This unique discovery in the extreme north of Russia was part of an elaborate burial of a child from an elite family, aged no older than three when he or she died.

Skull of 1,000-year-old Arctic Chieftain's Infant Heir Found Encased in Persian Bronze Bowl

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By The Siberian Times reporter

The skull pieces were discovered by archaeologists above the Arctic Circle on the remote permafrost Gydan peninsula close to the Kara Sea in Yamalo-Nenets autonomous region.

Scientists last year announced the find of the turquoise-coloured bronze bowl fragment - originally from Persia, some 6,000 kilometers to the south -  but now say that this unique discovery in the extreme north of Russia was part of an elaborate burial of a child from an elite family, aged no older than three when he or she died. Earlier the bowl was identified as a cup.

Archaeologist Andrey Gusev, researcher at the Arctic Research Centre, Salekhard, suggested the child was born to a medieval polar potentate. 

'There were no signs of a burial on the surface. Of course, on one hand, it is a pity that the burial was partly destroyed by wind erosion. But it helped us to find it. We just saw the bowl on the surface.' Pictures: Press-service YANAO, Andrey Gusev
'There were no signs of a burial on the surface. Of course, on one hand, it is a pity that the burial was partly destroyed by wind erosion. But it helped us to find it. We just saw the bowl on the surface.' Pictures: Press-service YANAO, Andrey Gusev
'There were no signs of a burial on the surface. Of course, on one hand, it is a pity that the burial was partly destroyed by wind erosion. But it helped us to find it. We just saw the bowl on the surface.' Pictures: Press-service YANAO, Andrey Gusev

'There were no signs of a burial on the surface. Of course, on one hand, it is a pity that the burial was partly destroyed by wind erosion. But it helped us to find it. We just saw the bowl on the surface.' Pictures: Press-service YANAO, Andrey Gusev

'We can definitely say that this child was not ordinary,' he said. 'He or she was from some wealthy family, judging by the things laid in the grave. The parents could afford quite expensive things, especially the bowl - it was imported.'

Fragments of fur clothes or animal skins along with a ceramic vessel were also preserved in the grave which was not found in a burial ground. The blade of a knife in the tundra grave does not survive, but its handle and sheath are elaborately decorated in a zoomorphic pattern. 

A small temple ring was also found. 

'The parents could afford quite expensive things, especially the bowl - it was imported.' Pictures: Vesti Yamal, Andrey Gusev, Veronika Mogritskaya
'The parents could afford quite expensive things, especially the bowl - it was imported.' Pictures: Vesti Yamal, Andrey Gusev, Veronika Mogritskaya
'The parents could afford quite expensive things, especially the bowl - it was imported.' Pictures: Vesti Yamal, Andrey Gusev, Veronika Mogritskaya

'The parents could afford quite expensive things, especially the bowl - it was imported.' Pictures: Vesti Yamal, Andrey Gusev, Veronika Mogritskaya

Medical expert Evgenia Syatova, from Yekaterinburg, said: 'When archaeologists suspected it could be a burial, they just cut also the soil beneath the bowl and sent it to me.

'I cleaned it and found fragments of a baby's skull, so it confirms 100% that it was a burial.' The baby was aged between six months and three years old when it died, she said. 

'Sadly, we cannot be more precise,' said Gusev.

'The burial itself dates to the 10th to 12th centuries, so it is about 1,000-year-old. We date the burial by the (Persian) bowl and also by the bronze decoration of the sheath and bronze handle of the knife. 

'We date the burial by the (Persian) bowl and also by the bronze decoration of the sheath and bronze handle of the knife.' Pictures: Vesti Yamal, Press-service YANAO
'We date the burial by the (Persian) bowl and also by the bronze decoration of the sheath and bronze handle of the knife.' Pictures: Vesti Yamal, Press-service YANAO
'We date the burial by the (Persian) bowl and also by the bronze decoration of the sheath and bronze handle of the knife.' Pictures: Vesti Yamal, Press-service YANAO

'We date the burial by the (Persian) bowl and also by the bronze decoration of the sheath and bronze handle of the knife.' Pictures: Vesti Yamal, Press-service YANAO

'The knife itself was made of iron and it actually did not preserve - we could see only there traces of it.'

The bowl originates from modern day Iran. 

Gusev said: 'The bowl, or more correctly, a large fragment was laid in the ground upside down. It is not clear yet if initially the bowl was intact or a fragment was placed to cover part of the head.' 

He said experts are seeking to explain where the child's clan originated from to settle in the inhospitable Gydan peninsula in the middle ages. It is likely ancient traders seeking walrus tusks, hunting birds and fur brought the bowl to the north.


Silver Sassanian dish found on river Synya, dated back 4 - 5 centuries AD (top). Nildin dish, made in Middle Asia in 8 - early 9 centuries AD (bottom). Pictures: Arkady Baulo

Scientist Dr Arkady Baulo, from Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Novosibirsk, said: 'From the 6th and 7th centuries AD Central Asian merchants began to appear in the Upper Kama region. They exported walrus tusks, hunting birds and fur from the north. 

The grave was exposed by wind erosion. 

'We were extremely lucky to find it,' said Gusev. 'There were no signs of a burial on the surface. Of course, on one hand, it is a pity that the burial was partly destroyed by wind erosion. 

'But it helped us to find it. We just saw the bowl on the surface.' 

The skull pieces were discovered by archeologists above the Arctic Circle on the remote permafrost Gydan peninsula close to the Kara Sea in Yamalo-Nenets autonomous region.

Top image: This unique discovery in the extreme north of Russia was part of an elaborate burial of a child from an elite family, aged no older than three when he or she died. Picture: Vesti Yamal

The article  Skull of 1,000 year old Arctic chieftain's infant heir found encased in Persian bronze bowl ’ originally appeared on The Siberian Times and has been republished with permission. 

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