Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Russian Archaeologists Gain Access to Tomb of Princess of Ukok

The translation of this article into English is not the clearest - but I believe it is saying that after a long-time ban, Russian archaeologists will now once again be allowed access to the tomb where the Princess of Ukok's remains were discovered back in 1993.  She has also been called the "Ice Princess, " the "Altai Princess" and the "Siberian Ice Maiden" in news reports and articles.

Archeologists Conquer Lands of Princess of Ukok
February 8, 2010

Russian archeologists have gained removal of the ban on diggings of tumuli in Altai Republic, where the mummy of Princes of Ukok was discovered in 1993.

The mysterious find is about 2.5 thousand years old. Local dwellers proclaimed the Princess of Ukok the progenitress of the people and demanded not to touch “their” tomb. Scientists, in their turn, insisted that the mummy is a find of world significance and has nothing to do with the local dwellers.

The removal of the improper ban was prompted by the situation, when another Novosibirsk archeological expedition had to give up excavations in that corner of Altai. Archeologists addressed Rosohrankultura, and its representatives in their turn approached prosecutor’s office.

The Princess of Ukok is presently kept in the Museum of Archeology and Ethnography Institute of Siberian Branch of RAS.

Source: infox.ru
Evidently a controversy between the Republic of Russia and the Republic of Altai has existed since the remains of the 'Princess of Ukok' were removed to a museum in Russia.  Some background information about the discovery of the tomb is provided in this 2005 article from Pravda:

The mummy was discovered by an archaeological expedition of Novosibirsk scientists headed by doctor of historical sciences Natalia Polosmak in the early 90th years. Excavations were carried out at Ak-Alakha tract on the Ukok plateau located in the south of the Mountainous Altai. The plateau borders on Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan. Later academician Vyacheslav Molodin discovered one more mummy at this same place, a male warrior. As scientists claim, the mummies were contained in Scythian burial places made in 4-5th centuries B.C. At that time it was a so-called period of "Pazyryk culture" in Altai.

The mummies remained preserved due to the permafrost. Scientists insist on continuation of the excavations as interdisciplinary researches indicate possible warming of the climate as a result of which thawing of ice lenses will occur. At present there is even data showing in which exactly barrows on Ukok plateau ice is still existent.

However, the indigenous population of Altai extremely negatively regarded the fact that scientists managed to find the mummies. Amid the Altai intellectuals, they started to assert that Ukok plateau had always been considered a sacred place for altaians and they knew about the burial place for the woman since in the unearthed barrow "princess Kadyn" had lied whom shamans had been worshipping for millennia.

Today, a powerful movement has emerged in Altai aimed at claiming the mummy back to its ‘native land”. Among supporters of this idea, however, there are two directions. One suggests simple returning it to Altai and exposing the mummy in Mountainous Altai Museum. Others demand to re-bury "princess". For the last ten years supporters of the mummy's returning were constantly sending appeals to authorities with requests for solving the problem. Still the latest actual form of address has beaten all records by amount of people who had signed it.

Novosibirsk archeologists repeatedly declared that they are not against transferring of the mummy to Gorno-Altaisk. Special expensive equipment is necessary to preserve it though, which the Altai museum doesn't possess.

After an earthquake in September of 2003 in Altai, epicenter of which was around 100-150 kilometers from Ukok plateau, local residents began to claim that this act of nature was the result of disturbing the burial place of "princess Kadyn" who now revenges on people.

Check out this January 25, 2008 blog post by Dmitri Minaev at De Rebus Antiquis Et Novis, for a different perspective on the controversy.

From the "Official Portal of the Altai Republic," this description of the woman's burial:

In 1990-1995, South Altai troop of the North Asia complex expedition of Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences conducted research at the Alpine plateau Ukok, situated near the Chinese, Mongolian and Kazakh borders. In the course of excavations of o­ne of the mounds of Ak-Alakh sepulchre, a unique burial of a woman was discovered.

Her remains were found lying in a wooden framework (3,3m х 2,3 m) made of larch and rough-hewed smoothly from inside. The framework was set at the bottom of the sepulchral pit. The whole space of the sepulchral cell - right from the ceiling made of eleven closely fitted logs down to the very bottom - was filled with ice. A linen - several strips of black felt sewed together - was spread instead of a floor right over the previously laid out pebbles. There was a massive trough in the southern corner of the sepulchre. Its lid was hammered in by copper nails with round heads. Leather ornaments presented as figures of deer were found in the trough as the ice inside of it melted. There were dishes with food near the trough. Two flat-bottomed ceramic jugs, destroyed by ice, lied o­n the floor. Pieces of meat remained lying o­n the dishes. There was even an iron knife stuck into a piece of meat, the handle of the knife representing symmetrically arranged effigies of the upper part of a wolf's snout with Capricorn's horns. Thus, wolf's sharp-toothed jaws appeared to be the center of the composition adorning the handle.

Six horses [WOW!] were laid in the northern part of the sepulchral pit just like in all other Pazyryk burials. Horses' hair, plaited tails, wooden harness ornaments, components and felt covers of saddles were preserved.

The woman was lying o­n her right side in a sleeping pose with her legs bent slightly in her knees and hands crossed o­n her belly; she was lying over double-folded thick strip of felt, her head o­n a felt pillow-bolster. She was covered with a fur counterpane with appliques representing vegetable ornament, made of golden foil.

Her clothes were well preserved. All seams of her ample silk yellowish shirt with long sleeves covering her fingers were trimmed with thin red cord, while its hem, neck, the edges of the sleeves and the center of the shirt were decorated with a red ribbon; her lengthy two-colored (red and white) woolen skirt had a thick red belt wound of woolen thread; o­n her legs she had long white felt stockings decorated with patterns of felt appliques in the upper part.

The dead woman had her personal things in the sepulchre. A mirror in the form of a square piece of bronze plate framed by a round wooden setting with a handle and with a deer effigy cut o­n its back side, laid over the skirt near the woman's left hip. The polished surface of the bronze plate was rubbed with mercury, which not o­nly made the surface shine, but also imparted the plate with the properties of a real mirror. The amulets - beads, bronze pendants - were threaded and tied together. There was also a "vanity case" - horse hair brush; some spread out blue and green powder-like substance - vivianite - a mineral used in manufacturing of blue paint; components of a peculiar pencil - a rod made of iron rings where vivianite served as a slate. Such pencil could be used for ritual face painting. There was also a stone saucer with coriander seeds.

It is obvious, that this is a sepulcher of an outstanding woman. The spacious sepulchral cell, body embalming and the body's laying over a decorated trough, the six horses with extremely beautiful and recherche harness - all these speak for the fact that this was a wealthy woman of a special society position.

The woman's shirt may be considered the real evidence of her wealth and high social status - a real value for the Pazyryks: it could be come across o­nly in "tsar" mounds. It is noteworthy, that it was the first time when Pazyryk clothing made of silk was discovered. According to ethnographic sources, the difference in clothing between the rich and the poor among Pazyryk cattle-breeders was very often reflected in the materials used.

The Ukok young woman had tattoos o­n her arms - from shoulders down to her wrists. There are also tattoos o­n some phalanxes of her hands. The blue-color "pictures" can be quite distinctly seen o­n her white skin, but they preserved o­nly o­n her left hand, while there are o­nly fragments of tattoos o­n her right wrist and thumb.

Her right shoulder bears an effigy of a fantastic animal - a deer with gryphon's beak, and horns of a deer and a Capricorn. The horns are decorated with gryphons' heads, the latter can also be seen at the back of the animal, whose body is depicted "twisted". Below there is an effigy of a ram in the same pose with his head thrown back; closed jaws of a spotted ounce with long and twisted tail are depicted at the ram's hoofs.

There are some signs indicating that the dead woman, buried by her fellow-tribesmen with such profound respect, was remarkable for a certain gift that she possessed. This does not obligatory imply that she was a shaman or a priestess. The young woman could be a healer, a story-teller, a fortune-teller. In the ritual practice of Sayan Altai, there are known over 30 titles for various specialists - those possessing certain secret knowledge - who always existed behind shamans serving an obligatory background for them.

More information, including a photograph of the body, at Wikipedia.  The tatoos on the lady's arm in the photo are quite discernible.

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