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Ancient 'mummy' unearthed from 'lost medieval civilisation' near Arctic, claim scientists

By Anna Liesowska
03 July 2015

New find at Zeleny Yar necropolis, which shows links to Persia, to be examined within weeks. 

Archeologists working at the site, near Salekhard, say they suspect the remains are of a child or teenager from the 12th or 13th centuries AD. Picture: Vesti.Yamal

The expected but as yet unopened human remains are wrapped in birch bark and it is likely that this 'cocoon' contains copper which - combined with the permafrost - produced an accidental mummification.

Archeologists working at the site, near Salekhard, say they suspect the remains are of a child or teenager from the 12th or 13th centuries AD.

The new find matches others discovered at Zeleny Yar, belonging to a mystery medieval civilization with links to Persia despite its position on the edge of the Siberian Arctic. If confirmed, it will be the first mummy from the civilisation found at this intriguing site since 2002. 

Fellow of the Research Center for the Study of Arctic, Alexander Gusev, said: 'We decided, after consulting with colleagues, to take the find as a whole piece, that is without opening it in the field, taking for further research in the city.'

Checks with a metal detector show there is indeed metal beneath the birch bark. 'The birch bark 'cocoon' is of 1.30 metres in length and about 30 cm at the widest part. 

'It follows the contours of the human body. If there is really a mummy, the head and skull are likely to be in good condition. We think it is a child, maybe a teenager. The find is now in Salekhard, in the Shemanovsky Museum, in special freezer. We plan to return to Salekhard on 15 July and immediately start the opening of the 'cocoon'.

Zeleny Yar


Zeleny Yar

'The find is now in Salekhard, in the Shemanovsky Museum, in special freezer. We plan to return to Salekhard on 15 July and immediately start the opening of the 'cocoon'.' Pictures: Vesti.Yamal

Anthropologist  Evgeniya Syatova will be among those examining the discovery which, hope experts, will throw light on this tribe and its origins. She is leading archeologist at the Scientific and Production Center for the Protection and Use of Historical and Cultural Monuments, Sverdlovsk region.

'The mummification was natural,' said Mr Gusev. 'It was combination of factors: the bodies were overlain with copper sheets, parts of copper kettles and together with the permafrost, this it gave the preserving effect.'

Local Vesti.Yamal TV came to the site as the find was made. Their images show it being removed from the ground. 

Previously, archeologists found 34 shallow graves at the medieval site, including 11 bodies with shattered or missing skulls, and smashed skeletons.  Five mummies were found to be shrouded in copper, while also elaborately covered in reindeer, beaver, wolverine or bear fur. Among the graves found so far is just one female, a child, her face masked by copper plates. There are no adult women.  

Nearby were found three copper masked infant mummies - all males. They were bound in four or five copper hoops, several centimetres wide.

Similarly, a red-haired man was found, protected from chest to foot by copper plating. In his resting place, was an iron hatchet, furs, and a head buckle made of bronze depicting a bear.

mummified by accident - but who were they? mummies found in Salekhard


mummified by accident, but who were these people?


Child mummy with the facial copper mask


Mummified hand of a child

Five mummies were found to be shrouded in copper, while also elaborately covered in reindeer, beaver, wolverine or bear fur. Pictures: The SIberian Times, Natalya Fyodorova

The feet of the deceased are all pointing towards the Gorny Poluy River, a fact which is seen as having religious significance. The burial rituals are unknown to experts.

Artifacts included bronze bowls originating in Persia, some 3,700 miles to the south-west, dating from the tenth or eleventh centuries. One of the burials dates to 1282, according to a study of tree rings, while others are believed to be older. 

The researchers found by one of the adult mummies an iron combat knife, silver medallion and a bronze bird figurine. These are understood to date from the seventh to the ninth centuries. 

Unlike other burial sites in Siberia, for example in the permafrost of the Altai Mountains, or those of the Egyptian pharaohs, the purpose did not seem to be to mummify the remains, hence the claim that their preservation until modern times was an accident.

Face of mummified adult man

Mummy of adult man

'A red-haired man was found, protected from chest to foot by copper plating. In his resting place, was an iron hatchet, furs, and a head buckle made of bronze depicting a bear.' Pictures: Kate Baklitskaya, Go East

The soil in this spot is sandy and not permanently frozen. A combination of the use of copper, which prevented oxidation, and a sinking of the temperature in the 14th century, is behind the good condition of the remains today. 

Natalia Fyodorova, of the Ural branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said previously: 'Nowhere in the world are there so many mummified remains found outside the permafrost or the marshes. 

'It is a unique archaeological site. We are pioneers in everything from taking away the object of sandy soil (which has not been done previously) and ending with the possibility of further research.'

In 2002, archeologists were forced to halt work at the site due to objections by locals on the Yamal peninsula, a land of reindeer and energy riches known to locals as 'the end of the earth'.

Comments (11)

That could very well be Eric the Red as he was known to get around.
martin ward, Vermont,USA
25/09/2015 05:27
0
0
The red haired man mummy looks Chinese by its facial expressions and shape of eyes, perhaps mix Chinese.
lawrence, vancouver canada
08/07/2015 10:42
0
4
Amazing finds. I believe preserved bodies such as those of Iron Age date found in the Danish and British bogs often display reddish hair. I think this is due to the natural degradation of the hair colour over time.
Rob Engl, Edinburgh, Scotland
07/07/2015 02:07
4
1
I wonder if there;'s any connection with the burial remains of a tall, red-haired male discovered in North West China?
nigel foster, Sherborne, UK
05/07/2015 22:06
2
1
I once read some fine poetry by somebody called Jaan Kaaplinski from Tartu.... What a coincidence! :-)
Anon, UK
05/07/2015 20:30
2
2
Wonderful finds. For accidental mummies they turned out amazingly well. Why would they flatten out copper kettles and cover the remains with them if they didn't know it would slow bacterial action and help preserve them? Any ideas?
Kathy Burnum, California, USA
05/07/2015 09:15
3
3
Maybe that guy's hair was not originally red, but due to taphonomic processes.
Rod, Pamplona\Spain
04/07/2015 04:48
7
1
Maybe they were fur traders.
Peter John , USA
04/07/2015 02:04
2
3
Hi, guys. Your headline makes no sense. If the mummy dates to the 12th or 13th century CE, then it's a medieval mummy, not an "ancient mummy." The ancient era ends at approximately 500 CE.
Smith, Jonestown
04/07/2015 00:37
17
1
Connections between Iran and Siberian Arctic are no suprise. There are a few iranian loan words in Khanty and Mansi (Ostyak and Vogul) languages, and the mythology of these peoples shows clear signs of iranian influences. More intriguing are the red-haired people buried there.
Jaan Kaplinski, Tartu, Estonia
03/07/2015 23:46
16
1
Nice one Siberia friends.
todd, Austrailia
03/07/2015 21:00
5
0
1

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