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S.I. Rudenko. Frozen Tombs of Siberia. The Pazyryk Burials of Iron Age Horsemen. Transl. and with a preface by M.W. Thompson. Berkeley  Los Angeles: University of California Press. 1970. S.I. Rudenko

Frozen Tombs of Siberia.

The Pazyryk Burials of Iron Age Horsemen.

/ Transl. and with a preface by M.W. Thompson.

/ With 33 pl. in colour, 147 in black-and-white and 146 fig. in the text.

// Berkeley Los Angeles: University of California Press. 1970. xxxvi+340+144 p.


First published in Russian,
Kultura Naseleniya Gornogo Altaya v Skifskoe Vremya,
Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R., Moscow/Leningrad, 1953.



List of Illustrations, vii

Translators Preface, xvii

Introduction, xxxiii



Topography and vegetation, 1; Climate and congelation, 7; Plundering of the barrows, 11



General, 13; Details of structure, 14; Season of burial, 28; Coffins, 28; Burial chambers, 31; Arrangement in tomb, 33; Horse burial, 39





Stock-rearing, 55; Hunting, 59; Food and drink, 60; Narcotics, 62; Dwellings, 62; Furniture, 64; Vessels, 70; Bags and pouches, 73; Censers, 78; Settled way of life, 80



Mens clothing, 83; Womens clothing, 91; Belts, 98; Stamped plates, 102; Hair styles, 104; Earrings, 106; Torques and beads, 107; Tattooing, 110; Mirrors, 114



Horses, 117; Bridles, 120; Saddles, 129; Was the saddlery in everyday use? 137; Saddlery from barrow 1, 139; Saddlery from barrow 2, 145; Saddlery from barrow 3, 149; Saddlery from barrow 4, 161; Saddlery from barrow 5, 167; Saddlery from barrow 6, 179; Horse-masks and mane-covers, 179; Whips, 186; Trolleys, 187; The carriage in barrow 5, 189



Wood, 195; Axes, knives, chisels, 198; Fibrous vegetable materials, 199; Horn and antler, 200; Fur, leather, hair and wool, 200; Silk, minerals, 206



Patriarchal clan, 211; Property, 212; Tribal chiefs, 215; War and weapons, 217; Trade, 222; Intertribal marriages, 223; Comparison with neighbours, 225


9. ART. 229

Decorated saddle-covers, 229; Saddle pendants, 237; Methods of artistic expression, 238; Geometric motifs, 243; Plant motifs, 244; Animal motifs, 247; Peculiar distortions of animals, 264; The Bash-Adar coffin, 268; Components of art at Pazyryk, 271; Human representations, 273; The artists, 276; Musical instruments, 277



Burial practices and embalmment, 279; Provision for life after death, 283; Purifying rituals, 284; Ancestor cults, 285; Animism, 286; Interpretation of the art, 287; Gods worshipped, 289; Rites, 290



Relative chronology, 293; Absolute chronology (imported objects), 295



Inventory of Articles Found in the Pazyryk Barrows. 311


Principal works referred to and Further Reading. 329

Index. 333

Plates 1-180



[ :]


Sergei I. Rudenko

Frozen Tombs of Siberia:

The Pazyryk Burials of Iron-Age Horsemen

Translated and edited by dr. M.W. Thompson


This book makes available in the first complete English translation the detailed account, by its Russian discoverer, of one of the most remarkable pieces of archaeology of this century.


Unrelieved dryness or wetness can preserve wood, leather, or textiles, but in a limited area of the world Siberia and Mongolia constant freezing may have the same results. Among the ancient burials from that area the most spectacular remains to have survived are at Pazyryk in the Altai mountains of Western Siberia. They are about 2,500 years old, and even organic material was preserved by 'refrigeration' in virtually pristine condition.


In the five great Pazyryk barrows the dead had been buried in wooden chambers in shafts below the mounds; the peculiarity of construction, the climate, and the altitude caused the contents to freeze up after burial. Subsequently robbers broke into the tombs and pilfered much of the contents, but they could not reach the horses buried, with their accoutrements, outside the chambers. The great range of articles that was discovered revealed a horsebreeding people living much like the Scythians around the Black Sea who were described by the contemporary Greek historian Herodotus. The lively animal decoration that covered most of the objects is perhaps the feature of the remains that leaves the deepest impression on us. Since the articles left in the grave were on a scale commensurate with the funeral of distinguished persons, both in quantity and variety, a very large number of objects of everyday use as well as luxurious material were preserved. Many artefacts particularly those of wood, horn and boneare unparalleled in other sites of the same period. Some perishable items whose existence in, for example, British remains of the same period could only be inferred can here be examined in detail. The condition of the human bodies was such

[continued on back flap


Illustrated with 146 line drawings in the text, 112 pages of monochrome plates and 32 pages of colour plates. These remarkable pictures highlight the artistry and craftsmanship applied to everyday things in a remote age.


continued from front flap]

that the tattooing came out quite clearly, giving a clue to what classical authors were alluding to in writing about such matters as the skin ornamentations of Ancient Britons. The skins of the horses also survived intact, allowing us to see their shades of color and how the animals had been selectively bred. Many bridles and saddles were found the latter probably more advanced than those of Greece and Persia as well as an elaborate carriage. Perhaps the most exciting finds were pieces of Chinese silk, a Chinese mirror and a Persian carpet. An unexpected find was a complete apparatus for inhaling the fumes of Indian hemp.


Such is the fascinating world revealed by this remarkable work a book to be on the shelves of every student of archaeology or anthropology, and of every general reader with a sense of the excitement of history.



Professor Rudenko graduated at Leningrad University, and is senior scientific member of the Institute of Archaeology, Academy of Sciences, in the U.S.S.R. He led the 1929 expedition which excavated the Pazyryk barrows, and an extended programme of detailed research and comparison on the collection of nomadic artefacts has resulted in this book.





Introduction.   ^


According to Classical traditions a substantial portion of eastern Europe and western Asia was inhabited in the middle of the last millennium B.C. by tribes who, by the testimony of Herodotus, were called Scyths by the Greeks and Saka by the Persians.


In the eighteenth-nineteenth centuries archaeologists were principally concerned with the European Scyths, although the Siberian collection of Peter the Great, the collection of Scytho-Siberian gold, was of course well known. It was also realized that the collection derived from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century excavations on barrows between the Ural and Altai mountain ranges.


A hundred years ago, in 1865, Academician V.V. Radloff, the well-known authority on Turkish studies, excavated two large barrows at Berel and Katanda in Altai Mountain province, and found objects, in particular artistic ones, with characteristic Scythian decoration. It was not until 1927, however, that the Russian Museum at Leningrad excavated a barrow at Shibe in the central Altai of just the same type as that dug by Radloff.


The Pazyryk group of barrows was discovered in 1924 when the author did some trial trenching on them. Their great altitude above sea level, the climatic conditions and composition of the soil indicated conditions favourable to the formation of barrow congelation, which causes excellent preservation of structures and objects. An excavation was organized in 1929, when the first barrow was investigated.


Subsequent excavation took place in 1947 under the auspices of the Institute of the History of Material Culture of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R., with the participation (from 1948) of the Hermitage Museum, where all the material from Pazyryk has been deposited. In 1947-8 the second, third and fourth, and in 1949 the fifth, of the large cairn-covered barrows were excavated.


The yield of the four seasons work at Pazyryk, in spite of the fact that all the barrows had been robbed in antiquity, was quite unparalleled in quantity, variety and scientific value. This was due to the fact that a combination of circumstances climatic conditions and the method of construction of the great


barrow-cairns had caused permanent refrigeration (barrow congelation) soon after the interments took place. So there were finely preserved articles not only of metal and horn but also of wood, leather and fur, as well as textiles of different kinds; not only skeletons but the actual bodies of interred men and horses survived. Detailed examination was carried out of five tombs, four embalmed human bodies and three skeletons, twenty horse bodies and thirty-four skeletons. Thorough study was made of articles of dress and adornment, a variety of textiles, domestic utensils, objects of art and cult and numerous sets of saddlery. Besides a huge quantity of material testifying to an individual and sharply defined local culture, the barrows produced the first finds of very ancient textiles and carpets from China and Hither Asia of remarkably great historical and aesthetic value.


The Pazyryk excavations form part of the studies in the Altai region and neighbouring provinces of southern Siberia and central Asia, which have built up our understanding of both the remains themselves and the life of the inhabitants of the Altai Mountains in the middle of the last millennium B.C. The study of these remains is therefore a basic contribution to historical science, and has revealed to the investigator an ancient and hither to unrecorded cultural sphere of antiquity.


A whole series of publications have already been devoted to the Pazyryk finds, and in the future they will undoubtedly attract the attention of scholars, revealing new facts and unforeseen aspects of this ancient culture. But already the main point is clear: the excavations in the Altai area have fully demonstrated that in the last millennium B.C. there already existed an independent and obviously native culture, which shared much in common with the cultures of neighbouring and more distant stock-rearing tribes.


Surveying the Pazyryk finds and those akin to them we can see that in the steppe and foothill area of southern Siberia and central Asia, as well as eastern Europe, there lived in the middle of the last millennium B.C. numerous tribes, distinct in origin and language, but sharing one material culture and to some extent at the same social level, and with similar customs. Such a uniform way of life arose not only from a similar livelihood but also as a result of varied, but often close, inter-tribal connections. Not only the archaeological finds but written sources, Chinese and Greek (including the works of the Father of history, Herodotus), testify to this.


One cannot fail to see the remarkable coincidence between the Pazyryk finds on the one hand and the accounts by Herodotus on the other about the life of the steppe tribes of eastern Europe and Asia. It is true that his reports even in Classical times had given rise to doubts, for Herodotus, recording information about the people of the time, was not always himself able to verify his facts. Furthermore he did record legendary matter, although he commented on its


improbability, and even Aristotle regarded him as a fable-monger. The majority of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century scholars were prejudiced against Herodotus, in spite of numerous archaeological discoveries showing that as a witness he was conscientious and trustworthy. It is therefore the more interesting and noteworthy that a number of his statements about the life and customs of the steppe tribes of eastern Europe and Asia have been unexpectedly borne out by the results of the Altai excavations.


Apart from the way of life, occupation, dress, weapons and other aspects of material culture, such customs as embalmment of corpses of the Scythian chieftains, burial with a concubine, purifying after burial, scalping of slain enemies, and much else, are confirmed, which could not have been established by excavation in the Black Sea Scythian area. The Altai finds therefore not only confirm the reliability of Herodotus description of the steppe tribes of his time, but reveal in an unexpectedly clear light the ancient cultural ties between the western and eastern pastoral tribes.


It is not merely a case of connections between the steppe tribes themselves, but of links between them and the peoples of the then advanced countries, the world cultural centres of that period. Thus the Black Sea finds clearly demonstrate links between the natives and Greece and, more especially, Iran. Even in Outer Mongolia, where the influence of China showed itself very deeply in the culture of nomadic tribes in its normal form, materials have come to light testifying to the acquaintance of the ancient Huns with the products of Graeco-Bactrian craftsmen. In High Altai province links have been established with central and Hither Asia, and to some extent with China. Especial importance attaches to the Pazyryk finds of articles of high technical and aesthetic quality produced by Persian and Chinese craftsmen, which throw new light on the level of culture in those countries at this remote time. It is not surprising therefore that the Altai tribes had so much in common with other pastoral peoples developing in contact with the cultures of the Classical East and China.


I have had the task of recording on a historical-cultural basis the information yielded by the Pazyryk barrows: first, that which sheds light on the life of the ancient population of the Altai Mountains at the threshold of history, and, secondly, the additions of world significance that the finds have contributed to the treasure-house of history.


The book falls basically into three sections. In the first the details of the natural environment prevailing in the eastern part of Altai province are given, especially the conditions that gave rise to the refrigeration. Then follow accounts of the Pazyryk group of barrows and of the physical type of people buried in them. In the second part material revealing the economy and way of life is described, and in the third that throwing light on the social structure, art and religious beliefs.



It goes without saying that this material, even when relatively fully described, still only partially answers a number of questions that confront the student. This applies in particular to such crucial matters as the form of society. Nevertheless it does entirely broaden our field of vision of the ancient history of the tribes of southern Siberia and adjacent regions, and allows us a general picture of the life of the Altai tribes in the relevant period, notably of their individual and sharply defined culture.


On the problem of dating of the Pazyryk barrows there has been no consensus of opinion; some referred them to the Scythian period, some to Hunnish-Sarmatian times. For my part the latter dating seemed quite baseless, as I have discussed in detail in the final chapter. I would only repeat that besides typical Achaemenian objects, and native products just as characteristic of that style found in the barrows, there are other dating factors. Thus Graeco-Bactrian or Han dynasty Chinese articles are absent. In the last centuries B.C. mirrors of the Han period reached far to the west, as far even as the Volga, and consequently would no doubt have been found in the Pazyryk barrows if they had belonged to the Han period. However, in spite of normal finds in the Altai barrows of Chinese textiles, no Han mirror was found.


Since the first edition of this book a radiocarbon dating of the Pazyryk barrows has been made, which gave an average age of 2,395 years before the present, or 430 B.C. Thanks to the beautiful survival of the logs in all the barrows it has been possible to define their relative age with precision down to a year by means of tree-ring dating. It was shown that the first two Pazyryk barrows were thrown up in the same year; then the third and fourth, and last of all the fifth, forty-eight years after the first two.


In 1950 in the central Altai I dug two large barrows with superincumbent cairns at Bash-Adar near the River Karakol, tributary of the Ursul, and in 1954 two similar ones at the village of Tuekta. The average age of these barrows was 2,480 years before present, that is 520 B.C., or almost a hundred years older than the Pazyryk barrows. The difference in age between the earliest barrow at Tuekta and barrow 5 at Pazyryk was 178 years.


The rich material from the central Altai has been the subject of a special study, where it was shown that these tombs, like the Shibe barrow, belonged to just the same culture as the Pazyryk ones, sharing certain peculiarities in the representational art, discussed in the study, and with the first reflections of the art of Hither Asia revealed in representations of griffins.


Special importance being attached to the fullest possible record of the objects being published, we arranged to have the majority of them drawn in colour on the site, directly after their removal from the barrow.


The artists responsible for the coloured plates are named in the Acknowledgments. The text figures are the work of the artists N.M. Rudenko and V.M. Suntsevoi [Suntsova].








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