Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Siberian Mummy Flap Volume 49 Number 1, January/February 1996
by Paul G. Bahn

A 2,500-year-old man has been found in Siberia's Altai Mountains. Scholars from the Archaeological Institute of Russia's Academy of Sciences in Novosibirsk have moved the mummy to a Moscow lab for preservation, prompting Altai Republic officials to accuse them of spiriting away a piece of their national heritage and to ban further Russian exploration.

Known as the Horseman because he was buried with his mount, the mummy is the second such find in recent years. A richly attired woman called the Princess, discovered in 1993, was also taken to Moscow (see ARCHAEOLOGY, September/October 1994). Believed to be Scythians, a nomadic central Asian tribe, both mummies had been buried beneath low mounds in log-lined chambers under more than seven feet of permafrost. Both had had their internal organs removed and had been embalmed by a method that scientists do not yet fully understand.

The Horseman, 25 to 30 years old, had been impaled by an enemy's weapon or animal's horn. His face and hands have not survived well, but the rest of his skin and muscles and his braided hair are in good condition, as is a tattoo of a deer on his right shoulder. He was wearing a thick wool cap, high leather boots, and a marmot and sheepskin coat. The Horseman was buried with his bow, arrows, ax, and knife. The horse wore a harness richly decorated with griffins and animals carved in wood and covered in gold foil.

Anatoly Kurbatov, the Archaeological Institute's deputy director, responded to objections from Altai officials by noting that the preservation work at Moscow's Biological Structures Research Institute was the only way to save the mummies from decomposition: "We are willing to return them to the Altai Republic if they can guarantee their preservation," he said.

© 1996 by the Archaeological Institute of America