Buried in a snugly-woven cocoon of copper and fur, the eerie profile of a 12th century AD female corpse head has surprised archaeologists. Theorized to be a member of a medieval fishing and hunting community in the northern part of Siberia, she is the only known adult female who was interred at the major burial ground corresponding to the Zeleny Yar archaeological site near Salekhard. And beyond just her gender, the collaborative team of Russian and South Korean researchers were baffled by the remarkable preservation of the head – that was a consequence of an unintentional mummification process brought on by the local permafrost condition and the aforementioned copper-reinforced ‘cocoon’.
To that end, the greenish tinge on the almost 900-year old specimen comes from the copper traces of a vessel that was buried by her side. This ‘otherworldly’ hue is accompanied by some intricate facial features of the woman (who was 35 years old at the time of her death), including her proverbially pretty (and still intact) eyelashes complemented by a scalp full of hair and impressive set of teeth. On the more objective side of affairs, her skull was further accompanied by a set of badly preserved bones, along with bronze temple rings that were wrapped inside reindeer skin, and bits of birch bark that were (probably) used for her body-bag.
Now as we mentioned before, this Siberian woman is the first known adult female occupant found inside what was previously thought to be a male-dominated ancient cemetery – comprising dozens of men and children. Researchers also found the remnants of a baby (probably female) near her grave, though the child is possibly not related to the woman in question. In any case, the discovery of the remains of a sole adult female at the site, does suggest the possibility that she was an elite member of her community. Archaeologist Alexander Gusev, from Russia’s Arctic Research Center, said –
There are some badly preserved bones, which do not allow us to determine the gender, but he we clearly see from the face that she was a woman. This radically changes our concept about this graveyard. Previously we thought that there were only adult men and children, but now we have a woman. It’s amazing.
Beyond just the ambit of the unknown Siberian woman and her societal status, there are a slew of other mysterious when it comes to the historical scope of this medieval hunting and fishing community of northern Siberia. For example, tantalizingly enough, archaeologists were able to salvage bronze bowls at the Zeleniy Yar burial site that had ancient Persian origins. These ‘exotic’ specimens may have alluded to a trade link that stretched over 3,700 miles south-west from the area.
Furthermore, previously researchers came across a red-haired mummy with a curiously designed bear-depicting bronze buckle at the Zeleniy Yar site. A similar type of motif, in the form of a 2,000-year old bronze ring, was also found at the Ust-Polui site in Siberia, which suggested the possibility of (or affinity towards) a bear-cult in the region.
In any case, reverting to the remarkably preserved mummified head, this is what Prof Dong-Hoon Shin, from Seoul National University, had to say about the uniqueness of the find –
The natural mummification of bodies of the buried is usually observed when certain conditions of the environment – permafrost, the presence of copper objects in the burial – and climate. They are found in deserts and in the north. Arctic mummies, similar to those found in the Zeleny Yar, are very rare. That is why they are unique. Due to the high level of preservation the mummies internal organs are intact, too, which is incredibly interesting for our research.
Source: Siberian Times (link here) / Images Credit: Institute of the Problems of Northern Development SB RAS/Siberian Times