Index to Archeological Finds on the
Ice Man of Austria
The oldest tattooed body known to date was discovered in 1991. It is that of a Bronze Age man who died over 5,000 years when he was apparently caught in a snow storm during a hunting trip on a mountain between Austria and Italy. Together with the body were clothing, a bow and arrows, a bronze ax, and flint for making fire.
The skin is of great interest because it bears several tattoos: a cross on the inside of the left knee, and six straight lines 15 centimeters long above the kidneys. Professor Konrad Spindler of Innsbruck University speculated that the tattooing could have been ornamental, or that it might have been used for magical purposes or to denote social status.
"I don't like superlatives," said Spindler, "but this is the only body of a Bronze Age man found in a glacier and certainly the best preserved corpse of that period ever found. Other Bronze Age corpses found in German, Scandinavian, or British peat moors didn't have much of the inner organs and skin left intact."
The world's most spectacular tattooed mummy was discovered by Russian anthropologist Sergei Ivanovich Rudenko in1948 during the excavation of a group of Pazyryk tombs about 120 miles north of the border between China and Russia. The Pazyryks were formidable iron age horsemen and warriors who inhabited the steppes of Eastern Europe and Western Asia from the sixth through the second centuries BC. They left no written records, but Pazyryk artifacts are distinguished by a sophisticated level of artistry and craftsmanship.
The Pazyryk tombs discovered by Rudenko were in an almost perfect state of preservation. They contained skeletons and intact bodies of horses and embalmed humans, together with a wealth of artifacts including saddles, riding gear, a carriage, rugs, clothing, jewelry, musical instruments, amulets, tools, and, interestingly, hash pipes! (described by Rudenko as "apparatus for inhaling hemp smoke"). Also found in the tombs were fabrics from Persia and China, which the Pazyryks must have obtained on journeys covering thousands of miles.
Rudenko's most remarkable discovery was the body of a tattooed Pazyryk chief - a thick-set, powerfully built man who had died when he was about 50. Parts of the body had deteriorated, but much of the tattooing was still clearly visible. The chief was elaborately decorated with an interlocking series of designs representing a variety of fantastic beasts.
The best preserved tattoos were images of a donkey, a mountain ram, two highly stylized deer with long antlers and an imaginary carnivore on the right arm. Two monsters resembling griffins decorate the chest, and on the left arm are three partially obliterated images which seem to represent two deer and a mountain goat. On the front of the right leg a fish extends from the foot to the knee. A monster crawls over the right foot, and on the inside of the shin is a series of four running rams which touch each other to form a single design. The left leg also bears tattoos, but these designs could not be clearly distinguished.
In addition, the chief's back is tattooed with a series of small circles in line with the vertebral column. This tattooing was probably done for therapeutic reasons. Contemporary Siberian tribesmen still practice tattooing of this kind to relieve back pain. No instruments specifically designed for tattooing were found, but the Pazyryks had extremely fine needles with which they did miniature embroidery, and were undoubtedly used for tattooing.
Twenty-eight years after what was assumed to be the discovery of a young male Saka chieftain dating to the fifth-century B.C., reviewed evidence suggests that the body was not male, but that of a warrior priestess.
The Issyk Gold Man, as the burial came to be known, was found 31 miles east of Alma Ata (now Almaty) in southern Kazakhstan. Dr. Kemal Akishev of the Kazakh Institute of Archaeology and his colleagues uncovered the sarcophagus which contained the skeleton covered with 4,000 gold ornaments.
Generally, analysis of a skeleton will determine the person's sex. However, bones of the Gold Man's skeleton were broken and fragmented so a reliable determination was not possible. Prof. Orazak Ismagulov, physical anthropologist at the Kazakh Institute of Archaeology, suggested that the skeleton was that of a male after examining only the cranium and a few long bones. (Subsequently, Ismagulov has said concerning the skeleton, that it had been badly fragmented and was in very poor condition at the time of excavation. He also indicated that the skeleton was that of a very small person, and could "well have been that of a female." [personal communication to Dr. Davis-Kimball].)
The body had been attired in boots, trousers, and a leather tunic (caftan) decorated with some 2,400 arrow-shaped gold plaques. Plaques of horses with twisted torsos decorated scabbards that held an iron dagger and a sword. Ceramic, silver, and bronze vessels, a bronze mirror, and flat wooden dishes and beaters for koumiss (fermented mare's milk) were also found in the tomb.
There are many similarities between the Issyk Gold Man's tomb and other warrior/priestess burials. For instance, a conical headress was found in the Gold Man's tomb. It was decorated in gold and was 25 inches tall. Gold-foil depictions of animals were attached to the sides of the headdress. Though believed to be a man's tomb, this headdress reminded the Kazhak excavators of bridal hats passed down through generations to be worn by brides in traditional weddings.
The Gold Man's tomb contained three earrings with turquoise, carnelian and white beads which suggests jewelry not associated with Saka men. The tomb also contained a silver spoon with a slender handle. Carved bone spoons were found in the warrior and priestess burials at Pokrovka and other Sarmatian sites. Similar to the Gold Man burial, the Pokrovka burials also contained bronze mirrors, which are associated with priestesses.
In 1993, the frozen body of a fifth-century B.C. Ukok priestess was uncovered in the Ukok Plateau in the Altai Mountains by Natalia Polosmak of the Russian Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Novosibirsk. This tomb contains objects that were also found in the Gold Man's tomb. In the Ukok priestesses tomb was a silver mirror, wooden trays and bowls that held koumiss, and a koumiss beater, which according to Polosmak, was the most sacred object associated with female priestesses. The priestesses clothes were similar to the Gold Man's wardrobe and she wore an elaborate coiffure resembling a conical hat.
The similarities between the Gold Man's tomb with that of other
warrior/priestess tombs suggest that the Gold Man was actually a woman. However,
unless DNA analyses can be made on the bones to determine the actual sex of
the body the scientific fact may never be known.
When Natalia Polosmak found this woman and the wealth of artifacts buried with her, it was celebrated as an archeological triumph. But now, taken from her tomb, the body has sparked passion and controversy -- among both scientists and the people of her homeland.
Few archaeologists have ventured into the rugged Altay Mountains. But in 1993, Natalia Polosmak was determined to reach the Ukok Plateau. In a remote part of Asia where four countries converge, she was drawn by tales of an ancient people called the Pazyryk. The Pazyryk believed that after they died they would go to a mountain pasture. Ukok seemed to me the sort of place where the souls of the Pazyryk would have gathered. Dating back to 1000 B.C., this burial ground is still sacred to people of the Altay today. It is a sacrilege to shout here for it might offend the spirits of the dead who lie here in tombs called kurgans, marked by mounds of earth and stone. Over the centuries, many of these burial mounds have been looted. Finding an untouched tomb requires a stroke of luck.
Then, after weeks of careful digging, they hit paydirt: A large intact wooden chamber that had flooded with water, now turned to ice. Propped against the outer wall of the chamber were the frozen remains of six horses. These animals, no doubt of great value in their time, all had been sacrificed. The team could only imagine what other treasures might be preserved in the icy chamber itself. There was reason for excitement. Spectacular frozen tombs had been unearthed in this region before -- but not in many decades. Starting in the 1920's, Russian Archaeologist, Sergei Rodenko, launched a series of landmark excavations in Southern Siberia. High in the mountains, he found great mounds of stone -- both signifying grand burials and preserving them. The stones allowed water to seep down, but deflected the heat of the sun. This, together with the long winters, kept the ground below permanently frozen. Like Natalia Polosmak decades later, Rodenko unearthed sacrificed horses, and with them immaculately preserved cloth saddles, still soft after more than 2000 years. Woolen rugs and other splendid objects had escaped the ravages of time. They gave testament to the richness of this culture, and to its artistry.
Yet, these artifacts pale beside Rodenko's most astounding finds: Mummies unlike any seen before. Their bodies were meticulously embalmed. Their internal organs and even their muscles were removed. Their skin was stitched back together with thread made of horse hair. The care lavished on these corpses and the bounty in their bombs suggested these men were once great chiefs. Rodenko assumed that the women buried with them were their concubines, likely sacrificed to join their lovers in death. His was one of the most important discoveries this century in the context of archaeological discipline. He went to an area that had previously been unexplored, an area high up in the mountains, and there discovered this Pazyryk culture. The Pazyryk artifacts closely resembled those of tribes further West -- the legendary warriors known as Scythians.
They were horsemen and they were exceptionally able horse riders. They were militarists in constant combat, one group with another. They had the extraordinary ability to migrate over very, very vast distances, and they had a very substantial and surprising aspect of material wealth.
In the 5th Century B.C. the Scythian World stretched eastward from the Black Sea over the vast steps of Europe and Asia, right into the mountains of Siberia. Though they left no written records, their exploits were chronicled by the Greek historical Herodotus. He wrote of warriors so fierce they would drink from the skulls of their victims. Such gruesome tales, told by a foreign observer, were long considered fiction. But archaeologists now see truth in much of his writing.
Herodotus mentions that when a person died the group would carry the deceased on wagons to sacred burial grounds. He refers to them in some instances of traveling for weeks to that place. It's interesting to note that in the high Altay Mountains there are literally thousands of burials. It looks as if it may have been a sacred burial area precisely at the time that Herodotus was speaking of.
In the summer of 1993 another tattooed Pazyryk mummy was discovered in Siberia's Umok plateau. It had been buried over 2,400 years ago in a casket fashioned from the hollowed-out trunk of a larch tree. On the outside of the casket were stylized images of deer and snow leopards carved in leather. Shortly after burial the grave had apparently been flooded by freezing rain and the entire contents of the burial chamber had remained frozen in permafrost. Six horses wearing elaborate harnesses had been sacrificed and lay on the logs which formed the roof of the burial chamber. The sacrificed horses outside of the burial chamber were just the start. Within the chamber itself, the ice harbored other remarkable finds, including vessels still containing food after 24 centuries. What they saw upon reaching the bottom of the chamber was worth every effort. A coffin such as those found in the most elaborate Pazyryk burials. All the important, rich Pazyryks were buried in coffins. The larch tree was considered a sacred tree similar to the tree of life. Many believed that when they placed a body in a coffin it was a return to the source of life, like returning to Mother Earth to be reborn.
The coffin was secured with large nails -- heavy copper nails. There were four of them, two on each side. The nails held the lid tightly down and helped trap the water that ran into the coffin. The water had long ago turned to ice, rock-solid and milky white, concealing the coffin's secrets. As we opened the lid, we were gripped with excitement because of this aura of mystery surrounding the coffin. But after it was open and we discovered the ice was so opaque we couldn't see through it, we calmed down and got on with our work. The thawing process was undertaken by taking huge drums of water from the nearby lake and heating them up with a blow torch, and then taking cups of heated water and pouring it very carefully and slowly. That process took quite awhile.
Then, finally, a face. It was largely bone. But the rest of the body was covered with flesh. And what of the coffin's grand size? The astounding answer was found at the far end of the casket. It was the distinctive headdress of a Pazyryk woman, since named the Ice Maiden. She was buried alone -- not a mistress or concubine -- but a powerful figure in her own right. The soft contours of her body had changed little since she was laid to rest in the 5th Century B.C. We pulled back carefully the clothing, and on her left arm, the right thumb, and then again on her left shoulder are tattoo's with designs representing mythical creatures like those on the previously discovered Pazyryk mummy. Creatures just in immediate action poses, and they are in fact twisted oddly at 180 degree angles. They have amazing horns that end in flowers, fantastic creatures. At that point, the whole dig stopped and people came down and everyone was looking, not only was this a woman, but one with tattoos and they are quite elegant.
The excavation was over, but the quest to understand this Pazyryk woman had just begun. Who was the Ice Maiden? How had she lived? And how did she die? She was 5 foot 6, extremely tall for her time -- as tall as many of the powerful men found in the richest Pazyryk graves. X-rays didn't reveal the exact cause of her death, but they did expose a suspicious 2-inch hole in the back of her skull. To learn more, Natalia turned to a forensic pathologist in Switzerland. Rudolph Hauri does 70 autopsies a year, most for criminal investigations. Now he would face an archaeological mystery. Was the Ice Maiden killed by a blow to her skull? Or was her skull damaged later. Bone turns very brittle after death. When struck, it yields distinctive fracture lines. As he would in a homicide trial, Rudolph demonstrates the effect using a fragile skull from a cadaver.
What actually killed her remains a mystery, but the hole in her skull was likely just part of her embalming. The Ice Maiden's brain and other organs, which quickly rot, were removed soon after death. The process echoed haunting tales written long ago by Herodotus. When their king dies, they take up the dead man, having coated his body with wax and cut open his belly and cleaned it and filled it with chopped marsh plants and incense and parsley seed and anise, and sewn it together again.
Was this procedure the same for the Ice Maiden? Biochemist, Werner Schoch, found that, in addition to fur and wool, her body was packed with natural preservatives. They used peat and bark to put in the body because these two things helped, maybe, preserve the body and the skin because it contains a lot of tannin. The embalmers' craft also explained a macabre discovery, the Ice Maiden's eyes had been cut out and her eye sockets stuffed with fur.
You'll see these lines on the skull. These fissures, these are widely open on this skull. That means the skull is young -- perhaps between 20 and 30. After 30, there will be closing and if someone is very old -- 70 or 80 -- they're nearly closed and invisible. Our examinations of the skull of the Ice Maiden showed that we saw mainly open fissures like here. It was comparable. That means that she was between 20 and about 30 -- probably about 25.
For her afterlife, this young woman was beautifully dressed. She wore a 3 foot headdress made of felt, which took up a third of her coffin, and a necklace of wooden camels. Other creatures adorn the headdress. Among them, a mystical griffin. All these carvings were originally coated in gold leaf. It seems to me, the black headdress was a symbol of the tree of life. We have some indirect evidence for this from the pattern of 15 wooden birds which were sewn onto it. And we think the tree of life in mythology is supposed to bring universes together. The higher universe of the gods and the universe of humankind come together with this symbol. This headdress is unique. There's no need to imagine how the various details were attached because it was found in tact. It was also an expression of this woman's life. It showed her place in society, her family, and tribe. Anything worn on the head had to be as high and striking as possible, and so the headdress was very large. It was literally a construction.
Few garments this ancient have been found so well preserved. The Ice Maiden's thigh-high riding boots were still supple and only mildly damaged. Her dress, woven from sheeps wool and camel hair, was held at the waist by a braided cord with tassels. It was banded in three colors -- the red dye derived from insects, and delicate maroon edged this priceless sheer blouse. Even after 2400 years in the tomb, the clothing needed remarkably little restoration.
This costume is one of the oldest pieces of female clothing ever found from a nomadic society. Nothing has to be reconstructed. We have a complete outfit right down to the belt. It's an amazingly rare find in the history of archaeology. Her blouse raised an intriguing puzzle. It was made of silk, which no doubt came from another region. In nomadic cultures, including the Pazyryks, silk was precious. It was an emblem of wealth and prestige, and it's found in the burial mound of only the richest and most notable figures. How had a remote Siberian tribe obtain such exotic material? In Switzerland, at an institute known for restoring ancient textiles, researchers examine the Ice Maiden's clothing. They tried to determine where the silk for her blouse originated. There are two types of silk. One from domesticated silk worms, and the other from worms that live in the wild. Domestic silk, when magnified, appears to have round fibers.
The blouse of the Ice Maiden was certainly not made of domesticated silk, and probably it was really wild silk, tussah silk, because you have here really larger fiber which are much thicker and more ribbon-like and have a surface which is a little bit ribbed. What's interesting is that we know from China at this period only about domesticated silk. So it might point to the fact that the silk of the blouse doesn't come from China, but perhaps from another area, and India actually be a strong candidate. A link with India suggests that the Pazyryk trade routes stretched across vast areas of Asia. The most valuable commodity the Pazyryk might have traded were top quality horses. The importance of the horse to their own culture was immeasurable. Caring for the herds probably forced them to lead semi-nomadic lives -- like many people of the Altay today. In the summer, these horsemen keep their herds in low-lying areas. But come winter, they move to the cold high plateaus where strong winds sweep the ground of snow and animals can graze. A nomadic way of life is evident in artifacts found in the Ice Maiden's tomb, and recorded in these drawings by Natalia's team. Outside the coffin was a vessel made of yak horn, and a wooden table still bearing mutton.
The objects in the tomb appear to have been everyday goods, not made specially for the burial. And in fact they showed signs of wear and tear, and in fact repair in the horn vessel that was in the tomb. There had been a chip or something and had again been stitched. These were incredibly pragmatic people who reused the goods that they had.
A vessel that was hung up when stored didn't need a flat bottom. When used, it was placed on a felt stand. This is very characteristic of vessels used by nomads to this day. Also, these small tables are collapsible. The legs can be removed. The table could easily be put into a bag, hung on a horse, and taken away -- just like these here. These objects are a direct link with the past. It's as though you can smell their food. When you touch the wood you feel as though very little time has elapsed, as if they are close to us and we can understand them.
More mysterious objects hint at spiritual beliefs and rituals. A small stone dish found at the end of the coffin contained seeds. Similar dishes in other tombs held cannabis, also known as marijuana -- confirming a practice described by Herodotus. The Scythians take the seed of this cannabis and throw the seed onto the stones as they glow with heat. The seeds so cast on the stone gives off smoke and a vapor. No Greek steam bath could be stronger. The Scythians in their delight at the steam bath howl loudly. But under close inspection the seeds in the Ice Maiden's tomb turned out not to be cannabis. They were coriander. Coriander is very rich in vaporous oils. They burn these seeds to cover unwanted odors.
A cherished object had been carefully placed near the crook of the Ice Maiden's knees. Inside a red pouch lay an ornately decorated hand mirror. I don't think it functions like a modern mirror that you pick up and look into.
It's linked to some sacred concept because mirrors often have deer depicted on them, and this is an extremely significant image in their culture. All the Pazyryk had mirrors -- men, women, and children. The mirrors were made of wood, bronze, or silver. They were always at their side, carried in a bag and hung from the belt. There is even a hole for it here. And when they died it was placed in the grave.
As in other grand Pazyryk tombs, the Ice Maiden's coffin was carved from the trunk of a single larch tree. The walls and roof of the burial chamber were built from larchwood planks. Samples were sent to yet another lab where radio carbon offered estimates of the age of the wood and the burial itself. From the Ice Maiden's tomb we take around 24 samples from the chamber and also from the coffins. And the dating says that the chamber must be built around 450 years before Christ. 450 B.C. is only a rough estimate, since the radio carbon test has a 50 year margin of error. It could not discern a possible age difference between the coffin and the outer chamber.
The outer chamber wood was cut down 15 years before the tree for the coffin. When the woman died, her people likely felled this tree to make a coffin, but took timbers from an existing cabin to build the burial chamber. Her everyday belongings, the log walls of the cabin, all evoked an impression of home. Even her six horses were waiting outside. The skulls of the horses revealed they were sacrificed -- struck down with an ax. And multiple fractures showed that some had not died with the first strike. The horses' teeth, heavily worn, showed that the Pazyryk sacrificed only older animals.
By this time of year, the ground of the high plateau is soft enough for digging. The Ice Maiden may have died some months before, so coriander is needed to mask the smell of death. Her first meal of the afterlife is placed beside her. Six of her horses are felled and lowered into the grave. The coffin is sealed as if for eternity. But water seeps into the chamber. By the first snows the tomb is frozen solid preserving the Ice Maiden for her fateful meeting with a woman of the 20th Century.
Soviet archaeologists have long been tantalized by the huge mounds of earth outside the town of Ordzhonikidze in the southern Ukraine. But it was only when soviet planners also began eying the region for its manganese deposits that the archaeologists acted to satisfy their curiosity about one particular site standing in the possible path of the bulldozers. What the archaeologists found there exceeded their most extravagant expectations. For the first time in more than half a century, diggers uncovered an unlooted royal tomb of the fabled Scythian tribesmen who roamed and ruled great areas of the Russian heartland more than 2,000 years ago.
The Scythians left behind no written record when they finally vanished from the steppes in the 2nd century B.C., victims of intermarriage and conquest. But there was no end of legends about their ferocity in battle and their great troves of gold. The Greek historian Herodotus devoted more than half a volume to them. Still, it was not until the 19th century, when archaeologists began serious studies of the puzzling remains found scattered from the borders of China to the banks of the Dniester, that scholars would admit there might be more than a shard of truth to the old Scythian tales.
Now, the discovery of the royal tomb, which contains the skeletons of a prince, a princess and an infant-as well as other recent digs in the U.S.S.R.-gives the old stories the ring of historical fact. Herodotus tells, for instance, how the Scythians beheaded their fallen enemies and brought the skulls back to camp to use as wine goblets. Archaeologist Renate Rolle, a young West German woman and the first Western scientist allowed to participate in a Soviet dig since 1920, reports that there is new evidence of Scythian ferociousness. Lances and bows and arrows found in graves along with female skeletons and ornaments suggest that the Scythan women fought beside their men. Thus Herodotus may well have been correct when he said that bloodthirsty Scythian Amazons had to kill a man in battle before they were allowed to marry.
Ancient bronze vessels found in Scythian graves in the Altai mountins near China and Mongolia, still contain remnants of the nomads favorite hemp seeds. They were also highly successful herdsmen and farmers who traded their grain to indulge their taste for expensive jewelry, such as a magnificent gold pectoral ornament recovered from the new-found grave in the Ukraine. Crafted by Greek goldsmiths, who probably lived among the Scythians along the Black Sea, the chestpiece contains no fewer than 44 exquisitely carved animals. Amoung them; such fantasy creatures as the griffin, which has the head, wings and forelegs of an eagle and the body of a lion.
Like the Egyptian pharaohs, Scythian rulers believed in taking their worldly goods with them. Their graves contain not only necklaces, rings and the small golden plaques that they fastened onto their garments, but also household implements, horses and even the remains of faithful servants.