The first tombs were excavated by the archaeologist Sergei Ivanovich Rudenko beginning in the 1920s. While many of the tombs had already been looted in earlier times, Rudenko unearthed buried horses, and with them immaculately preserved cloth saddles, felt and woolen rugs including the world's oldest pile carpet, a 3-metre-high four-wheel funeral chariot from the 5th century BC and other splendid objects that had escaped the ravages of time. These finds are now exhibited at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
The most famous undisturbed Pazyryk burial so far recovered is the "Ice Maiden" found by archaeologist Natalia Polosmak in 1993, a rare example of a single woman given a full ceremonial wooden chamber-tomb in the 5th century BC, accompanied by six horses. It had been buried over 2,400 years ago in a casket fashioned from the hollowed-out trunk of a larch tree. On the outside of the casket were stylized images of deer and snow leopards carved in leather. Shortly after burial the grave had apparently been flooded by freezing rain and the entire contents of the burial chamber had remained frozen in permafrost. Six horses wearing elaborate harnesses 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 as if asleep. She was young; her hair was still blonde; she had been 5 feet 6 inches tall. Even the animal style tattoos were preserved on her pale skin: creatures with horns that develop into flowered forms. Her coffin was made large enough to accommodate the high felt headdress she was wearing, which had 15 gilded wooden birds sewn to it. On a gold buckle retrieved from another tomb, a similar woman's headdress intertwined with branches of the tree of life are depicted. Her blouse was originally thought to be made of wild "tussah" silk but closer examination of the fibers indicate the material is not Chinese but came from somewhere else, perhaps India. She was clad in a long crimson woolen skirt and white felt stockings. Near her coffin was a vessel made of yak horn, and dishes containing gifts of coriander seeds: all of which suggest that the Pazyryk trade routes stretched across vast areas of Asia. Similar dishes in other tombs was thought to have held Cannabis sativa, confirming a practice described by Herodotus but after tests the mixture was found to be coriander seeds, probably used to disguise the smell of the body.
Two years after the discovery of the "Ice Maiden" Dr. Polosmak's husband, Vyacheslav Molodin, found a frozen man, elaborately tattooed with an elk, with two long braids that reached to his waist, buried with his weapons.
As recently as January 2007, tombs are still discovered at various locations, such as the timber tomb of a blond chieftain warrior that was unearthed in the permafrost of the Altai mountains region close to the Mongolian border. The body of the presumed Pazyryk chieftain is tattooed; his sable coat is well-preserved, as are some other objects, including what looks like scissors. A local archaeologist, Aleksei Tishkin, complained that the indigenous population of the region strongly disapproves of archaeological digs, prompting the scientists to move their activities across the border to Mongolia.
It has been suggested that Pazyryk was a homeland for these tribes before they migrated west. There is also the possibility that the current inhabitants of the Altai region are descendants of the Pazyryk culture, a continuity that would accord with current ethnic politics: DNA is now being used to study the Pazyryk mummies.
Voevoda M.I.1,3, Sitnikova V.V.1, Romaschenko A.G.1+, Chikisheva T.A.2, Polos'mak N.V.2, Molodin V.I.2
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