Tashtyk Death Mask Scan Reveals Evidence of Prehistoric Surgery
The surgically enhanced face and skull of an ancient tattooed Tashtyk man, hidden behind a stirring gypsum death mask for 1,700 years, has been 3D-visualized for the first time.
Discovered wearing a fur coat in a burial log house at the Oglakhty burial ground in the mountainous region of the Republic of Khakassia, a federal subject of Russia, the tattooed man was aged between 25 to 30-years-old when he died around 1,700 years ago. Now, a new CT scan of the Tashtyk death mask has revealed the face of the ancient Tashtyk man revealing he had brown hair with a pigtail that had been cut off before his burial, and a scar on his face that had been stitched after his death “perhaps to mend his disfigured face after a wound, possibly a fatal blow, to improve his looks before his journey to the afterlife.”
The scans revealed a long scar on the side of his face, from the left eye to the ear. ( ©The State Hermitage Museum / The Siberian Times )
Evidence of Ancient Cranial Surgery Discovered
The Tashtyk culture were settled cattle breeders and farmers who existed between the 1st and 7th centuries AD in the Minusinsk Basin of the Yenisei River valley of central Russia, one of the longest rivers in Asia. The Oglakhty necropolis was originally discovered by a shepherd in 1902. Local researcher Alexander Adrianov opened an excavation in 1903 during which three graves were explored, but it was in 1969 that Professor Leonid Kyzlasov discovered this masked man in a larch log house dating to the 3rd or 4th centuries AD.
Professor Leonid Kyzlasov excavated the Oglakhty burial ground in 1969 and found this Tashtyk masked man in tomb number four. ( ©The State Hermitage Museum. Leonid Kyzlasov / The Siberian Times )
In 2015 Ancient Origins reported that an entire funerary system had been discovered with over 30 burials and a recent report in the Siberian Times details the work of Dr. Svetlana Pankova, curator at the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg , and keeper of the Siberian collection of the Department of Archaeology, who studied the man’s skull. Pankova found the man’s facial scar was “not the only evidence of postmortem work by ancient surgeons” as his skull had also been “trepanned in the temporal area on the left side with a 6 by 7 centimeter diameter hole” which was executed by a series of blows with a chisel type or hammer type tool.
“They could not just put a mask on the disfigured face,” says Dr. Pankova, since Tashtyk people took all these postmortem rites very seriously. In the Siberian Times article, Pankova explains that her team of researchers think the hole was “made to remove the brain during an elaborate burial rite” and that the facial scar can be explained similarly.
Male and female Tashtyk death masks are painted differently: the man’s painted red with black stripes, and the woman’s with spirals and scrolls. (© The State Hermitage Museum. Vladimir Terebenin, Pavel Demidov / The Siberian Times )
Symbolic Gender Differences During Ancient Burial Rites
The Tashtyk death mask features black stripes on a reddish background, while his teeth show through a damaged section on the lower part of the mask. According to Dr. Pankova, when combined the features create “an aggressive look” but beneath the mask the CT scan revealed that the face was that of “a calmly sleeping person.” Ideally, an experienced surgeon would now step in and remove the mask to try and determine if the facial scar and cranial hole were indeed made postmortem, but that would cause too much damage to both the mask and the man’s face.
For this reason, the scientists analyzed the stitching using alternative, less intrusive, CT scanning methods. The CT scan revealed three layers: the mask, the layer of the face without the mask and the layer of the skull. The faces of a woman and a child discovered in the same burial chamber will now be recreated with a similar CT scan to determine if the three people were related. It is already known that male and female masks are painted differently, with the women ’s featuring red spirals and scrolls while the man’s tended to be painted red with black stripes.
In the grave there were also two full dummies, a kind of mannequin made of leather filled with tightly twisted grass. (© The State Hermitage Museum. Vladimir Terebenin, Pavel Demidov / The Siberian Times )
Also discovered in the wooden grave were two large burial dummies, or stuffed dolls, symbolically male and female, dressed in fur coats with death masks on their faces. The researchers believe they might be evidence of the merging of two cultures or traditions: one that buried their dead and the other that cremated them. This would support existent evidence that men were more often cremated, while women and children were buried. While the earliest bodies were simply buried in the ground, later bodies were cremated leaving only large bones which were were put inside the dummy bodies.
For more images, visit The Siberian Times article .
Top image: A new CT scan of the Tashtyk death mask has uncovered the face of the ancient Tashtyk man, revealing he had a scar on his face from a wound stitched up after his death. Source: ©The State Hermitage Museum / The Siberian Times
By Ashley Cowie