Examining the Stunning Treasures - and Macabre Slaughter - in the Siberian Valley of the Kings
By Olga Gertcyk, The Siberian Times
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.
Unknown warrior was found literally covered in gold alongside 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.
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.
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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.'
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.