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Scythian Amazon Mummy, Ancient Civilisations of Siberia and Non-Nomadic Golden Horde: New Archaeological Discoveries

October 5, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic stormed into people’s lives changing their routine for the worse but was unable to wreck archaeological teams’ plans, so the summer of 2020 was rich in Project 5-100 universities’ archaeological discoveries.

Siberian Federal University and Novosibirsk State University researchers carried out excavations at a northernmost Palaeolithic campsite in the Ust-Kova area, Krasnoyarsk Territory, to find out that people who lived there 20,000 years ago used stone drills, cutters and natural dyes. They retrieved Stone Age artefacts such as mammoth bone adornments, fragments of clothes and figurines. Historians also discovered an Iron Age shaman grave. The biggest surprise was that mammoth bone figurines had been carved with the same technique as the artefacts found at the Malta campsite in the Irkutsk region. This suggests close cultural ties between these settlements.

“Aside from the Ust-Kova campsite and its treasures, there are other ancient cultural sites in our region. For example, a bone bar dating back 18,000 years was found outside the town of Achinsk. It had an imprinted dotted spiral that probably served as solar and lunar calendar for ancient Siberians. We believe that such artefacts, together with the objects found in Denisova Cave in Altai prove that the peoples who populated Siberia in the Stone Age were no less advanced than their contemporaries living in the areas of modern China, Spain or France.

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If we remember two humanlike ivory figurines with pyrophyllite beads inserted in the eye sockets in the Bronze Age shaman grave discovered by Irkutsk-based Prof G.Medvedev in the Boguchanskaya hydroelectric power plant dam area more than half a century ago (pyrophyllite deposits are found in West Asia), we can safely assume that Siberia was a large and busy centre of civilisation, exchange and trade,” SibFU Department of History Professor Nikolay Drozdov said. SibFU researchers made an unexpected discovery on the bank of the Yenisei river as they dug out more than 6,000 Stone and Bronze Age artefacts in the Udachny settlement area, as well as fragments of a dwelling with a fireplace, a rare find for this region. The artefacts included tools, well-made arrowheads, food containers and stone accessories for clothes dating back 6,000 to 8,000 years.

Teardrop adornments with neatly drilled holes date back to the middle of the 3rd millennium B.C. They must have been part of a necklace. The findings include pottery adorned with imprints of a thin torqued cord. Textile impressed ceramics is characteristic for this early paleometal period. We also discovered many small and large scrapers used to remove membranes and tendons from animal hides”, - SibFU Yenisei Siberia Archeology Laboratory assistant Polina Senotrusova said.

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The most interesting artefacts will be displayed at Krasnoyarsk Culture and History Centre starting mid-October 2020. The Yenisei river area had more surprises in store. In Tuva’s Saryg Bulun area on the right bank of the Upper Yenisei, archaeologists from Institute for the History of Material Culture, Russian Academy of Sciences, found a 7th century B.C Scythian gravesite containing remains of an adolescent in a warrior’s outfit with weapons. Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology has just made a sensational discovery: it was the mummy of a girl!

Scythians populated steppes between the Danube and the Don in the 7th century B.C – 4thcentury A.D. according to records by Greek historians Herodotus, Hippocrates and Pliny the Elder. Some writings mentioned amazons but there had been no proof until this summer that amazons belonged to Scythian tribes in Siberia.

Just a few laboratories in the world have the capability to carry out this complex genetic test, for example MIPT Historical Genetics Laboratory.

The obtained results shed light on the mysterious Scythian civilisation challenging scientists to look for more evidence.

Ural Federal University’s History Department surveyed the wooded terrain of the Ural and West Siberia region discovering Europe’s northernmost settlements of the Stone, Bronze and early Iron Age dating back to IX/VIII millennia B.C. – III/V centuries A.D.) Overall, 1,054 prehistoric archaeological sites were explored. 

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Until recently, researchers had only encountered early Iron Age or medieval fortified settlements on the southern rim of that vast habitat. Similar sites in the middle and northern taiga were scarce and unappealing to field teams and analysts. Academic history and archaeology compilations hardly touched upon taiga townships not mentioning the reference materials and latest publications”, - said Viktor Borzunov, senior assistant at Ural Federal University’s History Department Archaeological Research Centre. 

Borzunov developed a seven-stage concept to explain the spread of fortified campsites across Eurasia in prehistoric times. The research results will be published in the four-volume monograph “Ancient Forts in the Forest Belt of the Ural and West Siberia Region: The Neolithic and Aeneolithic Ages.”

University of Tyumen together with Tyumen Research Centre, Russian Academy of Sciences, gathered Kulai Culture evidence to prove taiga dwellers began to settle in Trans-Urals before IV century A.D. which refutes the popular assumption about their arrival in a later period. Excavations were carried out in the Tyumen region in the vicinity of Lake Singul in the Roza Vetrov settlement, on state assignment by the Russian Education and Science Ministry. Archaeologists discovered fragments of dwellings and ceramics at the early Iron Age Sarov campsite in the Tobolsk forest and steppe area. These findings might become a stumbling block in further scientific discourse over the origins and timelines of different cultures in this territory.

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In the Kurgan region, researchers from the Archaeology and Ethnography Laboratory of University of Tyumen’s Institute of Social Sciences and Humanities found ancient townships and graves dating back to VII to VIII centuries A.D. There were individual burial sites as well as mass graves suggesting armed clashes in that era. The burial sites show an impact on indigenous Trans-Urals population caused by nomadic tribes from east. The new data broaden historians’ view of medieval migrations across Eurasian steppes.

Kazan Federal  University archaeologists found farming tools and other crafted artefacts at Golden Horde settlements. The evidence of close economic ties between satellite settlements and central town challenges the idea of primitive lifestyle of ancient Mongolian nomads.

Excavations were carried out in the Bagayev settlement in the Saratov region. The settlement was found by KFU Professor Leonard Nedashkovsky back in 1995. Archaeologists unearthed evidence to substantiate their hypothesis that the settlement had produced and supplied food to Ukek, a large town in Ulus Juchi, the western part of the Mongol Empire. As for the town, it delivered handmade goods to small villages including ceramic, cast iron, glass and non-ferrous metal products.

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Leonard Nedashkovsky on the unique findings: “A large number of ancient Russian and Mordovan ceramic utensils shows that ancient Russians and Mordovans were part of the Bagayevka settlement ethnic mix. Fragments of Trebizond Empire and Eastern Mediterranean amphorae, Iranian fritware and East Crimean red glazed crockery suggest brisk trade and demand for the food produced by Bagayevka farmers. It was exchanged for expensive imported tableware, handcrafted goods produced in Golden Horde towns and even exotic ware, as artefacts show. Economic ties were forged in direct exchange of food and raw materials for handcrafted products, but goods-money relations seemed to have prevalence over barter, as shown by numerous findings of Golden Horde silver and copper coins apparently used as small change”.

Bagayevka settlement excavations are due to resume next summer; in the meantime, researchers face painstaking work to examine and record the artefacts they have found. It will require joint efforts of KFU, Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Archaeology, Russian Academy of Sciences Institute for the History of Material Culture, D.S.Likhachyov Cultural and Natural Heritage Research Institute, I.N.Ulyanov State Pedagogical University, Tatarstan’s Institute for Ecology and Use of Natural Resources  and the Volga Region Archaeology company.

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Though every archaeological find helps unravel mysteries of the ancient world it still remains full of secrets. However, historians’ efforts have not been in vain, they help learn the origins of our culture; as we know, we can have no future without understanding our past.