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The Siberian Ice Maiden

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The Siberian Ice Maiden is a 2400 year old mummy from Siberia, whose preserved corpse was discovered by Archaeologists excavating in the Altai Mountains, near the Chinese border. The Ice Maiden was discovered in 1993 during a process of a dig led by Natalya Polosmak, of the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The archaeologists proved to be extremely lucky in the finding of the Ice Maiden as they nearly missed the tomb. Polosmak and her team were lead to a burial site by a commander, as he knew all the sites in the area.

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There was a grave above the Ice Maiden, which had been plundered yet they persisted and dug to find the Ice Maiden undisturbed since around 400BC. They had to first remove by hand many hundreds of stones that covered the tomb. After weeks of careful digging, they reached the tomb. They found a large unscathed wooden casket that had flooded with water, now frozen. Against the outer wall of the casket lied the remains of six frozen horses.

These animals had been sacrificed. The Ice Maiden was found uncovered in a casket made of a hollowed out trunk of a larch tree.

On the exterior of the casket were leather carvings of images of deer and snow leopards. The coffin was secured with large nails made of heavy copper, two on each side. The nails assisted the lid was secured and the water was trapped in the coffin. Finally when the team had opened the lid they found the ice to misty to see through it and began the process of melting. The thawing process went on by taking huge drums of water from a lake nearby and heating the water with a blowtorch, then taking cups of the heated water and pouring it carefully and slowly to the ice.

Eventually, after quite a while the team discovered a woman’s body, still covered in flesh, preserved by the ice. The archaeologists were shocked to find tattoos on the woman’s left arm and thumb. The mummy was slowly melting and deteriorating so the team delivered it to Natalya’s institute in Novosibirsk. She was kept in the freezer to halt her decay. The chamber the Maiden was found also contained two small wooden tables, which were used to serve food and drink. Horsemeat and mutton had been placed on the tables, along with the remains of a dairy product possibly yoghurt in a carved handle and stirrer.

There was also some kind of beverage was served in a horn cup to sustain her on her journey. The maiden was between 20-30 years old at the time of her death, which was estimated by observing the skull. The cause of death is still unknown although she was found with a 2-inch hole in the back of her skull. It is not certain if this hole occurred before or after death. She was 5ft and 6inches, which would have been tall for her time and lay in her side as if asleep. She was dressed in white woolen stockings, a woolen skirt with horizontal white and maroon stripes, and a yellow Chinese silk blouse with maroon piping.

She also held a silver mirror and decorative snow leopards carved from wood and wrapped in a gold leaf. The archaeologists claimed to be very lucky to be the only ones to find a complete outfit from the nomadic society. The archaeologists gathered the Ice Maiden must have been wealthy as silk, in the nomadic cultures, 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. This silk was most likely from another region. A link with India suggests that Pazyryk trade routes stretched across vast area of Asia.

The most valuable commodity the Pazyryk might have traded were horses. There was a very high importance of horses to their culture. Other mysterious objects had been found in the tomb that would most likely be related to spiritual beliefs and cultures. A small stone dish was uncovered, holding coriander. This was a common thing to find in other tombs. The Scythians take seeds from cannabis and throw the seed onto the stones as they glow with the heat. The seeds cast on the stone give off smoke and a vapor, which cover unwanted odors.

The coriander was needed to mask the smell of death. Another interesting object that was found with the maiden was inside a red pouch was a decorated hand mirror. It was extremely significant to find this mirror as in their culture all the Pazyryk community has mirrors; men women and children. She had been partially mummified but unlike an Egyptian Queen in balm and bandages but some of her organs were removes and the body was stuffed with grass and wool. Her head was shaved and she wore a wig and a tall headdress that was decorated with cats and swans.

The headdress was assumed a symbol of the tree of life. It is thought that the tree of life in mythology is supposed to bring the universe together. The higher universe of the Gods and the universe of humankind come together with this symbol. All of these objects in addition to her animal tattoos on her arm, shoulder and hand, the archaeologists assumed she was a religious leader and in touch with the spiritual world. The Lady to belonged to a tribe called the Pazyryks, close relatives of the Scythians, who lived around the Black Sea.

The Pazyryks, who had European rather than Mongoloid featured, were nomadic horsemen and shepherds. Probably they worshipped the sun and Moon as well as the animals featured in their strange body-art. They possibly believed that they were closer to heaven than ordinary humans. Taking objects and putting them through a radiocarbon test measured the dating of the chamber. The dating said that the chamber must have been built around 450 years before Christ. Some of the carved tree trunk was measured for age as well, from the rings around the trunk.

The archaeologists spent hours peering down a microscope measuring the rings. Each year the tree will grow a varied amount of rings due to the rainfall and other conditions. They discovered that the tree was cut 15 years before building the coffin. When the Ice Maiden died the coffin was already built for her and the inside of the coffin was made to look like her home. The maiden was dressed exactly like a man, and archaeologists gathered from this that certain women could have perhaps been warriors and that it didn’t offend the people of the nomadic society.

The Maiden was not found with weapons with her but her intricate burial did propose she was a woman of somewhat importance. This young woman and her elaborate burial, with her body covered in tattoos was clearly not a common member of her society. She perhaps had held a special talent or was a leader of some sort or perhaps was a warrior. She could have been a shaman, or had the ability to heal people or predict the weather. It is also likely that the Ice Maiden was a storyteller, someone who told stories and memorized the history and myths of her people.

Cite this The Siberian Ice Maiden

The Siberian Ice Maiden. (2016, Nov 16). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-siberian-ice-maiden/

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