Monday, 29 February 2016

Cosmetic sticks at Xiaohe Cemetery in early Bronze Age Xinjiang, China

A leather bag and cosmetic sticks have been excavated from Xiaohe Cemetery. CHINA DAILY

It is said that the average modern woman consumes more than 3 kilograms of lipstick in her lifetime.

Some might find all that wax, oils and emollients a bit hard to digest, but the prehistoric inhabitants of Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region made their women's cosmetics sticks out of something a little more edible around 3,500 to 4,000 years ago.
According to the latest archaeological research published on Thursday night in Scientific Reports, an online, open access journal from the publishers of Nature, the red cosmetic sticks buried with women in Xiaohe Cemetery (1980-1450 BC) were made from cow hearts.
"In previous excavations, a number of bronze ware items and other inorganic relics were found. But these cosmetic tools, being made of organic matter, are very rare because they are much more difficult to preserve," said Yang Yimin, a professor from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences under the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, and an author of the newly published research.
The red cosmetic sticks, around 6.5 cm in length and 0.9 cm in diameter, were found in leather bags buried alongside the mummified corpses of several females. Scientists inferred from the find that the sticks were not only used to paint faces, but also to color relics that have been excavated from Xiaohe Cemetery.
Samples taken from the cosmetic sticks were submitted to a synchrotron radiation micro-computed tomography test-a type of X-ray technology-that found they were made from cow hearts covered in pigment by analyzing their interior structure and constituent proteins.
"The color red usually serves as a symbol for the worship of blood, and the heart is one of the most important organs in cattle, as the center of blood circulation. This indicates the cosmetic sticks were used to paint human faces red and were significant, possibly sacred, objects used as part of the Xiaohe people's religious behavior," Yang said.
Xiaohe Cemetery is a Bronze Age site that features more than 160 tombs located in the east of Xinjiang's Tarim Basin. It was first discovered in the 1930s by a team of Swedish archaeologists, but was not excavated until 2002.
"In recent years, a number of significant discoveries have been made in Xiaohe Cemetery, which will open a new window on our understanding of this region's inhabitants, their prehistoric lives and early communication with both Eastern and Western cultures," said Li Wenying, a researcher of Xinjiang Institute of Relics and Archaeology in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang.
Earlier research found that the Xiaohe people had blond or flaxen hair and eyelashes, which indicates that gene mixing between East and West started at least 4,000 years ago.
The newly reported cosmetic sticks are one of the clues that point to women playing a central religious role and enjoying a high social status

For the full article "

Characterization of cosmetic sticks at Xiaohe Cemetery in early Bronze Age Xinjiang, China

 in Nature, click HERE


Thousands of years before the glitz and glamour of modern fashion, ancient residents in today’s Xinjiang were already taking cosmetics to heart.
  Chinese scientists have discovered two "cosmetic sticks" unearthed from Xiaohe Cemetery in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region that were made from the hearts of cattle, the first time such organs have been found to serve as cosmetic tools.
  Dating back about 3,600 years ago, the irregularly-shaped red "sticks" were found in leather bags laid beside female mummies. according to an article published in the journal Scientific Reports.
  A team led by Yang Yimin with the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences employed proteomics analysis and found the objects’ proteins were derived from bovine hearts. Using SR micro CT and Raman spectrum, they found a layer of hematite powders, which served as red pigment, on the dehydrated hearts.
  "The red paint found on faces of the female mummies leads us to presume the tools were, first of all, used in make-up," Yang told Xinhua on Thursday, while not ruling out the possibility of the hearts being used to paint other objects.
  Heart muscles contain fat and collagen, which can serve as a natural adhesives to attach the pigments to paint. Yang also believed the use of cattle heart might carry religious connotations.
  Red paints were commonly found inside Xiaohe tombs, from red lines on the mummies’ foreheads to painting on the huge pillars worshipping fertility in front of each coffin. That the sticks were mostly buried beside female mummies implied that women played a special role in the religious ritual of painting in red, researchers said.
  The study has provided clues to understanding the role of cattle in the Xiaohe Culture, which existed about 4,000 years ago, and the history of early cosmetics, according to Yang.
  The Xiaohe Cemetery, located in the Taklamakan Desert, is best known for its many mummies in ship-shaped coffins. Archaeologists say the dry and hot environment helped preserve a large number of organic relics.
  The site has seen a number of amazing discoveries, including a skull with a hole indicating brain surgery and China’s oldest adhesive made from cattle gelatine, found on a ritual staff and also identified by Yang’s team.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Dunhuang frescoes reveal how ancient Chinese celebrate Lantern Festival

People's Daily Online  23 February 2016

The Dunhuang Research Academy released some ancient documents and frescos on Monday, which feature the celebration of the traditional Chinese Lantern Festival during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907) and the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The Lantern Festival is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month in the lunar calendar, marking the last day of the Chinese New Year celebration. On that day, ancient Chinese people will light thousands of colorful lights. This year's Lantern Festival falls on Feb. 22. (CNS Photo)

Wooden phalluses found at lost burial site in Xinjiang desert

‘Sex toys’ or religious relics? Wooden phalluses found at lost burial site in Xinjiang desert point to quirks of ancient Chinese society

Team finds evidence at Xiaohe Tomb complex that ‘blood worship’ may also have been a signature of this ancient socio-religious culture in Northwest China

South China morning Post
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 February, 2016, 1:52pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 February, 2016, 2:50pm
Wooden carvings of male genitals found in the hands of female mummies discovered in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region were part of an ancient ritual, not sex toys, according to a new study by Chinese scientists.
The phallic carvings measured as small as 4 centimetres in length and were discovered in graves at the Xiaohe Tomb complex in Lop Nur, Xinjiang in the grip of 4,000-year old female mummies.
They were smaller than expected and mostly painted red to highlight their sacred status - hinting at their use in certain religious rituals.
They were found by a research team led by Yang Yimin, a professor of archaeological science at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.
The findings have been published in a paper in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE, run by the San Francisco-based Public Library of Science.
Phallicism, also known as male organ worship, was a common ritual in many ancient cultures, with archaeologists often encountering relics representing sexual organs in tombs and other excavation sites.
In this case, the sexualised relics and sculptures could be separated into two categories: phalluses that played a role in tribal or social rituals, and olisboi - a classical word for dildos - that served an erotic function. In the majority of cases, their category is decided primarily by their size.
The tomb complex ranks as one of the largest and oldest burial sites in the world for mummies. The bronze-age burial site dates back to 1980BC, houses around 330 tombs, and contains more than 30 well-preserved mummies.
It was officially discovered by Swedish explorer Folke Bergman in the early 1930s with the aid of a local hunter who had stumbled upon the site some two decades earlier. The site was then obscured for decades by desert storms that shifted the sands of the surrounding desert.
In 2003, government-sponsored archaeologists in Xinjiang rediscovered it. They found that half of the tombs had been looted and the others undisturbed, with shrivelled corpses of both men and women well-preserved in boat-shaped coffins wrapped in cattle hides.
The archaeologists were shocked to find replica wooden genitalia in the left hand of almost every female at the tomb complex, suggesting an extreme form of phallic worship in this primitive Chinese society.
The females also carried leather bags attached to the right side of their waists, which included cosmetic “sticks” made from bovine hearts, according to studies conducted by Yang’s team.
Chemical analysis of the paint on the sticks showed them to be hematite powders - hematite is a blood red-coloured iron ore - that matched other daubings on the faces, personal items and even phallic artefacts of the mummies.
“So using cattle hearts as tools to paint red marks on the human face, as well as on objects such as vertical wooden pillars and wooden phalluses … was a sacred and significant religious form of behaviour for the Xiaohe people,” the team wrote in the paper.
“The colour red was usually considered a symbol of worship,” they wrote.
“Using [the] heart as a painting tool may indicate that ‘blood worship’ was a signature of this socio-religious culture.”
Huang Shouyu, a historian based in Changsha, in central China’s Hunan province, agreed that the replica wooden genitals at the tomb complex were likely used for religious purposes.
But Huang, who has authored several books on sexual worship in ancient Chinese cultures, said that as the relics were uncommonly small for this purpose, they could have served another role - as pleasure-giving dildos.
“They may have served as both sacred items and sex toys,” he said.
“It probably would have made little difference to our ancestors.”

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Herat and the Mapping of Khurasan (15th - 19th Centuries)

The Pearl in its Midst

Herat and the Mapping of Khurasan (15th - 19th Centuries)

Verlag: VÖAW
Erscheinungsjahr: 2014
ISBN13: 978-3-7001-7202-4
Format: 2014, 374 Seiten, 
Genealogical Tables, 5 Karten, 
29,7x21 cm, broschiert

Die Stadt Herat und ihre Einbettung in die historische Provinz Khurasan in Ost-Iran stehen im Zentrum dieses Buches, das den Wandel regionaler Strukturen und ihrer Wahrnehmung im Übergang von der frühen Neuzeit zur Moderne zum Gegenstand hat. Anhand persischer Primärquellen wird die Wechselwirkung zwischen politischem Geschehen, kulturellem Gedächtnis und Raumvorstellungen nachgezeichnet. Zu Beginn des Betrachtungszeitraums fungiert Herat als die Hauptstadt des Timuridenreichs, und die Region wird unter den Vorzeichen politischer und spiritueller Zentralität wie auch wirtschaftlicher Blüte thematisiert. Die folgenden Jahrhunderte bis zur Eingliederung Herats in das heutige Afghanistan sind von einem graduellen Verlust dieser Vorrangstellung geprägt. Entsprechend verlagert sich das Gewicht der Quellen von verwaltungstechnischer und landschaftsmalerischer Detailfreude zu größeren strategischen und ökologischen Zusammenhängen, die die gesamte Provinz Khurasan betreffen. Mit den Grenzziehungen und der Aufteilung der Region zwischen Iran, Afghanistan und Transkaspien im späten 19. Jahrhundert werden ehemals elastische Territorialvorstellungen durch hierarchische und zentralistische Staatsentwürfe ersetzt. Die Analyse der Inwertsetzung Khurasans durch politische und literarische Akteure über einen langen Zeitraum verdeutlicht die Tragweite dieser Veränderung und eröffnet neue Perspektiven für die Erforschung regionaler Macht- und Raumgefüge.

A different view on Venus figurines

World famous ancient Siberian Venus figurines 'are NOT Venuses after all'

By Olga Gertcyk

None are naked: instead, they're far more interesting…
Close microscopic inspection reveals them as being far from idealised female forms. Picture: Hermitage Museum
New groundbreaking research shows that a celebrated collection of prehistoric Venus figurines are - in fact - a fashion show of ordinary people of all ages from some 20,000 years ago.
Close microscopic inspection reveals them as being far from idealised female forms. Rather, many are male, and others are children, the new research shows. 
It's true that in the past some of the woolly mammoth tusk carvings were known to be clothed. Notably, these were called alluringly Venus in Furs figurines. They were dressed for protection from the Siberian winter, and are possibly the oldest known images anywhere in the world of sewn fur clothing. Yet even deep in Soviet times, the figurines were hailed for their feminine features, and seen as the idealised female form. 
Siberian Venus
We saw the different types of hats, hairstyles, shoes and accessories, which were depicted with thin lines. Picture: Hermitage Museum
Here, for example, are the words of eminent Siberian archeologist and historian Academician Alexey Okladnikov in 1957, on his first 'meeting' with one of the stunning examples of Palaeolithic art from the Buret excavations in this collection.
Carved of mammoth tusk, these female forms - as he supposed - rested in the 'moist and warm soil' soaked by a recent night thunderstorm. Seemingly enchanted and using language veering from the strictly scientific into the lyrical, he hailed this figurine as 'not a dead piece of an alien and long-vanished world, but something thrilling, soulful and full of life'.
Entranced by the ancient vision, he lauded her 'narrow, Mongolian slanted eyes, similar to those of a cat, looking at us, the people of the twentieth century, mysteriously and even somewhat ironically'.


Famous Mal'ta and Buret are located in about 25 kilometres from each other, close to Lake Baikal. Pictures: Google Maps, Jokersy/Panoramio
In rich poetic vein, he continued: 'Her face, carved so unexpectedly gentle and tender, had a barely noticeable smile. The feeling of vitality and mystery coming from this fragment of mammoth tusk was getting even deeper because the statuette radiated the warmth of a living creature.
'It wasn't yellow or brown, like dozens of ancient sculptures from mammoth tusks that lie behind the museum glass window. It was pink and almost warm, like a live human body. This is exactly how a piece of a fossil ivory looks, soaked with the millennial Earth's juices.' But now deeper study using modern technology has been conducted by Dr Lyudmila Lbova and trace analysis specialist Dr Pavel Volkov.
'In the collection of Malta figurines, the overalls are more typical for small sculptures (those of 2-4 cm in height), depicting children.' Picture: Lyudmila Lbova
And a striking new light has been cast on the Mal'ta and Buret figurines - found from the 1920s to the 1950s by the Angara River close to Lake Baikal in modern-day Irkutsk region. Notably, the research disputes the widely-held believe that some of the figures are nude.  
'There were many attempts to understand the idea of these figurines, and their symbolism,' she said. 'And there were many interpretations. We decided to pay more attention to some material things, to study the surface, to understand how these figurines were made. 
'Modern equipment allows a lot of opportunities to undertake such a study. Totally there are 39 or 40 known figurines found both on Mal'ta and Buret: we have (so far) studied 29 of them, using microscopes and macro shooting.'
Okladnikov and Derevyanko

Academician Alexey Okladnikov (right) with Academician Anatoly Derevyanko (left) in archaeological expedition. Figurines from Mal'ta and Buret. Pictures: Science First Hand, Hermitage Museum
She explained: 'We worked with sculptures from the collections of the State Hermitage Museum (St Petersburg). First, we found out how these figurines were made and checked our conclusions with experiments. Some of the figurines are just work pieces, to the finished works.'
In other words, they are prototypes and 'this allowed us to reconstruct all the steps in their creation. 
'Yet the most unexpected result was that we saw traces on the surface of the figurines that were not spotted earlier, as they are not visible to the naked eye, due to the ravages of time. These traces showed more details of clothes than we had seen previously: bracelets, hats, shoes, bags and even back packs.' 
Dr Lyudmila Lbova
Dr Lyudmila Lbova: 'We decided to pay more attention to some material things, to study the surface, to understand how these figurines were made.' Picture: Vera Salnitskaya
Unfolding before their eyes were images of people as they were 20,000 years ago.  
'This approach allowed us to reveal many interesting new details and review some ideas about these sculptures,' she said. 'Previously, there had been different approaches to the classification of these figurines, but the basic was a division into 'dressed' and 'naked'. 
'Our research showed that all of them are more or less 'dressed'. We saw the different types of hats, hairstyles, shoes and accessories, which were depicted with thin lines. The ancient masters used different techniques to highlight the different materials - fur, leather, and decorations. 
Not finished figurine

Lines form clothes

Face close
Not naked: thin lines are to show the clothing edges. Pictures: Lyudmila Lbova
'In the realistic elements of clothing and hats are obviously seen the details of traditional outerwear of Nordic peoples. The most 'popular' outerwear on the figurines are fur overalls' - similar to 'kerkery as worn by Koryak children and women in the extreme east of Siberia. 
'In the collection of Malta figurines, the overalls are more typical for small sculptures (those of 2-4 cm in height), depicting children. Besides, all the figures dressed in overalls have a disproportionately large head. 
Mikhail Gerasimov on excavations

Mikhail Gerasimov on excavations
Mikhail Gerasimov [the archaeologist who found the first figurines] on the excavations at Mal'ta in 1958. Pictures: Kunstkamera Museum
'Such proportions we see in children under 5 years old, dressed in overalls with high hoods. In other words, these sculptures show small childfren in clothes typical for them and in the right proportions. I think that Mikhail Gerasimov [the archaeologist who found the first figurines] was right describing these figurines as a 'kindergarten'. 
'On other sculptures, we can see overalls made of guts, probably from fish or seals, which women wore in summer along with short parkas. We see similar ones in the culture of the indigenous people who live in the Russian north-east, like the Koryaks and Itilmens.'
Figurine's head


Figurine's back
The most common are these fur 'helmets' that cover the head, neck, ears, cheeks and chin. Pictures: Lyudmila Lbova
The detail spotted on these figurines is intriguing. 
'Most interesting are the hats and hairstyles. There are fur 'helmets'' - [meaning a hat that covers the head and shoulders] - 'hats and hoods. The most common are these fur 'helmets' that cover the head, neck, ears, cheeks and chin. In one case there was a high roll under the chin like a fur scarf, or a closed collar of fur. 
'Another type is the helmet, which gently falls on the back and shoulders' - as might a modern firefighter's hat.' In all cases the depictions are clear between the headdresses and the hairstyles.
On the figurines 'we can also see the bags and in one case a traditional back pack with two straps. 'The figurine is probably showing a teenager. It has not so much detail, and it is not clear if this is male or female, yet the proportions of bodies show that this is definitely a teenager. 
'When I just saw this back pack I was so excited - to discover these realistic details from so long ago.'
With backpack

With backpack

With backpack
'We can also see the bags and in one case a traditional back pack with two straps. The figurine is probably showing a teenager.' Pictures: Lyudmila Lbova
Her analysis also shows that small holes on the figurine - earlier seen as indicating they were worn as pendants - likely have another purpose. 'I can only suggest that they could be firmly attached to clothing, so they did not move. The other idea is that they could be attached to a cradle with leather laces, in keeping with a known tradition among Siberian indigenous groups. 
'All the figurines were found within the living facilities of ancient settlements, some of them even in ritual places in the home: they were covered with mammoth scapula bone or sprinkled with ocher.'
So why did the ancient people make these figurines? 'There is no clear answer as to the purpose,' she said. 'There can be a lot of allegations, but no one gives irrefragable answer. 
'What we can say for sure is that these realistic details of clothes, accessories, hairstyle clearly show that ancient masters made the figurines of some real people, maybe their relatives. I strongly doubt that these were the images of abstract goddesses or spirits' in the sense often used to understand so-called Venus depictions.
Figurine close

Figurine back
Sophisticated lines are to show the the different materials of which the clothes made. Picture: Lyudmila Lbova, Hermitage Museum
'Besides not all of the figurines show women: there are also children, teenagers both male and female. Of course, after getting some answers, we now have a lot of new questions. 
'For now we can only fantasise why ancient people made these figurines, how exactly they uses them. Still, we do know now that the figurines hide a lot of tiny details which has already changed our view on their theme and their function.' 
Dr Lyudmila Lbova is a researcher and Dr Pavel Volkov is a leading researcher both at the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, part of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. 
The research was conducted by the Laboratory 'Interdisciplinary Study of Primitive Art of Eurasia', which is a joint project of Novosibirsk State University's Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography and University of Bordeaux. The Laboratory is based in Novosibirsk State University.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Dunhuang murals feature monkeys 1,400 years ago

China Daily Europe 8 February 2016
Dunhuang Research Academy has released a series of photos of grotto paintings that depict monkeys to mark the Spring Festival, China's Lunar New Year.
According to China's lunar calendar, 2016 is the Year of the Monkey. The academy is an institution responsible for conservation, management and research at the Mogao Grottoes (a World Cultural Heritage site at Dunhuang), the Yulin Grottoes (a nationally protected key cultural heritage site at Guazhou), and the Western Thousand-Buddha Grottoes at Dunhuang.
The institution said some wall paintings featuring monkeys had a history of 1,400 years. [Photo's provided by Dunhuang Research Academy]


Reward offered for decoding ancient Indian gold coins

Reward offered for decoding ancient Indian gold coins
Central China's Hunan province is offering a reward to anyone who can decode the inscription on the back of six ancient Indian gold coins, which are believed to have a history of over seven hundred years.[Photo/Xinhua

China Daily (Europe) 17 February 2016
Hunan province in central China is offering a reward to anyone who can decode the inscription on the back of six ancient gold coins.
The Cultural Relics Bureau of Jinshi city has offered 10,000 yuan ($1,500) to anyone who can explain the mystery of the coins, housed in the city's museum.
The coins are believed to have been manufactured during the Delhi Sultanate period, sometime in the middle of China's Yuan Dynasty (1271-1358), said the bureau director Peng Jia .
In the 1960s, a small white glazed pot containing six gold foreign coins was discovered at a farm. Each coin is as big as China's one yuan coin currently in circulation.
Since they were sent to the museum in the 1980s, archaeologists have been puzzled. The coins are classified as first-level national cultural relics.
The inscription on the front, in a rare type of Arabic, is the name of a King, said Peng, "but the information on the back is difficult to decode. I have consulted Chinese and foreign experts, but to no avail. I hope the answer will be revealed one day."

If you are interested what these coins say, go the the blog of Victor Mair Language Log

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

The Letter to Ren An and Sima Qian's Legacy

The Letter to Ren An and Sima Qian's Legacy


  •     paperback not available
  •    $40.00S HARDCOVER (9780295995441)
  •    PUBLISHED: April 2016
  •    SUBJECT LISTING: Asian Studies / China; History
  •    BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 190 pp., 7 charts, 1 table, 6 x 9 in.

Sima Qian (first century BCE), the author of Record of the Historian(Shiji), is China's earliest and best-known historian, and his "Letter to Ren An" is the most famous letter in Chinese history. In the letter, Sima Qian explains his decision to finish his life's work, the first comprehensive history of China, instead of honorably committing suicide following his castration for "deceiving the emperor." In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, some scholars have queried the authenticity of the letter. Is it a genuine piece of writing by Sima Qian or an early work of literary impersonation?�The Letter to Ren An and Sima Qian's Legacy provides a full translation of the letter and uses different methods to explore issues in textual history. It also shows how ideas about friendship, loyalty, factionalism, and authorship encoded in the letter have far-reaching implications for the study of China.
STEPHEN DURRANT is professor of Chinese language and literature at the University of Oregon; WAI-YEE LI is professor of Chinese literature at Harvard University; MICHAEL NYLAN is professor of history at University of California, Berkeley; and HANS VAN ESS is professor of sinology at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munchen.

"Very intellectually engaging and makes a real contribution to the fields of Chinese history and literature. The authors have done a wonderful job summarizing the important Chinese scholarship to craft a concise collection of essays."
-Mark Csikszentmihalyi, author of Readings in Han Chinese Thought

"The 'Letter' comes alive in this joint endeavor. This rich volume sheds much new light on early Chinese manuscript and epistolary culture, Han dynasty political ideology and social ethics, traditional Chinese views of authorship, and, last but not least, our understanding of Sima Qian as a seminal writer, thinker, and historian."
-Yiqun Zhou, author of Festivals, Feasts, and Gender Relations in Ancient China and Greece

"A fascinating, in-depth exploration of Sima Qian's 'Letter to Ren An' and the first monograph to give this most celebrated letter of the Chinese tradition the attention it deserves. If the 'Letter' is the lens through which Shiji has been read for two millennia, the four original contributions collected here direct our attention to this lens itself. Scrutinizing it with regard to authenticity, authorship, friendship, and dissent, they illuminate these aspects on a much broader scale."
-Antje Richter, author of Letters and Epistolary Culture in Early Medieval China

Thursday, 11 February 2016

A Siberian "Tutanchamon"- Wonderful new discoveries in Tuva in South Siberia

FOCUS ON TUVA: Stunning treasures - and macabre slaughter - in Siberia's Valley of the Kings

The Siberia Times by Olga Gertcyk  11 February 2016

Pictured: the gleaming riches no-one was meant to see belonging to an ancient nomad potentate, and his queen...or was she his concubine? 

In all, some 9,300 decorative gold pieces were found here, not including the 'uncountable golden beads'. Picture: Vera Salnitskaya
The royal tomb known as Arzhan 2 in the modern-day Republic of Tuva - to many, the most mysterious region in all Russia - is some 2,600 years old but its valuables match any trove from any era anywhere in the world. 
Here inside a mound 80 metres wide was buried a warrior tsar with a sway that plainly reached over a vast territory of mountains and steppes, and whose magnificent possessions indicated close contacts with other civilisations.
Forget the notion of barbaric Siberian nomadic tribes in this epoch: well, don't quite forget. These ancient warriors used the skulls of their vanquished foes as drinking cups, according to no less an authority than Greek historian Herodotus.
And this queen or concubine was almost certainly sacrificed to that she could be buried beside the dead ruler. And yet, as the pictures show, their exceptional artwork predates the influence of the Greeks, and displays a high degree of sophistication. 
Arzhan 2 excavations site

Arzhan 2 excavations site

Arzhan 2 modern look
Unknown warrior was found literally covered in gold alongside with his woman. Pictures: Konstantin Chugunov, Anatoli Nagler and Hermann Parzinger; Vera Salnitskaya
The unknown monarch - a Siberian Tutankhamun - was entombed in this ancient necropolis with 14 horses, a defining symbol of wealth in these Scythian times; each animal was from a different herd. 
Alongside him lay the woman in his life, his queen or, as is suspected, his favourite concubine, but in any event a woman held in great esteem who was ethnically distinct from this monarch's retinue also buried alongside him which included 33 others, including five children. She was in all likelihood not alone in being sacrificed  to accompany him to the afterlife...
The most breathtaking aspect of this Tuvan find are the contents of the burial chamber of this royal couple - pictured here - located by archeologists some two or three metres beneath the surface.
In all, some 9,300 decorative gold pieces were found here, not including the 'uncountable golden beads'. Put in another way, there was more than 20 kilograms of gold, including earrings, pendants and beads, adorning the bodies of the royal couple all made in what is known as Animal Art style. 
King's golden necklace

King's golden necklace

Gorit - Quiver
The ancient ruler was buried with a heavy necklace made of pure gold and gold quiver with fish scale decoration. Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya
Ancient robbers had sought to raid vast burial mound, just as they had successfully looted the neighbouring Arzhan 1 site, which was perhaps 150 years older. It could be that specially built 'decoy' graves threw these ancient looters' off the scent. 
Here in Arzhan 2, thieves had left a trail which archeologists unearthed but fortunately the raiders gave up shortly before reaching these treasures, which are made from iron, turquoise, amber and wood as well as gold.
So valuable are they that it is rumoured these wondrous objects - now held mainly in local capital Kyzyl but also in St Petersburg - cannot be exhibited abroad because of the cost of insurance. 
The find has been described by Dr Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the Hermitage Museum as 'an encyclopedia of Scythian Animal Art because you have all the animals which roamed the region, such as panther, lions, camels, deer...' It includes 'many great works of art - figures of animals, necklaces, pins with animals carved into a golden surface', he told The New York Times.
'This is the original Scythian style, from the Altai region, which eventually came to the Black Sea region and finally in contact with ancient Greece. And it resembles almost an Art Nouveau style.'
Reconstruction of clothes
The reconstruction of the costumes made by the experts from Hermitage Museum. Picture: Hermitage Museum
Covered with two layers of larch logs, the royal burial chamber was carefully constructed like a blockhouse and stood inside a second, outer burial chamber of the same construction. 
The four walls were presumably adorned by some kind of curtain. Long wooden sticks were found along the walls, which could have been used like curtain rails. The curtains themselves, as well as any other textile remains, were not preserved. On a carefully made boarded wooden floor - likely softened by felt - were the bodies of this sovereign and his companion.
The skulls had dislocated from the bodies because they had probably been placed on a kind of pillow, now decayed. The ancient ruler was buried with a heavy necklace made of pure gold and decorated all over with the carvings of animals. 
His outer clothes, probably a kind of kaftan, had been decorated with thousands of small panther figures, each 2-to-3 centimetres in length, attached in vertical rows, also forming motifs such as wings on his back. 
Queen's necklace

Queen's cup

Queen's cup
A gold pectoral in Animal Style decoration, golden earring with turquoise and a miniature gold cup. Picture: Vera Salnitskaya
On his boots, maybe originally of felt or leather, thousands of mini-beads - in diameter only about 1 millimetre - had been stitched; on the upper part they ended in golden turndowns. Alongside and under the skull were gold plaques with animal-shaped inlays: four winged horses and one deer originally attached to the headgear.
The total weight of his jewellery - including minute glass beads on his trousers - was 2 kilograms. The man's weaponry consisted of an iron dagger, poorly preserved, on his right hip. This was connected to the belt by a strap, and both had been decorated with numerous golden adornments. 
Beside the dagger was a miniature gold cup. On the left side of the deceased was a gold quiver with fish scale decoration. The wooden arrow shafts were painted in black and red. His arrow heads were made of iron, but also showed the remains of golden encrustation. The golden adornment on the belt - used for carrying his quiver into the afterlife - was extremely rich. 
Below the quiver lay the wooden bow itself, studded with pieces of golden decoration. Between the quiver and the north-eastern wall of the burial chamber were two picks, one of iron with golden encrustation. To the left of the man's head lay a bronze mirror.

Close view
His outer clothes, probably a kind of kaftan, had been decorated with thousands of small panther figures, each 2-to-3 centimetres in length. Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya
A second, slightly larger bronze mirror was located to the left of the woman's head, a little bigger and with a gold handle. Below the woman's head were three gold plaques in the shape of animals - two horses and a mystical winged creature - associated with the woman's headdress.
Beside her head was a pair of gold pins, decorated with carvings in Animal Art style. The decoration of the woman's dress corresponded to the man's kaftan: thousands of golden panthers form different motifs, again, notably, wings on her back. Around her breasts, archeologists found golden earrings and many small beads of gold, amber, garnet, malachite and other precious materials. 
Near her feet were thousands of mini-beads made of gold, which must have been fixed onto felt or leather boots which had been inlaid with golden ribbons and granulation. 
On her right hip hung an iron knife, poorly preserved but with numerous excellent gold belt adornments. Her wrists were adorned with gold bracelets. Here, too, lay two bronze kettles, seen as exceptionally valuable for these times.
In the western corner of the burial chamber were three large amber beads, a wooden cup with a golden handle, a gold comb with wooden teeth, and a heap of various seeds. Within the heap of seeds was a gold pectoral in Animal Style decoration and a small bronze cup, still inside a small leather bag.
Tiny details

Tiny details

Tiny details
'It's hard to imagine that these fine pieces were made by nomads living in tents.' Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya
In other burials, which surrounded the prominent couple,  bronze knives, an axe-type weapon, known as a Raven's beak, arrowheads, bronze mirrors, belts, and much jewellery - beads made of glass, stone, amber, and golden earrings - were found. So too were fragments of  cloth - felt, fur, and fabric. 
Here too were discovered bridle sets made of bronze, mane ornaments and tail decorations cut from gold sheet.
What can we discern of the personal stories behind these ancient royals and their entourage found in Uyuk hollow, northern Tuva, and excavated by a joint Russian-German team between 2001 and 2004? 
Professor Konstantin Chugunov, highly respected senior researcher at the world famous Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, who headed the project, said DNA analysis of the group indicated those buried here were from the Iranian ethno-linguistic group.
According to the analysis of strontium isotopes in the bones, all those buried were locals except for one person - the 'queen', and it gives reason to think about  dynastic marriage,' he said. 

Arrow heads
Weapon: an iron dagger and iron arrowheads with golden encrustation. Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya
Totally 35 people - 16 men, 13 women, five children along with bones which cannot be identified by gender, were buried here, as were 14 horses.
The 'king' was between 40 and 50 years old and analysis of his remains revealed that he died of prostate cancer. 'This is the earliest documentation of the disease,' said Michael Schultz, a paleopathologist at the University of Gottingen. It is believed that in the last years of his life, this potentate could not have walked.
His female partner, accorded pride of place alongside him, was around 30 years old. Who was she?
We don't know if the woman was a queen or a concubine,' said Professor Hermann Parzinger, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, and a joint leader of the excavations, 'but since their ornaments were similar, both must have had high status.'
No cause of death can be detected for her, leading to a theory that she could have been poisoned or strangled, to be buried beside her liege, and to travel with him into the next world: willingly or not, she was a human sacrifice, according to this version. 
'Maybe she was poisoned,' said Chugunov, 'or maybe she chose to die to be with her husband.' We may never know how she died, by natural causes around the same time as her master or in more sinister fashion, but others in the tsar's entourage certainly had gruesome demises. 



Early Scythians were people who knew good artwork when they saw it, and used contacts to obtain, or commission, jewellery and decorations. Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya
The scene archeologists uncovered here appears to match with remarkable accuracy a description by Herodotus of the macabre Scythian burial rite.
'Based on accompanying burials, we also found evidence of phenomena described by Herodotus when the living would follow the deceased,' Parzinger has explained. 'Herodotus wrote that when a military leader died, his close circle - wife (or concubine), bodyguards, advisers, servants - were killed. As they were the property of the leader, they had to follow him to the tomb. And we identified particular evidence of their murder.'
Herodotus, who lived later, from 484 BC to 425 BC, wrote: 'The body of the king is laid in the grave, stretched upon a mattress. Spears are fixed in the ground on either side of the corpse and beams stretched above it to form a roof.
'In the open space around the body of the king they bury one of his concubines, first killing her by strangling, and also his cup-bearer, his cook, his groom, his lackey, his messenger, some of his horses... and some golden cups, for they use neither silver nor brass.'
It is believed that when the king died, he was mummified and his body travelled for 40 days across all his lands. And all expressed their sorrow. Then at some sacred place a burial mound was constructed and his entire entourage were slaughtered and buried there.

Cups: wooden cup with a golden handle and small golden cup. Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya
Herodotus did not describe how the ruler's entourage were killed. While the queen or concubine shows no sign of a violent death - the assumption is that she was poisoned - one woman's skull in Arzhan 2 was pierced four times with a war pick. 
A man's skull still retains the splinters from a wooden club used to kill him. In some cases archaeologists see evidence of blows to the head with kind of poleaxe: in other case, they suppose strangulation or poison.
Separately, on these human remains was found evidence of 'battlefield surgery' conducted on these warriors during earlier conflicts. Next to the burial mound, to the north, was found a separate burial where 'chipped' human and horse bones were mixed. 
A 'guess' is that this fits another Herodotus description of the burial mound being guarded by dead horses pulling wagons with their wheels removed on which were placed dead horsemen.
The Greek historian described 50 young men, who were set around the mound. Those, who made the burial, went away and the mound remained. The corpses of the horses and riders were pecked by birds, eaten by animals, and all this decayed. 
'Chinese' style

'Chinese' style

'Chinese' style
Decorations on the akinak - or short sword - show similarities to patterns used in Eastern Zhou (Eastern China). Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya
More can be understood about these nomads from the riches lying beside this noble couple, although these ancient people left no written records, and hardly any sign of settlements that - some archeologists suspect - must have existed.
A royal burial such as this gives the 'quintessence of information' because the achievements of the culture at the time were laid to rest with the dead king, it has been said. As Parzinger has said: 'It's hard to imagine that these fine pieces were made by nomads living in tents.' Chugunov concurs: 'In Arzhan 2, the gold jewellery was clearly not made by nomadic artists.' 
They fought and pillaged but as Dr Anatoil Nagler, from the German Archeological Institute, told National Geographic: 'The people were excellent craftsmen. This puts the Scythian quality of life in a new light. It rejects the stereotype that Scythians were just wild horsemen and warriors, migrating and destroying other people. They had a high level of cultural development.'
Or so it seemed at the time when the discoveries were first made. Now it is seen as more likely that these early Scythians were people who knew good artwork when they saw it, and used contacts to obtain, or commission, jewellery and decorations that matched their needs and tastes. Not that anyone was meant to see these treasures encased in the burial tomb.
Golden details

Golden details


Golden beads

Golden deer
The gleaming riches no-one was meant to see. Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya
Some probably originated on the territory of what is now present-day China; others owe their origins to the Near East, with more seemingly made by Scythians in non-nomadic settlements. Some treasures came from a distance of between 4,000 and 5,000 kilometres from this burial mound, yet at this point there were no contacts with the Ancient Greeks.
Even so, the treasures suggest the lost civilisation of Scythians were culturally more advanced that was once supposed. The experts surmise that it was Scythian craftsmen who cast the daggers, arrowheads, and gold plaques found at this site. 
Decorations on the akinak - or short sword - show similarities to patterns used in Eastern Zhou (Eastern China) at around the same period. Bronze jars found in Inner Mongolia are compatible to a small bowl with horizontal a loop-like handle from the main burial in Arzhan 2.
The same applies to methods used in embroidery and the manufacture of earrings, the latter resembling a technique used close to the Aral Sea, some 3,600 km distant. Remains of fruit and seeds of plants found at Arzhan 2 had also come from far afield.