While performing excavations inside a large barrow (burial mound) at a place known as the “Siberian Valley of the Kings,” a team of Polish and Russian archaeologists uncovered the remains of two Scythian bodies, who were likely ʙᴜʀɪᴇᴅ there around 500 BC. One was that of a toddler, and the other was of a middle-aged woman. Next to the woman they found a rich collection of Scythian burial goods, including golden ornaments, an iron knife, a bronze mirror, and an engraved wooden comb.
One of these items especially intrigued the archaeologists.
“A particularly interesting artifact was a golden pectoral ornament, a decoration hung at the neck in the shape of a sickle or crescent,” Dr. Łukasz Oleszczak, an archaeologist from Jagiellonian University in Kraków and leader of the Polish half of the dig, said in a press release issued by the Science in Poland website.
Such Scythian burial goods have been found before in Siberian burial mounds, Dr Oleszczak acknowledged. But until now, they’ve been discovered exclusively in the ɢʀᴀᴠᴇs of men.
Siberian Scythian Site Continues To Amaze!
The Scythian archaeological site popularly known as the Siberian Valley of the Kings is actually called Chinge-Tey. It is located in the Touran-Uyuk valley in the republic of Tuva, in the southern part of Siberia. This valley features an impressive collection of first millennium BC burial mounds, some of which are referred to as princely barrows because of the political ranking and influence of the individuals interred inside them.
At the time when the woman and child lived, the lands of southern Siberia were occupied by the legendary Scythians . This nomadic warrior people ruled the region by skill, determination, and force, creating a nomadic empire that lasted for five centuries.
The Scythians were deeply committed to spiritual practices, and the Touran-Uyuk valley was one of their most important ceremonial and ritual centers. The large burial mounds they left behind, plus the expansive quantities of elaborate burial goods those mounds often contained, ʀᴇvᴇᴀʟs just how serious they were about honoring their departed leaders and loved ones.
A Woman of Importance in a Warrior Culture
The ɢʀᴀᴠᴇs of the woman and child were first uncovered by Jagiellonian University archaeologists in 2021. The researchers estimate that the woman was about 50 years old at the time of her ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ , while the child would have been no more than three. Their skeletons were unearthed from a badly damaged and almost completely flattened barrow ᴛᴏᴍʙ , which was impossible to detect without aerial laser technology even though it was approximately 80 feet (25 meters) in diameter.
Fortunately, the damage to the outer part of the barrow didn’t impact the ᴛᴏᴍʙ it encased. The burial chamber was constructed from thick wooden beams and covered with three layers of beams on the top for superior reinforcement. As a result, the skeletons were well protected, along with the unique burial goods that were housed in the ᴛᴏᴍʙ with them.
The golden pectoral ornament, which is distinctly crescent, or sickle shaped, found next to the woman was a definite sign of her exalted status. Just exactly what her status was, however, remains undetermined.“They [the golden ornaments] were considered symbols of belonging to a social group, caste, perhaps warriors—in any case, men,” Dr. Oleszczak explained. “Its presence it in the ɢʀᴀᴠᴇ of a woman is a very interesting deviation from this custom. This certainly confirms the unique role of the deceased in the community of the Valley of the Kings.”
The burial ᴛᴏᴍʙ that held her 2,500-year-old skeleton was located right next to the barrow of a prince. The archaeologists believe the woman would have been a part of his royal entourage, as were the other people ʙᴜʀɪᴇᴅ inside her barrow.
The Polish and Russian archaeologists know there were multiple people interred in the barrow, because they found two other ɢʀᴀᴠᴇs there during excavations that took place in 2019.
One of these ɢʀᴀᴠᴇs had unfortunately been cleaned out by robbers. But the second held the skeleton of a heavily-equipped young adult warrior, whose collection of burial goods included several different types of weapons and a cache of golden ornaments . The ᴛᴏᴍʙ that contained this individual was one of 10 ᴛᴏᴍʙ that were aligned in a straight north-south line, cutting across the western section of the larger burial complex.In addition to the ᴛᴏᴍʙ of the woman and the child, the archaeologists actually found one more ɢʀᴀᴠᴇ during the most recent excavation season. They uncovered this burial site just outside the ditch that encircled the barrow. Inside they discovered the skeletal remains of an adolescent, who had been ʙᴜʀɪᴇᴅ in a small pit surrounded with stones. There were no burial goods found in this particular ɢʀᴀᴠᴇ .
“ɢʀᴀᴠᴇs of children on the perimeter or just outside the ditch surrounding the barrow are a typical part of the funeral rites of this early Scythian culture,” Dr. Oleszczak confirmed.
While exploring the perimeter of the barrow with a metal detector, the archaeologists found more intriguing evidence of ancient human activity. After getting strong hits on the detector, they dug down and found several well-ᴘʀᴇsᴇʀvᴇᴅ bronze artifacts. Their discoveries included a bronze ice axe, a goat-shaped ornament, and dozens of horse tack parts. During previous excavations in the area, the Polish and Russian archaeologists had discovered arrow shafts, an ice axe handle, and a piece of a quiver (a pouch used to hold arrows).
Most of what has been found at Chinge-Tey was clearly left behind by a warlike culture that celebrated martial values, which is consistent with what historians and archaeologists know about the Scythian people.