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Сегодня 9 December 2021 г.
11 September 2011

Burials of Scythian warriors found in Valley of Tsars (Tuva)

Viktoriya Kondrashova, tuvpravda.ru. Translated by Heda Jindrak

Burials of Scythian warriors found in Valley of Tsars (Tuva)A huge kurgan wit a diameter of more than 100 meters, where, possibly, the very same people are resting who raised Arzhaan-2  - that is the so-called elite funerary-memorial complex Chinge-Tei I.  South-Siberian archeological expedition headed by Konstantin Vladimirovich Chugunov has been occupied with study of this historical monument already for three years.

This year, 25 scientists have been working on excavations of this monument. So far, only a small proportion of the work has been finished. In three years, a small part on the edge of the kurgan has been dug up, it is still far from the center, and to excavate that, technology has to be brought in.  Financing of the project, performed by the State hermitage is not that large, and the work moves only slowly. However, the scientists are glad: nobody hurries them, and it is possible to study the object in  scrupulous detail.  There is plenty to study. The kurgan is interesting both by its structure and by the finds. Chugunov himself speaks of the results of his studies willingly, even though he does not consider them to be something special.




-  This is normal systematic work, thank god, without anything sensational. That kind of stuff only presents obstacles to work. The main burial in Arzhaan-2 was really opened only in the second year of the work. And then we had to work for three years under the pressure of morbid interest - - gold, kilograms of it… Understand, it is not a matter of kilograms. It is ancient art. If the finds had been made of bronze, it would have been much simpler. I explained it so many times before.  And more than that. Bronze, with oxidation of copper, conserves organic materials. Wherever there is a massive bronze artifact - in any kinds of deposition, everything that lies around it is preserved - fabrics, clothing. If all those five thousand plaques from Arzhaan-2 were bronze, the clothing to which they were fastened would have been preserved as well. But gold - it does not corrode, but neither does it preserve anything, and it even causes too much excitement.

Tell us about Chinge-Tei, Konstantin Vladimirovich. What type of a complex is it? What is special about it? I know that there were many interesting discoveries…

- Relatively speaking, it is an elite kurgan. If we speak of dating, the difference from Arzhaan-2 is minimal, but we have already found new types of arrowheads here, that we did not see in Arzhaan-2... This large monument was not built at one time. People were coming back to it, were changing things.

Yes, there are special features. For example, there is a circular trench around it. And when the kurgan itself has a diameter of 70 plus meters, if you count the trench, it is 105 meters. We found burials of warriors - four burials in the corridor between the wall and the enclosure of the kurgan. We found five burials like that in Arzhaan-2, too.  Here they are male warriors, two of them very young, 12-14 years old, but they have weapons. Quivers with arrows. In one of the graves there is a war axe, remains of a compound bow of Scythian type - a quite rare and interesting find. It consists of four sticks glued together with tendons, and wrapped in bark.  Maybe one day it will be possible to make a model of this bow.

Two graves contained very well preserved artifacts of leather and wood. We have, for example, ornaments carved on leather, which is seen rather rarely, because leather is not a durable material, it does not keep well. An iron dagger was found in the grave of one of the men. The boy in the first grave had a pectoral (chest ornament) made of fine gold foil with five plaques for sewing on, in panther shape - similar to those from Arzhaan, but already with other elements. We found earrings of two types. Those like at Arzhaan, with a cone soldered on,, and another two, apparently earrings, found under the skull on the left side: men, as a rule, wore a single earring in the left ear, just like today. And some leaf-shaped decorations, also made from gold foil… for those times, gold was a sacred metal, which should be present in every burial, even at least a little of it. We also found amber beads, the same like in Arzhaa-2,  they have not been analyzed, but I am certain that they are also from the Baltic. It seems that they would bring pieces of this substance here, and make the decorations from it locally.

The most astonishing of the finds, of course, I repeat, are the artifacts from carved leather. Things that normally are not preserved. They would take thick leather and carve an ornament on it, then rub it with red dye.  The look is very effective, but a great effort is needed by the restorers. These finds are removed with the matrix as a monolith, it is packed with a plaster pillow, all kind of antiseptics are added so that mildew does not destroy it…it has to be taken to the laboratory as fast as possible. Now they are already at the Hermitage.

-  So all the people from that kurgan should be relatives?

Yes, it would be interesting to elucidate what relationship these men had to the one buried in the center. So far we can't tell definitely. But samples were taken for genetic analysis from all the skeletons from Arzhaan-2: maybe there will be some results. So far, there is nothing. It is a long, very expensive procedure, it is done in Germany. Some people believe that the bones have to be reburied, but it is the most valuable material for studies. Genetic analysis will provide answers  to questions about the origin of these people. Either they had come here from somewhere else, or they are the precursors of some population…



-  You mentioned some special features of the construction of the kurgan. The most mysterious is the trench around it…

In other kurgans, later ones, you can also see trenches, but they are not continuous, there are always interruptions. They surround the kurgan like two semi-circles. The form of this kurgan suggests association with Early Scythian kurgans, but this trench - it is characteristic of later times. Possibly it is a burial from a transitional period.

-  What was the purpose of this trench?

-  That is still a mystery. We have not excavated so much yet. One thing is clear - they were not just getting earth for some other purpose. The earth was taken away, the earth that was dug up is nowhere around. The trench contains lake clay, which was deposited on a construction of branches and poles, covered over with bark on top. This construction collapsed into the trench fairly quickly. Beside that, we found animal and human bones. A few human bones, separate ones. There are also a few objects - bone plaques with a circular ornament.  It is difficult so far to tell what it is…

-  And the bones - are they apparently sacrifices?

-  It is hard to say. They are single bones. A separate vertebra, for example. There is one possibility, that is difficult to prove or disprove. Already Herodotus described funeral ritual of  a Scythian king, where 50 warriors were killed and set up on the kurgan together with their horses. They were upright, impaled on stakes… The times were like that. And they did it voluntarily. They considered it a honor. Faith is an immense thing. And they believed that they were accompanying their king to the upper world, where he was going. So just imagine: 50 riders standing there. Naturally, they would decompose. The skeletons fall apart, some bones are dragged away by animals, by birds. After some time people would come to pay their respects, and they would tidy up those scattered bones. Maybe throw them into a trench like this. Maybe. It is one of the possibilities. So far there is no other answer.

Generally I want to say that this will make a wonderful museum site, it is much better preserved that Arzhaan-2. What I have in mind is an open-air museum.  True, this is not up to the archeologists. All we can do is to make sure during the excavations that the real structural elements are preserved.  It is another matter that the monument is in the steppe, where cattle comes to graze. When we  cover the structure of the kurgan with bags of earth, it is mostly, protected, but the amnimals damage those bags. For that reason it would be good to put a fence around the whole kurgan.

-  Beside animals, people have been "interested" in the kurgan, too.

-  Yes, they were, it happened several years ago. After Arzhaan-2 the excitement about all the gold led to a whole series of kurgans in Valley of Tsars being robbed, there were attempts to enter this kurgan as well.  But these attempts were not crowned by success.  It is very complicated to get through the stone masonry of the kurgan, and it is even more difficult to guess where the burial is. And it was precisely these incidents that led to us excavating this particular kurgan.

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