All  
An exceptionally well-preserved mummified body of a woman in traditional Yakut clothes with a copper cross on her chest was found in summer 2019. Picture: Elena Solovyeva

Mummified Woman with Christian Cross Dashes Hopes of Finding Russian Fortress

Print

By The Siberian Times reporter

An exceptionally well-preserved mummified body of a woman in traditional Yakut clothes with a copper cross on her chest has been found on Lena River sand bank and ‘proves a site north of Yakutsk city is not the historic original Cossack settlement’.

The scientific team that worked on discovering traces of the first Russian fortress set up in Yakutia was surprised to see the level of preservation, considering that she had been buried in sand rather than permafrost soil.

Lena River sand bank where the mummified woman was found. Picture: Elena Solovyeva

Another striking feature was the copper cross on her chest. The woman was Christian, we can assume. 

Until now, there has been assumptions that graves at the site where the mummified woman was found - some 70km north of Yakutsk, the regional capital - were of an era that would allow them to be a burial site at the first Russian settlement in Yakutia.

This was known as Lensky Ostrog, and it was founded in 1632 on the order of Cossack Petr Beketov, one of Siberia’s most famous explorers.

Drawing of the Lensky ostrog. Picture: Yakutiatravel.com

Indeed, earlier radiocarbon dating of the graves indicated that burials were from the years 1440 to 1670.

Yet there has been concern that these dates were not reliable, and now the discovery of the well-preserved Christian woman’s grave tends to suggest the burials here are later, from the mid-19th century. 

The woman - while Christian - was almost certainly ethnic Yakut and not Russian.

The body of the mummified woman. Picture: Elena Solovyeva

The head of this year’s emergency excavation at the site Elena Solovyova, researcher at Arctic Research Centre of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), told The Siberian Times: 'The woman buried in a wooden coffin was very well-preserved, including her soft tissues in the process of natural mummification.

'I can't quite understand yet why the body got mummified, since sand is rather aggressive to all organic material; possibly because the woman was buried in winter.

'Clothes she wore on the lower part of her body, including fur-lined shorts (a piece of traditional female underwear at the time in Yakutia) and long fur-lined leather stockings up to her hips have also preserved.'   

On these stockings the woman had 'torbasa', traditional Yakut soft leather boots lined up with fur.

Clothes on top of the woman body didn't preserve. 

Excavations of the cemetery made by 'Russky Sever' Foundation in 2014. Pictures: Andrey Khoroshev

The only item she took with her to the afterlife was a copper cross on her chest. 

‘After we cleaned this cross, we noticed that it didn't quite look traditional,' said Elena Solovyova. 

‘We analyzed the inscriptions and came to the conclusion that they were made by a local Yakutian master because there were some ‘mistakes’ in the lettering.'

The copper cross found on the mummified woman. Picture: Elena Solovyeva

Elena Solovyova said: ‘We did not carry the full morphological research of this woman, even though there was a plan to take the skulls of people buried on this cemetery, to understand their anthropological type. 

‘I could not do this by ethical reasons. The woman was mummified, she wasn't just scattered bones, and I could not make myself separate her head from the body.

‘I'm certain that she was Yakut. She was quite a short, about 150 centimetres, aged woman laid to rest in a set of traditional Yakut clothes.'

The find helped to understand that this burial could not be related to the first Russian settlement in Yakutia, as the researchers initially thought. 

As Elena explained, the more recent graveyard which they studied this summer could have been built at the place of a much older one, but the team hasn't found any proof of it yet. 

Excavations of the cemetery made by 'Russky Sever' Foundation in 2014. Pictures: Andrey Khoroshev

The search goes on for this fortress which is a key site in the Russian history of Siberia. 

It existed only two years before being flooded, when a decision was made to move to the site of Yakutsk. 

It was from Lensky Ostrog that in 1633 Tobolsk Cossack Ivan Rebrov with a detachment of Yenisei Cossacks led by Ilya Perfilyev, went down the Lena River and reached the shores of the Arctic Ocean. This was also the first Russian sea voyage from the mouth of river Lena. 

The archaeological expedition in 2019 joined the forces of Arctic Research Centre of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), the Yakutsk regional branch of the Russian Geographical Society, and the All-Russian Society for the Protection of Monuments of History and Culture.

Top image: An exceptionally well-preserved mummified body of a woman in traditional Yakut clothes with a copper cross on her chest was found in summer 2019. Picture: Elena Solovyeva

The article ‘ A mummified woman with a Christian cross dashes hopes of finding first Russian fortress in Yakutia ’ was originally published on The Siberian Times and has been republished with permission.

Next article