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Faces of ‘Siberian Tutankhamun’ and his ‘Queen’ buried 2,600 years ago reconstructed by science

By Olga Gertcyk, Svetlana Skarbo
08 January 2021

Modern technology brings back appearances of nomadic nobles laid to rest in treasure trove of a tomb.

Of the ‘King’, Moscow anthropologists said: ‘In front of us there is a battle-hardened Scythian warrior, carrying in his appearance a unique combination of Caucasoid and Mongoloid features’. Picture: Elizaveta Veselovskaya, Ravil Galeev

The Arzhan-2 burial of the Scythian ‘King’ and the ‘Queen’, found in 1997 and studied between 2001-2003 by Russian-German expedition is one the most extraordinary discoveries ever made by archeologists. 

Now for the first time the features of the powerful couple buried in their gold-encrusted, awe-inspiring clothing can be seen in life-like sculptures thanks to work of Moscow Miklukho-Maklai Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, and Novosibirsk Institute of Archeology and Ethnography.

Two teams of anthropologists spent months meticulously building 3d models of the skulls, using laser scanning and photogrammetry to then re-create the faces of the people that ruled vast sways of steppes and mountains at the time when the Great Pyramids were getting built in Egypt. 

Faces of ‘Siberian Tutankhamun’ and his ‘queen’ buried in Tuva some 2,600 years ago reconstructed by science


Faces of ‘Siberian Tutankhamun’ and his ‘queen’ buried in Tuva some 2,600 years ago reconstructed by science


Faces of ‘Siberian Tutankhamun’ and his ‘queen’ buried in Tuva some 2,600 years ago reconstructed by science


Faces of ‘Siberian Tutankhamun’ and his ‘queen’ buried in Tuva some 2,600 years ago reconstructed by science
Now for the first time the features of the powerful couple buried in their gold-encrusted, awe-inspiring clothing can be seen in life-like sculptures thanks to work of Moscow Ethnology and Anthropology and Novosibirsk Institute of Archeology and Ethnography. Pictures of the reconstructed skulls by Elizaveta Veselovskaya, Ravil Galeev. Picture of the reconstructed costume by Hermitage


‘The most time-consuming restoration work has been done for the ‘Tsar’s’ skull. Only half of the skull was preserved, which made the task much more complicated. The restoration of the brain area was not particularly difficult, since the remaining half made it possible to mirror the destroyed part’, wrote Moscow-based anthropologists Elizaveta Veselovskaya and Ravil Galeev. 

In the article for Russian ‘Jourmal of Archeology, Anthropology and Ethnography’ they explained: ‘Great difficulties were associated with the restoration of the facial section. Unfortunately, less than half of the face was preserved, and elements of the skull important for reconstruction have been lost.

'Therefore, the restoration of this skull took a long time: each missing element was restored based on the existing surrounding structures. The preserved lower jaw was of great importance during the restoration, thanks to which the destroyed area of the upper jaw was restored. The restoration was carried out with hard sculptural clay and hard polyurethane foam.’

Prior to the reconstruction in Moscow, Novosibirsk anthropologists led by the head of Anthropology sector at the Novosibirsk Institute of Archeology and Ethnography Tatiana Chikisheva conducted a detailed study of the materials found inside the Arzhan-2 mound, including classical craniometry (skull measurement and study), odontology (jaw and teeth study) and osteology. 

Faces of ‘Siberian Tutankhamun’ and his ‘queen’ buried in Tuva some 2,600 years ago reconstructed by science


Faces of ‘Siberian Tutankhamun’ and his ‘queen’ buried in Tuva some 2,600 years ago reconstructed by science


Faces of ‘Siberian Tutankhamun’ and his ‘queen’ buried in Tuva some 2,600 years ago reconstructed by science


Faces of ‘Siberian Tutankhamun’ and his ‘queen’ buried in Tuva some 2,600 years ago reconstructed by science


Faces of ‘Siberian Tutankhamun’ and his ‘queen’ buried in Tuva some 2,600 years ago reconstructed by science
Stunning treasures found inside the Arzhan-2 burial in Tuva. Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya/The Siberian Times, Konstantin Chugunov


Siberian scientists established that people buried in the Arzhan-2 mound were - regardless of their social status - from quite a homogenous group in terms of anthropology, which combined features of the Caucasian and Mongoloid races. 

Of the ‘King’, Moscow anthropologists said: ‘In front of us there is a battle-hardened Scythian warrior, carrying in his appearance a unique combination of Caucasoid and Mongoloid features’. 

The ‘King’ and the ‘Queen’, described so conditionally by scientists because of the astonishingly-rich burial were found in the centre of a wooden chamber skilfully hidden from robbers under the 80-metre-large mound in the remote Republic of Tuva. 

Another theory suggests that the woman could have been the 'King's' favourite concubine, sacrificed to accompany him to the afterlife along with 33 other people, including five children. 

Fourteen stallions in full dress of gold, bronze and iron, and all taken from different herds were found inside the burial, too.

Faces of ‘Siberian Tutankhamun’ and his ‘queen’ buried in Tuva some 2,600 years ago reconstructed by science
Stunning treasures found inside the Arzhan-2 burial in Tuva. Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya/The Siberian Times


Covered with two layers of larch logs, the royal burial chamber was constructed like a blockhouse and stood inside a second, outer burial chamber of the same construction. The inside walls of the tomb were covered with felt carpets. 

On a carefully made boarded wooden floor - likely softened by felt - were the bodies of the sovereign and his female companion.

The skulls had dislocated from the bodies because they had probably been placed on a kind of pillow, now decayed. The ancient ruler was buried with a heavy torque - a necklace symbolising the supreme power -  made of pure gold and decorated all over with the carvings of animals. 

His outer clothes were adorned with thousands of small golden panther figures, each 2-to-3 centimetres in length, attached in vertical rows, also forming motifs such as wings on his back.

Faces of ‘Siberian Tutankhamun’ and his ‘queen’ buried in Tuva some 2,600 years ago reconstructed by science 
The 'King's' outer clothes were adorned with thousands of small golden panther figures, each 2-to-3 centimetres in length, attached in vertical rows, also forming motifs such as wings on his back. Picture: Vera Salnitskaya/The Siberian Times


The ‘Queen’s’ decorations were also striking, albeit more modest. She had turquoise beads, golden badges and pins, a miniature golden cauldron, a golden bracelet and a bag with cosmetics. On her belt was an iron dagger decorated with gold. 

In all, some 9,300 decorative gold pieces were found here, not including the 'uncountable golden beads'. Put in another way, there was more than 20 kilograms of gold, including earrings, pendants and beads, adorning the bodies of the royal couple all made in what is known as Scythian Art style. 

The find has been described by Dr Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the Hermitage Museum as 'an encyclopedia of Scythian Animal Art because you have all the animals which roamed the region, such as panther, lions, camels, deer...' It includes 'many great works of art - figures of animals, necklaces, pins with animals carved into a golden surface', he told The New York Times.

'This is the original Scythian style, from the Altai region, which eventually came to the Black Sea region and finally in contact with ancient Greece. And it almost resembles an Art Nouveau style.’

Stunning treasures found inside the Arzhan-2 burial in Tuva. Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya/The Siberian Times

Faces of ‘Siberian Tutankhamun’ and his ‘queen’ buried in Tuva some 2,600 years ago reconstructed by science


Faces of ‘Siberian Tutankhamun’ and his ‘queen’ buried in Tuva some 2,600 years ago reconstructed by science


Faces of ‘Siberian Tutankhamun’ and his ‘queen’ buried in Tuva some 2,600 years ago reconstructed by science


Faces of ‘Siberian Tutankhamun’ and his ‘queen’ buried in Tuva some 2,600 years ago reconstructed by science 


Faces of ‘Siberian Tutankhamun’ and his ‘queen’ buried in Tuva some 2,600 years ago reconstructed by science

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Comments (7)

That's not a flail, it's a horse whip. So most likely no relation to similar looking items in Egypt.
Matti, Finland
15/01/2021 03:03
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I am particularly taken with the fine detail work on the jewelry and the excellent photography that allows us to share it. Thank you, Vera.
Bruce Blanchard, San Diego, California, USA
12/01/2021 17:50
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Benedikt, do you mean the two mannequins that look like they are from a JC Penney (Главный универсальный магазин)?
EJ, USA
12/01/2021 09:04
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It appears that this guy was more than just a king, he must have been an emperor or seen as a god. 100 million dollars in gold and 31 people killed go with him it's quite a bit.
Michael Nelson, Eugene Oregon USA
12/01/2021 02:56
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The Siberian Times article is saying the 'King' and 'Queen' lived '(..) at the time when the Great Pyramids were getting built in Egypt.' This is incorrect. The Pyramids Giza were built 2,550 years BCE, 4,500 years ago; read for example: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/archaeology/giza-pyramids/#:~:text=The%20Giza%20Pyramids%2C%20built%20to,become%20gods%20in%20the%20afterlife.
Henri Roquas, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
11/01/2021 07:23
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What stands out for me here is the flail seen in the photo with the dagger. The design of the handle is identical to that used by the Ancient Egyptians. We see the flail portrayed very often in temple and tomb scenes, but the only actual flail to have survived from those times is from the tomb of Tutankhamun. So the description here of a "Siberian Tutankhamun" is closer than you think. And the flail as a symbol of authority, which must be the case in this Siberian tomb, is so far only documented from Egypt.
Dave, England
09/01/2021 14:34
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hat off to everybody who was involved in that task. what a beautiful couple. and what exquisite clothes they wore.
Benedikt MORAK, Russia
09/01/2021 08:55
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