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Author(s) of the publication: Andrey BIRYUKOV

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Earlier in 2005 the Novosibirsk Publishing House IN FOLIO brought out a book by two prominent historians-Natalya Polosmak and Lyudmila Barkova "Ancient Costumes and Textiles of Native Tribes of the Altai Region". The natives, known as the Pazyryks, lived there in the 4th-3rd centuries B. C. The publication coincided with the award of the 2005 State prize for Science and Technology to Acad. Vyacheslav Molodin, First Deputy Chairman of Presidium of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and to one of the authors of the aforesaid monograph Dr. N. Polosmak, senior researcher of the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography of the RAS Siberian Branch. They were awarded for the discovery and studies of unique complexes of the ancient Pazyryk culture located on the Ukok Plateau. Thus the presentation described by the newspaper Nauka v Sibiri (Science in Siberia) actually marks two events.

What makes the discoveries of archeologists in the Altai Mountains so unique? Turning to records, we find that studies of the Pazyryk ancient culture were initiated by Acad. Vasiliy Radlov at the end of the 19th century, and in the first third of the 20th century Leningrad scientists Prof. Mikhail Gryaznov and Prof. Sergei Rudenko discovered in the south of the Altai region royal burial cites dating back to 2.5 thous. years with well preserved carpets, fabrics and clothing. But in 1990 - 1995 V. Molodin and N. Polosmak with several colleagues unearthed burial chambers of ancient tombs frozen into lenses of ice and thus preserved over the centuries. Found next to the frozen bodies were ancient costumes, footwear and other objects which are never preserved in ordinary burials. Of special interest were two absolutely preserved graves-of a male and female of Europeoid type 20 - 30 years of age. But the decade of studies of the Pazyryk costumes produced even more interesting results than the archeological finds themselves.

But before starting their detailed investigations the scientists faced not a less dramatic problem of preserving their finds - the ice began to melt and the wet objects were falling apart. The situation called for the combined efforts of restorers and also physicists and chemists who could turn them into museum exhibits.

Thorough studies of the mummies preserved in the permafrost, and artistic bits of clothing, harness and utensils made it possible to fully restore costumes 2.5 thous. years of age. Using advanced physical-chemical methods of analysis scientists were able to identify inorganic components and also dyes in textiles in their finds. And it turned out that mummies were strangers and not aborigines of the Altai region. The latter were wearing costumes of leather and furs, and the mummies were clad in fine woolen and silk fabrics. The composition of dyes, decorations and the type of the burials attest to the Asian origin of the finds. The stern nature of the Altai Mountains was clearly reflected in the finds which included fur coats. But these were later additions to the costumes.

Another discovery were numerous tattooings on the bodies of the mummies. And there have been many reports about ancient tribes who had traditions of decorating their bodies with permanent tattoos. But the Pazyrykians seem to be the only ones whose tattoos have been preserved in fine details. The mummies discovered in the "royal mounds" are covered with tattoos literally

Pages. 35

Women's tattoos.

Women's head-dress-wig.

from head to foot. And even ordinary tribesmen wore such decorations-few, but of a very high quality.

In reply to the requests of local residents archeological excavations on the Ukok Plateau were abandoned 5 years ago in reply to requests of the local residents. But the ban has now been lifted.

And the locals took a negative attitude to the discoveries of the mummies. Many say that the areas has been a traditional sacred place. The mound unsearched by scientists was the burial site of "Princess Kadyn", worshipped by local shamans for centuries. There are two "schools of thought", among specialists who favor sending the mummies "back home" (those found by Dr. M. Gryaznov and Dr. S. Rudenko are kept in Russia's State Hermitage Museum and those found by V. Molodin and N. Polosmak - in the Akademgorodok complex in Novosibirsk. Some suggest taking them back to Altai and putting on display in the local museum and others think the "princess" should be reburied. In February 2004 the head of the Kosh-Agach region of the Republic of Altai turned to the leadership of the Republic and of the Siberian Region, and also the scientists of the RAS Siberian Branch with a request to rebury the mummies of the "prince" and the "princess" saying this could help prevent repeated earthquakes in the Republic of Altai. Local shamans keep saying that the scientists had damaged the sacred site of the "princess" worshipped by the locals and woke up the evil demons. A year later a similar appeal to the local authorities was signed by some 5,000 locals.

In view of this situation archeologists moved their studies to the neighboring regions of Mongolia. During the past two years they discovered there burial sites of similar nature. In 2005 Novosibirsk geophysicists investigated several burial mounds and found permafrost anomalies which promise new important archeological finds.


Prepared by Andrey BIRYUKOV


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Andrey BIRYUKOV, ANCIENT COSTUMES FROM ALTAI ICE // London: Libmonster (LIBMONSTER.COM). Updated: 25.09.2018. URL: (date of access: 30.03.2023).

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