Scythian Steeds Author(s): Zainullah Samashev and Henri-Paul Francfort Source: Archaeology, Vol. 55, No.

3 (May/June 2002), pp. 32-35 Published by: Archaeological Institute of America Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41779577 . Accessed: 15/09/2013 11:42
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j tionalexcavation would expose themto temperatures thatcould accelerate > the decomposition of the organicremains. DNA researchis ongoing. griffin.all once shiningbrilliantly otherwooden ornaments in gold leaf against red felt saddle blankets. but the size of the horses suggeststhey be to breeds that in theAltaiMountainsto thisday. Those who roamedwhat is Kazakhstan and southernSiberia were knownas the "Saka." a word today 32 • May/June 2002 Archaeology This content downloaded from 190. we excavatedone of in theAltaiMountainsof easternKazakhstan.sometimebetween 330 and 270 b. the Scythiansdominated a vast swath of land stretching fromSiberia to the Black Sea.300 years. Between 800 and 300 b.c. sheep.192.It was also an essentialcompanionin the afterlife and the elite could expect to be buried in large mounds.suggesting the Scythians may | Scythian Steeds Blocks of frozen earth yield the remains of horses bearing extravagant regalia. Decorativewooden bands on the otherhorsesdepictedstylized heads of animals or mythical a and monsters. The horseswere also decoratedwithpendants. The eclectic style of the decorative elements showsthatthe isolatedAltaiScythians had been influenced bycivilizations thatlayfarfrom theirnativemountains.garlands. In along with several sacrificedhorses.a conven.the world of the Scythians. One of themwore largewooden ibex horns.162. the horse was the single most i animal. Because theyhad been entombedin frozenor near-frozen earth forover 2. In 1998. 15 Sep 2013 11:42:33 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . by Zainullah Samashev and Henri-Paul Francfort photographs byHenri-Paul Francfort/MAFAC c Ë £ 1 have believedthe dead journeyedto the afterlife on the back of a wild animal. We solvedthe problem bytaking still-frozen blocksofearthfrom the siteand bringing themback to a laborain Almaty. hornedlion.c. Kazakhstan's Thanks to meticulous"excavation" tory largest city.including moose. we now knowin whichseason the horsesdied and theirage at death.enablingthese Eurasiansteppe nomadsto traverse important vastdistances.202 on Sun. related live might We've also been able to reconstruct the extravagant regaliawornby the horses when theywere sacrificed. or kurgans. and ." January/February 2000). in the lab. thesegreatkurgans Within the mound were the extraordinary remains of 13 sacrificed horses ("Equus on Ice.

^ This content downloaded from 190. horses.). BelFrance. in and Russia fields as varied as gium. capturedthe publics imagination when a Soviet expedition discoveredroyalburials at the site of Pazyryk in 1927.75 feet in diameterand feet is one of eightin a Scythiancemetery on eight high. ornaClothing.it was clear that temperatureshovering aroundfreezing some 13 feetbelow the surfacehad maintained excellentpreservation of the remainsin the burial was It also clear that the burial was stillrichin imporpit. where in 1996 we selected a kurgannear the village of www.162. paleobotany.used by the ancient Persians.org Berel' forexcavation.c. After two months ogy. sacrificed and even tattooed mummies ments. our team included researchers fromKazakhstan. who encountered the in a seriesof battlesduringthe reignof Darius Scythians 521-486 tombsof the Saka first b. By the timeexcavation began in August1998. The levelof preservation was astonishing. the Bukhtarma River. had survived. 15 Sep 2013 11:42:33 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .high in the Altai Mountains. The tomb.Italy.we were drawnto KazaHopingto findsimilar khstan'sBukhtarma Valley. of excavating. burials.192.archaeology.202 on Sun. The frozen (r. working geomorpholand dendrochronology.

is thelargest 11. The 13 sacrificedhorses in the north of the pit were buried in two levels covered by twigs and birch-bark sheets. After the pit. we decidedto stoptheexcavation and protect the burialwithmetalfoilblankets. Even the horses' skin and hair color werepreserved. graverobbers thetombin ancienttimes. off with making grave goodslike and metal With winter goldjewelry weaponry.the bodyof an elderly womanwas deposited in the same coffin and covered with wooden debris.192. wereplacedinthenorth half ofthe while a coffin. having just recentlybegun to decay. probably behind thelooters. plastic The borderpatrolvolunteered to keep an eye on the site untilthespring. then cut blocks three feet by three feetand storedthemin a refrigerated truck parked near the dig. Kurgan intheBerel' mound Scythian Thesacrificed horses cemetery. 15 Sep 2013 11:42:33 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . We returned in May 1999. right. approaching theAltai.162. whichallowedus to sampleforDNA.we were surprised tipdiscover reopening twoskeletons in a coffin decorated at eacft comerby resting a bronzeeagle-griffin withextended The first to be wings. We excavatedas quicklyas possible to reach the remains. buriedwas a man.below. Double burial in the same coffinwas not common practiceamongAltai Scythians. Perhaps the woman was the widowof the tomb s occupantor anotherrelative. and backfill. taking precious A wooden left shovel.202 on Sun. Anotherpossiis thatthewomanwas from bility anothergroupthattookpossession of the kurgan to mark a claimon theterritory.The first level was partly disturbed by looting but the second was practically intact.his head resting on a woodenpillowand east. grave duginto themost artifacts. and hair. layin thesouth half.tantorganic even though had looted remains. They were then driven to where theywere stored Almaty at -4°F in a refrigerated chamberflown in from France. cleaned them minimally. sheets. Partsof his furclothing and organictissues pointing werepreserved. robbers thekurgan.not longafter that. The man had been pushed violently to the side of his coffin when the tombwas looted. was found by near thecoffin. kurgan. She was found in a similar stateofpreserwith some intact tissue vation. Soonafter theburial. 34 • May/June 2002 Archaeology This content downloaded from 190. and roofedin the dig with wood planks and plastic sheets to protect ourselves fromthe thunderstormstypical of the Altai Mountains in the spring.

to the Altai Mountains.c. Analysis The Scythians were also unwilling shows theirart was a synthesis of ancient local Siberian to partwiththeir horsesforthe sake of ceremony. The rich decoration of harongoing. fourth and third centuries b. But the Scythianattachwereshort.The griffins. making taking photos. topofthehorse's headthat oncedecorated thesideofthe 11coffin resembles Chinese Kurgan closely oftheperiod. 15 Sep 2013 11:42:33 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .the siteformorecompleteexcavations of thecemetery. Theholeleft details. younger Achaemenid Persian art (550-330 b. figures Republicof decoratedthe palace of Darius at Susa. to the team nesses contrastssharply withthe According in the stomach more sober bridlesin use among botanists. Occasionally.org ^ This content downloaded from 190.162. Conservators andJorge left.Persepolis.Once The moose image adorning some of the harnesses this stage of our projectis finished.archaeology. we plan to return to harkens back to SiberianNeolithicand BronzeAge artis.192. Only thenwas a capitals of columns at anotherPersiancenter. left.Lab work Achaemenid Persians and the has also established thatthehorses Greeks. Krym Altynbekov. capital oftheFrench Archaeological www. blow from a pickax is still visible on bya fatal skull.which was nomads at theMargulanInstitute department ofArchaeology from the Black Sea to Mongolia. ofearth horse remains.202 on Sun.pollen and intestines indicatesthe horses sedentary peoples like the were killed in autumn.).recovering organic samples fromthe horses. them. team of archaeologists and conservators able to cut into The imageof the wild sheep is similar to decoration found and on measurements VeterinariAchaemenid horns. and Lab analysis showsthatmostof the sacrificed Berel'horses tradition. containing our horsemenwere not confined reserved for human ornaments. high-status drinking Finally.we do have some initial conclusions. Lab personnel exposed the head of one horse mayhave been inspiredby some stone blocksto roomtemperature forone night.well past their perhaps Warring period prime. aboutfour feettall. the winter Missionin Central Asia. we gatheredin the laboratory to excavate of theAchaemenidEmpire.A wooden belt plaque showinga tigerattacking a deer is typicalof Zainullah Samashev is director and early of theprehistoric the so-called Scytho-Siberiananimal style. a gilded feline Below. styles That winter. ■ tic traditions thatare well knownfrom rockart. Conservation of the horsesfrom Berel'continues. letStates Chinese bronzesand Chinese funerary tinga blast of winterair into the practices.A carvedgriffin placed on the the blocks of frozenearth. We still roomto ensure thatthe temperawonder how such an integration turein thelab remained cold. gold ans and biologists were presentto conduct an autopsyof feline heads found on horse pendants and the burial chamber seem to be inspiredby sorts. of styles was possible in the While analysis of the samplesis remote AltaiMountains. of theAcademy widespread of Sciencesand Ministry of Research of the lions and horned are reminiscent of that Kazakhstan. We also knowfrom the imagery Horse decoration was made out of to gingerly excavate a thawed block begin associated with the regalia that Vasquez but solid metalwas gilded pieces. mentto horsesdid have its limits.c. Henri-Paul Francfort is director sphinxes.Wooden ibexhorns andother wooden gilded ondisplay inAlmaty. of from Chinese art the States the were between nineand 18 yearsold.an the decoration of some Warring assistant wouldopen a window.

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