Siberian Ice Maiden

“When we get our past lost we lose our meaning, and….”, says Karl Gustav Jung.

Altai region is one of the most significant places in the world. Edward Suess once called the Altai the “ancient crown of Asia”, but nowadays the most famous part of Altai, the Plateau Ukok is known as a place where four states meet: Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China. It is situated 7,500 feet above the sea level. Summer in this area may be deceptively warm, throwing the normally frozen ground, but the winters with the 40 degrees minus under the Celsium are joined by harsh winds that keep the snow off the grass. This territory is marginally affected by human activities as they are not economically developed mountain region. It does not have large-scale industry of big cities. On the local dialect Ukok means “the end of everything”. Due to its geographical position, severe climactic conditions and mountain relief it has rich biological diversity and many secrets buried in the ground. Plateau Ukok has a small area but it stands on a very mystic crossroads of four world’s major religions - Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and Shamanism.

Scynthian civilization is of a special relevance in Altai region. This culture is about 2,500 years old. Its remains are found in all four countries. They can be found because of severe climactic conditions of this region. Most of the remains are frozen in permafrost burial mounds. It was found that civilization was flourished here during the prehistoric period and was never isolated from the rest of Asia.  First who started seriously excavate kurgan burials in Altai was Sergiy Rudenko in 1929. Since that time tombs of the Pazyryk Valley were discovered.

One of the most significant and spectacular discoveries since that time is a mummy of a young woman found by a group of archeologists, in 1993, led by Natalia Polosmak, Candidate of Historical Sciences. This mummy got a lot of names such as “Princess of Ukok”, “Siberian Ice Maiden”, “Princess of Altai”, “Ochy -Bala”, “A mummy unearthed from the pastures of heaven”, says  Mary Lynn E. Turner(2009) and explains that “this woman was the first to be found buried alone, interred six horses and frozen beneath a kurgan mound for 2,400 years”.

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Jan Adkins (1998) describes:

 “She was dressed in glorious finery—fine-woven wool skirt, wild-silk blouse, an elaborate high-status headpiece, and jewelry of wonderful craftsmanship. Interred with household items and familiar treasures, she was laid to rest with respect and reverence .Her finely wrought coffin, sealed with massive metal nails, was accompanied by six horses, ensuring her status and freedom of movement in the next world. The finds suggest that the society of tribal horse nomads she left behind must have been stable and wealthy.”

What we know for surely is that this woman had a special place in society. Women were never buried alone, but this one was.  “Six horses wearing elaborate harness had been sacrificed and lay on the logs which formed the roof of the burial chamber. The maiden’s well-preserved body, carefully embalmed with peat and bark, was arranged to lie on her side of asleep. She was young, her hair was still blonde: she had been 1.68 meters (5ft 6 in tall)” says Hans van Roon (2010).  She was not a simple woman. The body wore a flowing woolen skirt and a silk tunic. It also had a wooden headdress decorated by eight carved cats covered with gold. Altai Princess was not a simple woman, but she also was not a noble person. Tattoos on her body, especially a deer on her wrist and a mythical creature of a special design on her shoulder are an example of middle class person. Pazyryks could not give six horses to every member of their society, who died. So, this woman must have done something very important to “deserve such treatment”. But still she had not blue blood, not a “Princess Caddin”, mother of Altai.

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What culture does this mummy belong to? –Gathered under the singular term Scytho-Siberian, pazyryks built a culture around the horses.

A film made by the company NOVA (1998) explains us:

“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.”

Siberian Ice Maiden was found in a ceremonial wooden chamber-tomb, decorated with appliques depicting deer figures. The ground was covered with black felt.

The coffin was secured with large heavy copper nails. On each side there were four of them. Natalia Polosmak says us in the film (1998) “The nails held the lid tightly down and helped trap the water that ran into the coffin.” Long time ago the water turned to ice, rock-solid and milky white, concealing the coffin's secrets.

Natalia Polosmak (1998) says in her interview in the film: “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.”  When the ice went down the skin of a woman started to darken. Scientists decided to bring the body into the laboratory and helicoptered it to Novosibirsk and here it started. The engine failed. They had to make an emergency landing. Inhabitants of Altai nowadays say that it was mummy’s unwilling to leave a tomb. At least mummy came to the University, “hardy fungus attacked air-exposed skin and began to damage it. Russian scientists chose to inter her in the same kind of pickling vat that preserved the bodies of Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin” (Adkins, 1998).

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From that time a battle between Altai people with their ancient beliefs and scientists started.  Social and political controversies started to arise over a mummy. “Lady’s” tomb was excavated by Russian archeologists and brought into Russian city, still after the falter of Soviet Socialists Republic the Republic of Altay started to put demands on this mummy and its restitution. People who live on Altay have a very strong connection with their ancestors and believe it should be reburied. This campaign on a rebury of the Ice Maiden started after a strong earthquake that was felt also in Novosibirsk, where the mummy was at that time. Au khan Djatkambayev, the head of the Kosh-Agach administration mentioned that not only the earthquake was a bad sign but also the amount of suicides and deaths rose up.

In spring of the year 2004 the meetings in Altai republic started. Probably in this time the mummy got a name ‘Princess’. The mummy was promised to come back when there will be a place for her. This year it was brought to the museum in Novosibirsk. “Fewer than thirty people a day enter the building, either by going through certain channels, or by joining in a foreign tourist group. Although there is a suggestion that scientists are still studying her, it is my humble opinion that they are not only dragging their feet, but there is a greater chance of winning the lottery than seeing their work”(Turner, 1998).

There is really a great debate between scientists on the ethnicity of a Snow-Maiden. “With her burial 600 miles north of Turpan, there have been those who have attributed her to the Scythians as well as the Yuezhi, the Wusun, the Ziongnu, and the Arimasptians of Aristae’s” (Turner, 2009).  After a lot of DNA analysis from kurgans in this area it was found that Pazyryks were not complete Caucasians, not purely Mongolian. “Because of the trade and the obvious intermarriage between cultures across the steppes, as the Scythians were varying mixtures of both!” (Van Noten, Francis and Natalia Polosmak, 1995).  But Tatyana Balueva believes that she is a clear cut representative of a Caucasian race with any features of a Mongolian race. Her study says that “the shape of the eye sockets and flatness of face can determine racial type. From the study of living people she estimates the thickness of the skin” (NOVA, 1998).

But the director of Altai National Museum Rima Eriknova absolutely disagrees that the mummy has got any features of Mongol race. Rudolph Hauri also found it more Mongolic than Caucasian. He believes her nose and orbits are untypically Caucasian.

The director of the museum believes that one day the mummy will be reburied, that she will come there where she needs to be. People who live on Altai are very proud of their ancestors and for them burning means going to rest. No one can disturb the dead, in case he/she will then he/she will pay. Some scientists who discovered the “Princess” after coming back home had a very bad sleep and problems with their health.

Because of their meetings people of Altai did not get a chance to rebury their ancestor, but what they did was a ban for further exploration of the Plateau Ukok. Scientists are really sad about it “as it was ideal place to explore the past” says Natalia Polosmak.

When in 1993 she and her husband Vyacheslav Molodin went to Altai she could not have imagined finding such a miracle. For many years she was studying archeology and especially Pazyryk culture. Ice-Maiden was Natalia Polosmak’s archeological triumph. A couple of Vyacheslav Molodin and Natalia Polosmak are the most significant representatives in nowadays archeology. They are attached by the Novosibirsk University. They had not enough money to go and conduct a dig alone so they conducted a group of scientists from Belgium. It means that their research was funded by the Fund for Fundamental and Collective Research.  “She is soft-spoken and refined, slender, with deep brown eyes, long brown hair, but with a scholar's intellect, she was not only beautiful but also endowed with an exceptional ability to win friends and influence people. More than once frozen-faced former communist officials took exception to their rules, just to help her out” says Edvard P. Rich (2001).

Natalia Polosmak went with an independent witness, an American student to the East and her husband went to the south of Ukok. Soldiers were people who showed them places where might be burnings. They also helped these two girls to move stones, carry water from nearby lakes and heat it to melt the ice.

In 2004 Vyacheslav Molodin and Nataliya Polosmak were awarded with the State Award in the field of Science and Technology for the discovery and study of the Pazyryc complexes in Altai. Their discovery and research started a new stage in the study of not only the Pazyryk culture, but in general the Scythian perspective, which is an important part of the history of the ancient world, culture and civilization. Thorough and comprehensive study of permafrost found in the lenses of highly pieces of wood, felt, fabric, leather and two mummies of men and women exposed to embalming and mummification, the world's first archaeological practice has created reconstruction of the lifestyle of Pazyryk population residing in Altai 2.5 thousands of years ago. Their habits, clothing, ammunition, food, ideological views, historical trends and cultural relations were restored due to their research.

In the course of scientific research Polosmak developed new approaches and methods for the first time in this volume, data of physical, chemical, biomedical and other indications. Complexes investigated by Natalia Polosmak are important for understanding the key problems of the ancient history of Eurasia. Actually it is opening a highly cultured Eurasian civilization that greatly expands our understanding of the ancient world in general.

The entire world's media wrote virtually about the discovery of the plateau Ukok. In 1998, UNESCO decided to put Ukok plateau into the list of the World Heritage. The uniqueness of the received material, as well as the extent of its multi-faceted research and comprehension, basic and scientific validity of the results of Polosmak’s  discovery are the phenomenon of world-class,  a significant contribution to the world of archeology and history.

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