Elders in Altai Mountains vote to reinter mummy of ancient woman 'to stop her anger which causes floods and earthquakes'.
'Princess Ukok' mummy in Anokhin museum, Gorno-Altaisk. Picture: Alexander Tyryshkin
Known as 'Princess Ukok' after the plateau where her burial chamber was found by Russian scientists, the archeological discovery of her grave led to a leap in understanding of the Pazyryk people who lived before Christ in this remote mountainous region.
The Siberian Ice Maiden - aged around 25 and preserved in the permafrost at an altitude of around 2,500 metres - was found to have astonishing body artwork seen as the best preserved and most elaborate ancient tattoos anywhere in the world.
From her clothes and possessions including a 'cosmetics bag', scientists were able to recreate her fashion and beauty secrets, as our pictures show.
But local peoples from the Altai Republic, which borders Kazakhstan and Mongolia, have long objected to the fact that her burial mound was disturbed. They were also angered by a decision, after 19 years of academic research into her remains, to put her on display in a glass sarcophagus in a local museum.
Ancient beliefs say that the mummy's presence in the burial chamber was 'to bar the entrance to the kingdom of the dead'.
By removing this mummy, also known as Oochy-Bala, the elders contend that 'the entrance remains open'.
'Today, we honour the sacred beliefs of our ancestors like three millennia ago,' said one elder. 'We have been burying people according to Scythian traditions. We want respect for our traditions'.
Scheme of the burial and reconstructions of Pazyryk woman's and man's costumes. All items were found inside 'Princess' Ukok burial. Reconstruction by D. Pozdnyakov, Institute of Archeology and Ethnography, Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Science
Campaigners including shamans in support of burial said: 'Naked and defenseless, Ooch-Bala is freezing from inexplicable shame'.
A statement stressed: 'Who puts up the naked corpse of their mother for public display? She knocks into our heart, seeking compassion. She is cold from evil indifference.'
Campaigners claimed that recent flooding in Altai - the worst in 50 years - and a series of earthquakes are the result of ancient anger at the grave being disturbed. In a landmark decision, a Council of Elders session on 18 August in regional capital Gorno-Altaisk, and attended by regional head Alexander Berdnikov, voted to reinter the mummy. There was only one dissenter.
'Because the council of elders took the decision, the mummy of this respected women will finally be buried,' said Akai Kine, a zaisan - or head of the kin - of the Teles ethnic group, participant at the council. 'The next step will be the adoption of a local law, on the basis of which it will happen. Another important step will be the preparation of clothing, utensils, and approval of the ritual burial.'
The aim will be to bury her in the appropriate manner though details remain sketchy.
The mummy is getting inside a sarcophagus of Anokhin museum, Gorno-Altaisk, under a watchful eye of Irina Salnikova, head of the Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences Museum of Archeology and Ethnography. Pictures: Alexander Tyryshkin
The regional government, while stating the matter was unprecedented, acknowledged that the reburial will now in all probability go ahead, though it remains to be seen how the federal authorities in Russia will react to the decision.
Oksana Yeremeeva, head of information and public affairs for the Altai Republic, said: 'It is correct the Council of Elders took such a decision, but can you for example bury some vase from Hermitage Museum? Of course not. The mummy, though it can sound quite rude, is still a museum exhibit, that is we cannot just bury it, no-one has done such things before.'
She added: 'The decision of Council of Elders is very respectable, but we cannot implement it immediately. We as officials should work out the way to implement it, think about the steps we need to take to make it possible.'
Asked if ultimately the aim was to implement the elders' wishes, she said: 'Yes, we are working on this now.'
She suggested that possibly Ukok mummy could be buried at a museum dedicated to her. In ancient times the princess had been buried on the Ukok Plateau.
'At the moment we need to do a lot of work in this direction,' Oksana Yeremeeva said.
A sculptor's impression of how Princess Ukok looked 2,500 years ago, and a view of Ukok Plateau. Pictures: The Siberian Times
Andrey Belyaev, deputy Minister of Culture in the Altai Republic, said: 'At the moment we did not get any instructions on this.'
A complicating factor might be plans by Gazprom to locate a huge gas pipeline supplying China through this mountainous region. Experts have also pointed out that despite the strong feeling among native groups to Altai, the mummy is not believed to be genetically linked to people now living in the region.
The mummy was excavated by Novosibirsk scientist Natalia Polosmak in 1993 and was seen as 'one of the most significant archeological discoveries at the close of the 20th century', reported Itar-Tass.
She is now kept at the Republican National Museum in capital Gorno-Altaisk but is not currently on display in a specially built glass sarcophagus.
For the past 19 years, since her discovery, she was kept mainly at a scientific institute in Novosibirsk, apart from a period in Moscow when her remains were treated by the same scientists who preserve the body of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin.
Buried around her were six horses, saddled and bridled, her spiritual escorts to the next world, and a symbol of her evident status, perhaps more likely a revered folk tale narrator, a healer or a holy woman than an ice princess.
There, too, was a meal of sheep and horse meat and ornaments made from felt, wood, bronze and gold. And a small container of cannabis, say some accounts, along with a stone plate on which were the burned seeds of coriander.
'Compared to all tattoos found by archeologists around the world, those on the mummies of the Pazyryk people are the most complicated, and the most beautiful,' said Dr Polosmak. 'More ancient tattoos have been found, like the Ice Man found in the Alps - but he only had lines, not the perfect and highly artistic images one can see on the bodies of the Pazyryks'.
'It is a phenomenal level of tattoo art. Incredible’.
Pictures and reconstruction of the 'Princess''s and other Pazyryks tattooes discovered on the same plateau as the 'Princess'. The drawings made by Elena Shumakova, Institute of Archeology and Ethnography, Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Science
The lone voice against the move in the Council of Elders was Boris Alushkin, former El Bashchi (Public Leader) of the Altai people, currently head of the Regional Union of Journalists.
'I know the traditions and beliefs of Altai people,' he said. 'Like any other people they believe that the deceased have to be buried, including those who were great leaders. But the Altai region government allowed the archeological works. They knew about this very rare find and they took it back after all necessary scientific works.
'Moreover, they found money to build a museum in which to place the princess with great ceremonies. And after very little time this question is raised again, in the middle of an election campaign in the Republic. My position is that we may consider burying the princess, but we must not hurry with the decision right now'.
Kara-ool Dopchun-ool - the highest shaman in the Tuva Republic, and also Turkey - explains his role in his own words.