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Tied up in his grave, the strange 'dancing skeleton' of Ust-Ivanovka

By Olga Gertcyk
22 May 2017

Dark Ages man aged around 30 found in a medieval graveyard for unusually old people in the Russian Far East.

'We were struck by his unusual position,' said the scientist about the skeleton which dates from the 7th to the 9th centuries. Picture: Denis Volkov

The ancient skeleton surprised archeologists because he appeared to be dancing when his grave was opened in Amur region. Archeologist Denis Volkov, 35, said: 'We jokingly nicknamed this skeleton Mikhail. 

'He amazed us with his pose - he had been laid to rest on his back, with his legs looking as if he was dancing.

'His feet were crossed and knees wide open. None of the known burial ceremonies include this position of a body.'

The site is well known but emergency archeological excavations had to be carried out after serious flooding in 2013.

'We were struck by his unusual position,' said the scientist about the skeleton which dates from the 7th to the 9th centuries. 

'The man was lying on his back, his legs were slightly crossed at his feet, his arms were crossed around his pelvis. 

'We talked to forensic experts, anthropologists, and it got clear that if his legs were not tied, then his extremities would have straightened. Most likely, his arms were also tied.'

dancing skeleton


dancing skeleton


dancing skeleton
Work is underway to analyse the skeleton in Sweden to determine more about the 'dancer' from the dark ages. Pictures: Denis Volkov


It is possible that the man was shot to death by an arrow.

'Tips of arrows were put on his shoulders, perhaps, they were not in the person's body because they were lying quite high above the stones. I believe that arrows were put on his shoulders (as part of the burial ritual). 

'Still, one of the tips is quite interesting, it's in the hip, very close to the bone, and perhaps, actually in the bone. 

'It's hard to say yet. Perhaps, this tip was the reason why this person died.

'We know that there is a big artery in the hip, and if it's injured, it causes a big blood loss.'

dancing skeleton
Ust-Ivanovka archeological site, the Far East of Russia. Picture: Denis Volkov


Anthropologists have concluded the man was 'short', no taller than 154 cm. 

'Most likely it was a young man, younger than 30.' 

His grave was distinct from the others here, which were roughly circular in shape.

Mikhail's was distinctly rectangular, and covered with white sand that was not local.

Other graves were filled with skulls belonging to unusually elderly people for medieval times - aged from 50 to 70, at a time when life expectancy was far shorter. 

Work is underway to analyse the skeleton in Sweden to determine more about the 'dancer' from the dark ages. 

dancing skeleton


dancing skeleton


dancing skeleton
Tied up in his grave, the strange 'dancing skeleton' of Ust-Ivanovka. Pictures: Denis Volkov


The man is believed to be from the Mohe stratum of the Tungusic ethnic group, but further studies are needed. 

'They had farms. We are now finding evidence that prove that they were growing crops and farming animals, breeding pigs,' he said. 

'They were quite peaceful but like any other people of Early Medieval times they had to defend themselves as, apparently, there were some clashes between groups of population. 

'We found some items in burials that prove that: tips of arrows, armour plates, some other armament and fortification buildings, typical for Mohe culture's tribes.'

Another theory being examined for the unusual pose of the skeleton is that Mikhail's legs could be deformed from  tuberculosis or syphilis.

The man is believed to be from the Mohe stratum of the Tungusic ethnic group. Pictures: Denis Volkov
dancing skeleton


dancing skeleton


dancing skeleton

Comments (6)

The Mohe were Xianbei warriors, that probably spoke Khitan. I thnik the Korean and Japanese were too.
So What's the DNA?
Brian Derby, Nabari Japan
28/05/2017 12:09
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0
I would like to know what the strange phallic piece is that keeps changing positions in the photographs. Is someone making a joke? It is quite obvious but is not commented upon in the text.....
Alex, Arkansas, USA
26/05/2017 21:33
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3
Perhaps he was buried alive, thus explaining why his hands and feet were tied. His legs are in that position because he thrashed as he was buried.
Mike, USA Kentucky
26/05/2017 03:39
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Looks like his wrist and ankles have been tied up with some rope or something
D., canada
25/05/2017 10:51
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map?
mike shea, kankakee, illinois, u.s.a.
24/05/2017 21:47
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He may have been morbidly obese in which case upon death, causing extroversion of legs if legs were not ligatured. I am no expert however I have taught A&P and path. I have also participated in autopsies and recovery of ancient remains in our state. All NAGPRA rules were followed. What do you think about obesity contributing to osteo positioning post decay?
M. Wyatt, Indiana
24/05/2017 19:43
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5
1

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