Tattooed Owners of the World's Oldest Carpets Get Health Check After 2,200 Years

Tattooed Owners of the World's Oldest Carpets Get Health Check After 2,200 Years

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By The Siberian Times reporter

A mummified potentate and his wife were found in a burial mound 42 metres in diameter. They went to the next life alongside nine saddled and harnessed geldings. Now, new technology has been used to obtain the secrets of these two ancient mummies excavated from their grave in the Altai Mountains in 1949. 

The pair are seen as a local chieftain from the Pazyryk culture and his wife or concubine who was interred alongside him, evidently with cannabis burning in the burial chamber. Their remains - preserved because they were encased in ice for thousands of years in the valley of the River Bolshoy Ulagan - are held in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

s scan is the first of its kind for the world-famous Hermitage.

This scan is the first of its kind for the world-famous Hermitage. Picture: The State Hermitage Museum

Now, the body of the curly-haired male, between 55 and 60 when he died, and the woman, some ten years younger, have been scanned to create tomographic images using a Siemens SOMATOM Emotion in 16 separate modes.

Multi-disciplinary analysis will be undertaken by a team including radiologists, biological anthropologists, archaeologists and other scientists, with the results announced later. This scan is the first of its kind for the world-famous Hermitage. The aim is to establish the cause of death, reconstruct the appearance of the ancient pair, and to study the techniques of mummification in more detail.

Their remains were preserved because they were encased in ice for thousands of years in the valley of the River Bolshoy Ulagan, Altai Mountains. Pictures: The Siberian Times, StanRadar, Sergey Rudenko

Most of the treasures of the grave were robbed in prehistoric times, but famously two carpets remained - which are the oldest in the world. They contain remarkable images - shown in these striking pictures - of life in the Pazyryk era in Siberia. 

Inside the vast mound was a wooden burial chamber covered with logs. In the large sarcophagus lay the two bodies, on which are intriguing tattoos. Soviet archeologist Sergey Rudenko - who led the excavation - wrote after his discovery: 'Both the man and woman were of Caucasoid type.’

Exhibition with the findings from the burial mound in Hermitage. Male body. Large sarcophagus. Chariot. Pictures: KunstWerk, Dmitry Koshcheev, The State Hermitage Museum

'Their hair was soft, the man's a little curly and dark. The woman's dark brown. Their faces were long and narrow, the man had a sharply protruding aquiline nose. The man's head, except for the back, was shaved. The woman's head was also shaved, except for a pigtail that was on top. Both bodies were mummified using the same method. The skulls were trepanned and the brain was removed. Through a slice in the abdomen, from the ribs to the groin, the intestines were removed.’

The felt carpet was decorated with multi-colour applique including sewn figures more than 1 metre in height, carved from fine coloured felt. Pictures: Dmitry Koshcheev, The State Hermitage Museum

'In addition, through special sections of the chest, back, arms, and legs all the muscles of the body were removed, so that only the skeleton and skin remained.'

The burial ritual then involved restoring the shape of the human form by stuffing the remains with horsehair. The cuts in the skin were also sewn with horsehair.

Archeologists found traces of an incense burner, sheep and goat skins, and shards of pots. 

The world’s earliest pile-woven carpet. Pictures: The State Hermitage Museum

Guarding the burial chamber were nine horses - all geldings - with saddles and complete harnesses, decorated with wooden figurines of griffins, a lion or tiger, a saiga antelope, deer, and felt. 

Two precious carpets lay undisturbed, the most ancient ever found. One was made of felt - 4.5 by 6.5 metres in size; it was probably originally a wall hanging. It was decorated with multi-colour applique including sewn figures more than 1 metre in height, carved from fine coloured felt. The central scene shows a rider approach a throne on which a goddess is seated with a flowering branch in her hand.


Male tattoos: feline predator on the right shoulder, images of birds on his hands and ungulates on the leg. Pictures: Lyudmila Barkova

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