible for the disposal of these biological objects,” the Investigative Committee wrote.

A farmer found 2,000-year-old Laughing burial skeleton in the tomb of a nomadic royal

A farmer found 2,000-year-old Laughing burial skeleton in the tomb of a nomadic royal

In an ancient burial mound in the tombs of a Nomadic king, along with a “laughing” human with an oddly deformed egg-shaped skull, a farmer dug a pit on his land uncovered 2,000-year-old treasure.

Golden and silver jewellery, weapons, valuables, and artistic household items have been discovered in a grave, in the south of Russia, near the Caspian Sea, next to the chief’s skeleton.

Local farmer Rustam Mudayev’s spade made an unusual noise and it emerged he had struck an ancient bronze pot near his village of Nikolskoye in Astrakhan region. He took it to the Astrakhan History museum for analysis and an expert’s opinion on the find.

Two well-preserved clay jars placed at the head and feet of the man.
Skeleton of high-status Sarmatian warrior discovered near Krasnodar, Russia.
Knife with gold and turquoise decoration 

“As soon as the snow melted we organized an expedition to the village,” said museum’s scientific researcher Georgy Stukalov. “After inspecting the burial site we understood that it to be a royal mound, one of the sites where ancient nomads buried their nobility.”

The burial is believed to belong to a leader of a Sarmatian nomadic tribe that dominated this part of Russia until the 5th century AD, and other VIPs of the ancient world, including a ‘laughing’ young man with an artificially deformed egg-shaped skull and excellent teeth that have survived two millennia.

Skull with egg-shaped skull of deliberate cranial deformation

“We have been digging now for 12 days,’ said Mr. Stukalov. “We have found multiple gold jewellery decorated with turquoise and inserts of lapis lazuli and glass.”

The most ‘significant’ find is seen as a male skeleton buried inside a wooden coffin. This chieftain’s head was raised as if it rested on a pillow and he wore a cape decorated with gold plaques.

Gold plaques from pillow underneath the warrior’s head

Archaeologists found his collection of knives, items of gold, a small mirror, and different pots, evidently signalling his elite status. They collected a gold and turquoise belt buckle and the chief’s dagger along with a tiny gold horse’s head which was buried between his legs, and other intricate jewellery.

Nearby was a woman with a bronze mirror who had been buried with a sacrificial offering of a whole lamb, along with various stone items, the meaning of which is unclear.

Another grave was of an elderly man – his skeleton broke by an excavator – but buried with him was the head of his horse, its skull still dressed in an intricate harness richly decorated with silver and bronze.

Also in the burial mound was the skeleton of a young man with an artificially deformed egg-shaped skull. The shape is likely to have been ‘moulded’ either by multiple bandaging or ‘ringing’ of the head in infancy. Such bandages and or rings were worn for the first years of a child’s life to contort the skull into the desired shape.

Shaping and elongating the skull in this way was popular on various continents among ancient groupings like the Sarmatians, Alans, Huns, and others. Such deformed heads were seen as a sign of a person’s special status and noble roots, and their privileged place in their societies, it is believed.

The burials date to around 2,000 years ago, a period when the Sarmatian nomadic tribes held sway in what is now southern Russia.

“These finds will help us understand what was happening here at the dawn of civilization,” said Astrakhan region governor Sergey Morozov. Excavation is continuing at the site.

14,000-Year-Old Ancestor of Native Americans Identified in Russia

14,000-Year-Old Ancestor of Native Americans Identified in Russia

Since the Upper Paleolithic, modern humans have lived near Baikal Lake, and left a rich archeological record behind.

Russian archaeologists in 1976 excavating the Ust’-Kyakhta-3 site on the banks of the Selenga River

The region’s ancient genomes also uncovered multiple genetic turnovers and admixture events, indicating that the transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age was facilitated by human mobility and complex cultural interactions. The nature and timing of these interactions, however, remains largely unknown.

The reports of 19 newly sequenced human genomes, including one of the oldest ones recorded by the area of Lake Baikal, are presently in a new study published in the journal Cell.

Led by the Department of Archaeogenetics at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, the study illuminates the population history of the region, revealing deep connections with the First Peoples of the Americas, dating as far back as the Upper Paleolithic period, as well as connectivity across Eurasia during the Early Bronze Age.

The deepest link between peoples

“This study reveals the deepest link between Upper Paleolithic Siberians and First Americans,” says He Yu, the first author of the study. “We believe this could shed light on future studies about Native American population history.”

Past studies have indicated a connection between Siberian and American populations, but a 14,000-year-old individual analyzed in this study is the oldest to carry the mixed ancestry present in Native Americans.

Using an extremely fragmented tooth excavated in 1976 at the Ust-Kyahta-3 site, researchers generated a shotgun-sequenced genome enabled by cutting edge techniques in molecular biology.

A fragmented tooth belonging to a close cousin of today’s Native Americans

This individual from southern Siberia, along with a younger Mesolithic one from northeastern Siberia, shares the same genetic mixture of Ancient North Eurasian (ANE) and Northeast Asian (NEA) ancestry found in Native Americans and suggests that the ancestry which later gave rise to Native Americans in North- and South America was much more widely distributed than previously assumed.

Evidence suggests that this population experienced frequent genetic contacts with NEA populations, resulting in varying admixture proportions across time and space.

“The Upper Paleolithic genome will provide a legacy to study human genetic history in the future,” says Cosimo Posth, a senior author of the paper. Further genetic evidence from Upper Paleolithic Siberian groups is necessary to determine when and where the ancestral gene pool of Native Americans came together.

A web of prehistoric connections

In addition to this transcontinental connection, the study presents connectivity within Eurasia as evidenced in both human and pathogen genomes as well as stable isotope analysis.

Combining these lines of evidence, the researchers were able to produce a detailed description of the population history in the Lake Baikal region.

The presence of Eastern European steppe-related ancestry is evidence of contact between southern Siberian and western Eurasian steppe populations in the preamble to the Early Bronze Age, an era characterized by increasing social and technological complexity. The surprising presence of Yersinia pestis, the plague-causing pathogen, points to further wide-ranging contacts.

Recent view on the Selenga River close to the archeological site Ust-Kyakhta-3

Although spreading of Y. pestis was postulated to be facilitated by migrations from the steppe, the two individuals here identified with the pathogen were genetically northeastern Asian-like. Isotope analysis of one of the infected individuals revealed a non-local signal, suggesting origins outside the region of discovery.

In addition, the strains of Y. pestis the pair carried is most closely related to a contemporaneous strain identified in an individual from the Baltic region of northeastern Europe, further supporting the high mobility of those Bronze age pathogens and likely also people.

“This easternmost appearance of ancient Y. pestis strains is likely suggestive of long-range mobility during the Bronze Age,” says Maria Spyrou, one of the study’s co-authors.

“In the future, with the generation of additional data we hope to delineate the spreading patterns of plague in more detail,” concludes Johannes Krause, senior author of the study.   

First Greek Helmet Discovered North of the Black Sea in Russia

First Greek Helmet Discovered North of the Black Sea in Russia

The agency RIA Novosti reported that a Corinthian helmet was found in a grave dated from the 5th century BC in the Taman Peninsula, south-west of Russia. It is the only such helmet found from the north of the Black Sea.

Helmet of Corinthian type, found in the necropolis

Corroded after 2500 years of burial and thus highly fragmented, its discovery remains still impressive.

Corinthian helmets made of bronze covered the whole head and neck with eye and mouth slits and protruding cheek covers (paragnathides).

The neck nape was covered by a broad, curved projection. For protecting the warrior’s head the interior was padded with fabric or leather.

The helmets were often surmounted by a crest (lophos) with a plume of horse hair. Highly protective because they protected the head completely, these helmets provided an important piece of equipment for the Greek hoplites, the famous phalanx foot soldiers.

Corinthian helmets originated in Greece around the 6th century BC and are one of ancient Greece’s trademarks. Also portrayed wearing them are the goddess Athena, or Pericles.

General view of the burial of the Greek warrior

When a warrior died, his helmets would be buried next to him. According to Roman Mimohod, director of the expedition of the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IA RAS), “the Taman peninsula helmet belongs to the Corinthian Hermione-type and would date back to the first quarter of the fifth century BC.”

Archaeologists of the Russian Academy of Sciences have been working for two years in a necropolis of 600 burial mounds where many Greek warriors of the Bosporus kingdom are buried.

Several Greek colonies were indeed present in this region. Their settlement extends from the end of the 7th century BC until the second quarter of the 4th century BC.

“These settlements were in very close contact with the Scythian inhabitants of the steppe,” says historian Iraoslav Lebedynsky, specialist of these ancient Eurasian cultures. From the 6th century BC, the Greeks founded large cities on the northern coast of the Black Sea.

Amphora found in burial

The main ones were Olbia, at the mouth of the Dnieper; Panticapaion, today’s Kerch, in the extreme west of the Crimea, and Chersonese (Sevastopol); on the Russian bank, one found Phanagoria (Taman), also the name given to the peninsula on which the Corinthian helmet was discovered.

Created in 480 BC around the Kerch Strait and the Taman Peninsula, west of the Bosporus, this kingdom which had Panticapaion as its capital lasted almost a thousand years, the last written traces going back to the 5th century AD.

A place of synthesis between the Greek culture and the successive nomadic cultures of the steppe, be it the Scythians or the Sarmatians.

Between the 6th and 3rd centuries BC, Greeks and Scythians maintained extremely close cultural as well as commercial relations.

The mystery of unique 2,100-year-old human clay head – with a ram’s skull inside

The mystery of unique 2,100-year-old human clay head – with a ram’s skull inside

According to a report in The Siberian Times, a team of researchers led by Natalia Polosmak of the Russian Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography and Konstantin Kuper of the Institute of Nuclear Physics used fluoroscopy to examine a head-shaped sculpture crafted by the Tagar culture more than 2,000 years ago.

The clay head, which resembles a young man, was discovered among about 15 sets of cremated human remains in a Shestakovsky burial mound in eastern Siberia in 1968. X-rays made of the artifact at the time revealed a small skull within the sculpture.

The Martynov brothers noted in 1971 that “there are skull bones and a narrow hollow space which, however, does not correspond to the inner size of the human skull but is much smaller,’ Then – and later – opening the clay head was deemed impossible since it would destroy this ancient relic. 

‘It was suggested that there was a human skull inside. It was of course quite surprising to see instead a sheep’s skull.’

Four decades later scientists returned to this man’s mystery from the Tagar culture, renowned for his elaborate funeral rites, e.g. the use of large pit crypts containing some 200 bodies which were set ablaze.  As scientist Dr. Elga Vadetskaya had observed, the heads of the dead were covered in clay, moulding a new face on the skull, and often covering the clay face with gypsum.  So the expectation was – in deploying new technology on the man’s death mask – that the bones inside, though small fragments, would be human.

But they were not. 

The research was led by Professor Natalya Polosmak, from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, and Dr. Konstantin Kuper, of the Institute of Nuclear Physics, both in Novosibirsk, and part of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. 

The man ‘could have got lost in the taiga, drowned, or disappeared in alien lands’.
The man ‘could have got lost in the taiga, drowned, or disappeared in alien lands’.

‘I had been working with Natalya Polosmak on other research, and she suggested checking this head because they could not simply look inside – and were puzzled,’ explained Dr. Kuper.  ‘It was suggested that there was a human skull inside. It was of course quite surprising to see instead a sheep’s skull.’


What made these ancient people fill human remains with a ram’s remains?

In the article for the magazine Science First Hand Professor Polosmak offers two options but also acknowledges that ‘as this is the only such case so far, any explanations of this phenomenon will undoubtedly contain, alongside the elements of uniqueness, elements of chance’. She believes the Tagar people ‘may have buried in this extraordinary manner a man whose body had not been found’.

Professor Anatoly Martynov unearthed the head in 1968 in Khakassia.
Professor Anatoly Martynov unearthed the head in 1968 in Khakassia.

She surmises that the man ‘could have got lost in the taiga, drowned, or disappeared in alien lands’. For this reason, he was ‘replaced with his double – the animal in which his soul was embodied’ and in this was sent to the afterlife alongside the remains of his fellow humans.

‘This must have been the only way to ensure the after-death life of a person who had not returned home.

‘Archaeologists know a number of such burials, referred to as cenotaphs, which have no human remains but may contain a symbolic replacement. As the latter, an animal could have been used.’ Her other theory for the ‘false burial’ is that it may have been done to give the man ‘a chance to have a fresh start, a new life in a new status.

Clay head prepared for fluoroscopy at the Institute of Nuclear Physics, SB RAS.
Clay head prepared for fluoroscopy at the Institute of Nuclear Physics, SB RAS.

‘Instead of a living man whose death was staged for some reason, an animal – a sheep in human disguise – was offered.’

One thing is clear: for ancient people the ram had a great significance. 

‘What does the sheep’s skull hidden under the clay covers depicting a man’s face tell us? What is it, an accident? Or was the animal the main hero of ancient history?

‘The latter hypothesis seems justified. A ram (sheep) is among the most worshipped animals of old times. Initially, the Egyptian god Khnum was depicted as a ram (later, as a man with the head of a ram).’

Remains of 200 mummified bodies found in one of the Tagar burial mounds at Belaya Gora.

A third version has been proposed by Dr. Vadetskaya in her book ‘The Ancient Yenisei Masks from Siberia’  after studying elaborate burial rites of ancient people during this Tesinsk period. Her work was based on the research of other archaeologists but also had fascinating input from forensic experts. She believed the burial rite had two stages – the first of which was putting the dead body in a ‘stone box’ which then went into a shallow grave or under a pile of stones for several years. The main goal was partial mummification – the skin and tissues decomposed, but tendons and the spinal cord persisted. 

Then the skeleton was taken away intact and was tied by small branches. The skull was trepanned and the rest of the brain was removed. Then the skeleton was turned into a kind of ‘doll’ – it was wrapped around with grass and sheathed with pieces of leather and birch bark. Then, according to Dr. Vadetskaya, they reconstructed ‘the face’ on the skull. The nose hole, eyes socket, and mouth were filled with clay, then the clay was put onto the skull and the ‘face’ was moulded though without necessarily much facial resemblance to the deceased. 

Often this clay face was covered with a thin layer of gypsum and painted with ornaments.  She suspected that these masked mummies went back to their families pending their second, bigger funeral.  This might have been for some years: there is evidence that gypsum was repaired and repainted. 

Faces molded on the skulls were often covered with a thin gypsum layer painted with ornaments.

She wrote: ‘For some mummies, the wait was too long. The decomposed, so only the heads were left to be buried.  ‘In some cases, even the head did not survive. Then they had to recreate the whole image of the deceased one.’

She believed that this was the case with the mysterious human sheep skull. The ram remains were used to replace the real human skull of this ‘mummy doll’ lost or destroyed during the decades between the two funeral rites.  According to Vadetskaya, a large pit was dug for these ‘Big’ funerals. A log house was erected and covered with birch bark and fabrics.  Many such human remains were put inside, and the log house was with the remains of dead were ignited.  The log house was partly burned down and often the roof collapsed.  The pit-crypt burial was then covered with turf and earth and formed a mound. 

In this particular case, there were relatively few human remains – no more than 15, yet in others, the number could rise into the hundreds. 

So – there are three main theories. 

Perhaps future scientists will gain access to more elaborate technology to examine this death mask and unlock more secrets about this extraordinary find.