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5,000-Year-Old Masked Figurine Found in Siberian Mass Grave

5,000-Year-Old Masked Figurine Found in Siberian Mass Grave

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Archaeologists have discovered a strange little masked figurine in Siberia. It was found upon the shoulder of a woman who was buried face down in a mass grave 5,000 years ago. The whole scenario has created an alluring archaeological mystery.

Mysterious Burial Rituals of the Odinov Culture

The archaeological team found the masked figurine this summer while excavating a mass burial in the Novosibirsk region of Western Siberia . The grave belonged to members of the Odinov culture , a group of people who lived in the Bronze Age . They were named after a settlement called Odino, which is located near the lower Ishim river in Western Siberia.

Odinov people were primarily involved in hunting, fishing, and animal husbandry. They had sheep, horses, and cattle. They are said to have lived in dug-outs in “an isolated community surrounded by forest-steppe terrain […] situated along the terraces of the rivers and creeks.”

According to the Siberian Times , this interesting little figure was placed on the shoulder of a woman who had been laid face down on top of a man. The couple had been wrapped in birch bark that was set ablaze before they were buried. There was another man and woman who were found underneath their remains in this tiered grave – which is said to have been ‘typical’ in the Odinov culture’s funerary habits.

The masked figurine (circled) was found at the shoulder of a woman who was buried in a mass grave discovered in Western Siberia. (Novosibirsk Institute of Archeology and Ethnography/The Siberian Times)

The masked figurine (circled) was found at the shoulder of a woman who was buried in a mass grave discovered in Western Siberia. (Novosibirsk Institute of Archeology and Ethnography /The Siberian Times)

In May 2019, another bizarre skeletal discovery was made linked to the Odinov culture. In that incident, archaeologists found an individual’s remains wearing a collar, headdress, or possibly armor made out of bird beaks. As with this new discovery, the bird beak wearing skeleton was also described as unlike other Odinov burials. Researcher Lilia Kobeleva from the Novosibirsk Institute of Archeology and Ethnography, said “Nothing of this kind was ever found as part of Odinov culture in all of Western Siberia.”

30 – 40 bird beaks and heads were found in another unique Odinov burial. (Novosibirsk Institute of Archeology and Ethnography/ The Siberian Times)

30 – 40 bird beaks and heads were found in another unique Odinov burial. ( Novosibirsk Institute of Archeology and Ethnography / The Siberian Times)

The Masked Figurine

Returning to the palm-sized statuette, it is made of clay and the ancient artisan who crafted it even created a little mask out of a horse vertebra for it to wear. Archaeologists think that the bone mask probably had the appearance of a bear muzzle.

When the mask is removed from the figurine, a person sees that there is a little stripe along the statuette’s face. Siberian Times reports that this line symbolized a tattoo. Professor Vyacheslav Molodin, head of the excavations at the site, says that “the face of the figurine had clear Caucasian features,” which differed from the appearance of the people with whom it was buried.

The researchers don’t know if the clay figurine was meant to represent a male or female figure, which the professor says is “unusual,” and they also are uncertain if it had originally had clothing. Archaeologists found the statuette placed face down in the grave, like the woman. For some unknown reason ‘its head was broken off and turned upside down so that it ‘looked up’ in a ritual yet unseen by Novosibirsk archeologists,’ according to Siberian Times.

For some unknown reason the masked figurine’s “head was broken off and turned upside down.” (Novosibirsk Institute of Archeology and Ethnography /Siberian Times)

A final point of interest about the masked figurine is that it was made with a hollowed out middle section. This contained a bronze plate and some unknown organic material , which is undergoing chemical testing.

A Discovery Worthy of Any Major Museum

Professor Vyacheslav Molodin emphasized the importance of the discovery of the masked statuette to Siberian Times, stating:

“This is without a doubt the find of the season, the find that any world museum from the Hermitage to the Louvre museum would love to exhibit. We’ve never come across anything like this, despite our extensive knowledge of the Odinov culture’s burial rites. The woman must have been an unusual person to have such a figurine ‘escorting’ her to the afterlife.”

Hopefully the results of the chemical testing will help the archaeologists find out more abut this unusual person and her strange, little, masked figurine “escort.”

Top Image: This strange little masked figurine was discovered in a mass grave in Siberia. Source: Novosibirsk Institute of Archeology and Ethnography /The Siberian Times

By Alicia McDermott

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