animal style and shamanism

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259 Abstract The Scythian Animal Style cannot be considered to be a bar- barian derivative of antique art, but rather it was a later offshot of northern Asian “art to survive,” i.e., the art of shamanism. This artistic style was the expression of a warrior nobility that can be parallelled to the art of the Bactrian Bronze Age or Luristan art. Some of the representative decorations of the up- per social strata have been preserved, while a larger group of much richer artistic objects carved from wood or fashioned from leather and other materials have only been recovered in excep- tional cases. Influences in nomadic art come from the southern Eurasian states and were brought by nomads, and it is there- fore an intrusive art style from such locales as the Achaemenid Empire. The ornateness of Scythian art came about as the re- sult of the availability of Siberian gold. The supply of gold came to an end with the intrusion of Turkish tribes who formed centralized tribal federations, and introduced discrete burial rituals while migrating westwards. Keywords Animal Style, not barbarized Classical Greek, art to survive, shamanism Introduction Established concepts, having gained influence in scientific traditions, in turn, complicate the interpretation of reality. The concept of “Ani- mal Style” was coined by Michael Rostovtzeff in 1922 as a designa- tion for a secondary art style derived from Graeco-Roman art. The term is also used to describe the art of the cultures of the Eurasian steppe belt during the first millenium BC. The local cultures were variable in their artistic forms and, as a whole, could not be assimilated into the Mediterranean World. The concept of one Animal Style has been used to define the art of many cultures that incorporate zoomorphic forms into their art. In addition, the developmental phases of art in Classi- cal Antiquity has prevented the art of the steppe cultures from being thought of as independent developments–developments that must be divided into many local and temporal styles. More- over, it separates the art of the steppes from the millenia-long traditions of Eurasian art that had incorporated an Animal Style, such as that from the Bactrian Bronze Age, Luristan, and the Mitanni and Hittite Cultures. Moreover, nearly all groups us- ing animals in their art use the animal as a symbol with a spe- cific significance. Religion and art The historical analysis of Eurasian Animal Style has been guided by the concept of analogous formations based upon a more or less uniform foundation–one that cannot be understood by the usual analytical methodologies that use stylistical comparisons or typological seriations. Thus, the character of a local art can be grasped only by a comparative analysis with the ruling con- cept of world or religion within this culture. Using this method of analysis to understand the different animal styles means that we must go back to shamanism, a view of the world described by Alfoldi (1931) as “theriomorphe Weltbetrachtung,i.e., the theriomorph contemplation of the world. This again is a single- sided view and, in fact, is characterized by a transfer of self- knowledge to an environment that attributes human conscious- ness to all phenomena. The term “animation” will be used here for the lack of a better term because the Christian concept of an immortal soul does not explain this concept. Animation may be explained in quite a different manner. A number of “souls” are believed to exist in an individuum and the functions of these souls may be described in various manners. The animation at- tributed to each element in nature is a special force and it is believed, therefore, that each has its own power. The balance between such external forces and the human community will be arranged by the shaman, a specialist who is thought to have the extraordinary power necessary to be able to communicate with external forces such as “ghosts,” “ancestors,” or “souls.” Moreover, the shaman must defend his/her own community against the external forces. The active forces in an environment were generally thought to have been–or could realize themselves as–a zoomorph; as su- perior powers they were described as having the combined shape and quality of several animals. To meet these external forces the shaman required the assistance of ghosts which he/ she called upon; usually these appeared in the form of animals, or the combined attributes of several animals. Representations of these assistants were applied to the costume, the skin of the shaman, or to their implements by tattooing, painting, carving, embroidering, etc. They, therefore, became an “art to survive” or an “art of reality,” not one of representation. In the ages before the invention of metals, these forms were only rarely made from durable materials such as stone or bone. The major- ity did not survive beyond the duration of shamanic use. Such pieces, nevertheless, have been found dating to the Aurignacian period (Leroi-Gourhan 1971). ‘Animal Style’ and Shamanism Problems of Pictoral Tradition in Northern in Central Asia Burchard Brentjes Berlin

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Animals, Shamanism, Scythia


Page 1: Animal Style and Shamanism


AbstractThe Scythian Animal Style cannot be considered to be a bar-barian derivative of antique art, but rather it was a later offshotof northern Asian “art to survive,” i.e., the art of shamanism.This artistic style was the expression of a warrior nobility thatcan be parallelled to the art of the Bactrian Bronze Age orLuristan art. Some of the representative decorations of the up-per social strata have been preserved, while a larger group ofmuch richer artistic objects carved from wood or fashioned fromleather and other materials have only been recovered in excep-tional cases. Influences in nomadic art come from the southernEurasian states and were brought by nomads, and it is there-fore an intrusive art style from such locales as the AchaemenidEmpire. The ornateness of Scythian art came about as the re-sult of the availability of Siberian gold. The supply of goldcame to an end with the intrusion of Turkish tribes who formedcentralized tribal federations, and introduced discrete burialrituals while migrating westwards.

KeywordsAnimal Style, not barbarized Classical Greek, art to survive,shamanism

IntroductionEstablished concepts, having gained influence in scientific traditions,in turn, complicate the interpretation of reality. The concept of “Ani-mal Style” was coined by Michael Rostovtzeff in 1922 as a designa-tion for a secondary art style derived from Graeco-Roman art. Theterm is also used to describe the art of the cultures of the Eurasiansteppe belt during the first millenium BC.

The local cultures were variable in their artistic forms and, as awhole, could not be assimilated into the Mediterranean World.The concept of one Animal Style has been used to define theart of many cultures that incorporate zoomorphic forms intotheir art. In addition, the developmental phases of art in Classi-cal Antiquity has prevented the art of the steppe cultures frombeing thought of as independent developments–developmentsthat must be divided into many local and temporal styles. More-over, it separates the art of the steppes from the millenia-longtraditions of Eurasian art that had incorporated an Animal Style,such as that from the Bactrian Bronze Age, Luristan, and theMitanni and Hittite Cultures. Moreover, nearly all groups us-ing animals in their art use the animal as a symbol with a spe-cific significance.

Religion and artThe historical analysis of Eurasian Animal Style has been guidedby the concept of analogous formations based upon a more orless uniform foundation–one that cannot be understood by theusual analytical methodologies that use stylistical comparisonsor typological seriations. Thus, the character of a local art canbe grasped only by a comparative analysis with the ruling con-cept of world or religion within this culture. Using this methodof analysis to understand the different animal styles means thatwe must go back to shamanism, a view of the world describedby Alfoldi (1931) as “theriomorphe Weltbetrachtung,” i.e., thetheriomorph contemplation of the world. This again is a single-sided view and, in fact, is characterized by a transfer of self-knowledge to an environment that attributes human conscious-ness to all phenomena. The term “animation” will be used herefor the lack of a better term because the Christian concept of animmortal soul does not explain this concept. Animation maybe explained in quite a different manner. A number of “souls”are believed to exist in an individuum and the functions of thesesouls may be described in various manners. The animation at-tributed to each element in nature is a special force and it isbelieved, therefore, that each has its own power. The balancebetween such external forces and the human community willbe arranged by the shaman, a specialist who is thought to havethe extraordinary power necessary to be able to communicatewith external forces such as “ghosts,” “ancestors,” or “souls.”Moreover, the shaman must defend his/her own communityagainst the external forces.

The active forces in an environment were generally thought tohave been–or could realize themselves as–a zoomorph; as su-perior powers they were described as having the combinedshape and quality of several animals. To meet these externalforces the shaman required the assistance of ghosts which he/she called upon; usually these appeared in the form of animals,or the combined attributes of several animals. Representationsof these assistants were applied to the costume, the skin of theshaman, or to their implements by tattooing, painting, carving,embroidering, etc. They, therefore, became an “art to survive”or an “art of reality,” not one of representation. In the agesbefore the invention of metals, these forms were only rarelymade from durable materials such as stone or bone. The major-ity did not survive beyond the duration of shamanic use. Suchpieces, nevertheless, have been found dating to the Aurignacianperiod (Leroi-Gourhan 1971).

‘Animal Style’ and Shamanism

Problems of Pictoral Tradition in Northern in Central Asia

Burchard BrentjesBerlin

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Kurgans, Ritual Sites, and Settlements: Eurasian Bronze and Iron Age

The introduction of metallurgyThese basic (shamanic) beliefs were changed with the appear-ance of settled communities and the social differentiation thatoccurred during the metal-using periods. Particularly in the“earlier” transitional period of the warrior aristrocracies; theseearly societies, having made a profit by trade or war, couldnow display their splendid wealth as durable symbols of powercrafted in copper, bronze, gold, and iron when they interactedwith the previous class societies.

The producers of the Bactrian Bronze Age Culture (Sarianidi1986: 219 ff; pl. 82) were in contact with the Indus Cul-ture; Luristan tribes traded with the Assyro-Babylonianstates (Orthman 1975: pl. 318, 319 a.o.) as did the Sakaand the Scythians with China and Greece. Each transferedthe traditional zoomorphic symbols of their Stone Age pastinto representational art depicting predators, stags, eagles,owls, and other animals; they displayed these images oncostumes, armaments and jewellery. The wealth of“princely” burials from the Rhine to the Pacific could bedeceptive if viewed in terms of the reality. Although somepieces were worked in gold or silver, they reflected a lim-ited portion of the total cultural possessions. Some objectswere reused; melted down thereby losing their antique form.By far the largest majority of the artistic works were pro-duced in perishable materials; these have vanished throughage or destruction with only rare exceptions. Thus, we pos-sess only a tiny fraction of the art and motifs that reflect thetaste of war-like aristocracies, the upper stata of tribal com-munities.

Animal Style motifsDuring the Bactrian Brone Age, the bronzes depicted ti-gers, leopards, camels, horses, eagles or vultures, birds in asacred tree, dragons, snakes, frogs, and other animals aswell as humans and domesticted animals. Grotesque masks,lions, leopards, eagles, dragons, monsters, and the “master (andmistress) of animals” were motifs of Luristan art (Fig. 1).

Animal Style motifs used by the Scythians and the Saka(Artamano 1973), although having common trends, are dis-crete in each region. East of the Altai (Kessler 1993: 54) thetiger was the main symbol of power, while west of these moun-tains it was the wolf; in the region north of the Black Sea, thelion was replicated from the art of Greece or the Middle East-ern countries. In the East, the camel, bear, yak, and chamoisappear, while in western regions the stag, elk, and sheep weredominant. Common motives are those of the horse and eagle,often represented as a demonized gryphon. Saigas and hedge-hogs, groups of animals, and larger scenes depicting variousanimals were rarely shown. The latter motifs seem to expressvictories or triumphs, although their exact significances are notperceptible. Some of these motifs could be clan or tribal tradi-tions. The big bird as victor subduing a camel (Bespaly 1992:175-191) (Fig. 2 compare with Fig. 17) may have taken thetiger’s place; the mythical predator–sometimes winged–attack-ing an animal (Jettmar 1964: 154-155) could represent a hunt-ing or battle scene (Artamanov 1973: pl. 184–185).

Groups, as well as single animals, reflect the distribution ofrelated motifs that express myths or fairytales. The stag withbent legs and antlers lying across the back seems to have origi-nated in Mongolia and was transmitted westwards to the DanubeRiver region (Artamanov 1973: pls. 39, 72 a.o.) (Fig. 3). Thecoiled animal also came from the East (ibid. pl. 174) and couldrepresent a wolf (Fig. 4) feared as an evil ghost even today.Coiled into a near-circle, this form seems to be derived fromthe Chinese concept of rotating time. During the fourthmillenium BC, the dragon–still worshipped today in China asa symbol of force–was representated as a coiled animal in theHongshan Culture of Mongolia and Manchuria (Kessler 1993:fig. 9) (Fig. 5). This symbol of worldly supreme power hasreappeared since then in many variations, e.g., as a sign inpictoral writing or on reliefs or sculptures (Hentze 1937; 1941)(Fig. 6). The Sakas copied the Chinese version and adapted itto their own traditional art (Rudenko 1953: pl. LXXX, 3;Kubarev 1991: pl. XXXVIII, 25) (Fig. 7).

Even more unusual is the adaption and modification of the pow-erful eastern Asiatic motifs found in Saka art that were incor-porated during the reign of Shihuangti, and became the symbolof a dynasty or a war with the “Black Warrior from the North”(Willets 1970: 188) (Fig. 8). The Chinese version combined aturtle with a snake or dragon. This image was incorporated intopopular myths which claimed that only female turtles existed,and in order to propagate they must copulate with a snake. Innomadic art, this motif was changed to the combination of asnake and a hedgehog, because hedgehogs eat snakes. Nomadsalso incorporated the snake and the wolf (Artamanov 1973:pls. 186-187) (Fig. 9). This version of the symbol was carriedwest together with the triumphal scene of the tiger above thecamel (Kessler 1993: 56); the giant bird carrying a human sky-ward found its way as far west as Sicily, where it appears inNorman art (Fig. 17 1–1a).

The oldest known version of a bird with a man or woman isdated to the tenth and ninth millenium BC sites of Gbekli Tepeand Nevali Chori in southeastern Turkey. The scene illustratesa giant bird holding a human head in its claws. A second varia-tion is known as the Etana motif in Sumerian art, illustrated inthird millennium BC seals; the myth notes that Etana, the kingof Kish tried to fly on an eagle to the star of Ishtar (Brentjes1983: 92). This image reappears in relief on a golden vesselfrom Hasanlu, northwestern Iran, dated to approximately 1000BC (Brentjes 1978: pl. 21). The same form represents theGaruda in India (Bongard-Levin and Grantovsky 1974). Themotif was used in China during the Chou period (Hentze 1937:fig. 34) (Fig. 10), and in Greece where it illustrates the abduc-tion of Ganymed by the eagle of Zeus. In the Chinese versionthe bird appears to have “ears” so that it can also be interpretedas an “eagle owl,” a motif that plays an important role in Sibe-rian shamanism. The same bird appears on earrings made inthe steppes (Skobelev 1994), on Seljuk silks (Fig. 11) as wellas in the “Ascension of Christ” painted in the Cappella Palatinaat Palermo (Ettinghausen 1962: 46) (Fig. 12). A derived formof this image depicts the personnage reduced to a mask carriedby the owl (Chernezov 1953). The shamanistic tradition has

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the same significance as the Christian painting: the ascensioninto the upper world (Fig. 13).

Prototypes for this image could have been taken from theHongshan Culture found in Mongolia and Manchuria; they havebeen described as falcons with cat-like heads (Childs-Johnson1991: 82-95) (Fig. 14). This image is accompanied by another:the bird with a long “feather” at the posterior of its head. Thismotif can be seen on grave pottery from Xiabaogou in south-ern Mongolia dating into the fourth millenium BC (Brentjes1996: fig. 25) (Fig. 15), on Hittite reliefs from Alacha Hüyükdating from 1500 BC; and on Thracian silver work of the 4th tothe 3rd centuries BC. It could be that the same concept was thefoundation for this motif. The “rolled” feather found at Bashadarin the Altai, became transferred to the gryphon with a high crestknown from Pazyryk (Brentjes and Vasilevsky 1989: pls. 20-21). The latter motif resembles the eagle-headed demon ofAssyrian art and is similar to the peacock-demon incised onMitanni seals. The northern Syrian and the Greek gryphonshave two curls that hang behind their heads; this represents atype not found in actual zoomorphisms.

ConclusionsThe grave ceramics from Xiabaogou force us to rethink previ-ous interpretations– as this author must also do. These friezesare very similar to the Scythian Animal Style and combineprotomes of mammals, stags and antelopes or birds’ heads, withfish tails similar to those found in the Animal Style dating tothe first millenium BC (Fig. 16), yet they are older by aboutthree millenia. It appears difficult to place both groups into oneartistic tradition, yet perhaps the anomaly may be explained bynoting that both had the same ideological base. Creatures withzoomorphic juncture (mixed creatures) were, and are, the shamanicassistants still found in eastern Siberia in the present day.

Another factor exacerbating the study of the Animal Style is itsdisappearance in the steppes during the 2nd and 3rd centuriesAD after having reached its climax in the polychrome style ofthe Alans, the Saka, and the Sakaraukes as represented at Tillja-Tepe (Sarianidi 1985), Azov, and as seen in the “Siberian Gold.”Its disappearance could be attributed to several reasons: Turkictribes invading the west may have introduced discrete burialsrituals; great treasures were no longer added to the burials, ratherthey became royal treasures as indicated in the Avar and West-ern Turkic literary traditions. Such treasures were taken asbounty and given to the new ruler when the original ownerswere defeated. When the gold and silver works were melted orremelted or stolen, they became lost forever.1 It is possible,also, that the westward movement of Turkish tribes cut off theold trade routes that had originally brought the Siberian goldwestwards.

The great hoards of western Turkish khans described by Byz-antine ambassadors seem to have been lost except for some“post-Sasanian” silver plates (Lukonin 1967: pl. 203), and thepoor remains of the famous Avar treasure–the decorated goldjug from St. Agaune (Alfoldi 1948-1949: 1-27). The goldenjugs from Nagy Szent Miklos provide evidence for tradtional

continunity as seen in the ascension scenes that were combinedwith the new theme of royal victory. The forest areas of Eurasiapreserved the funeral ritual in which the Animal Style deco-rated the deceased; however these burials lacked the richnessand splendour found in the earlier burials of the nomadic tribalchieftains. The art of the Seljuks included a new dimension tothe art of empires by adding the double-headed eagle incorpo-rated into ancient motifs, such as the Ascension scene–a sym-bol used until the 12th and 13th centuries AD. The Mongolianexpansion brought new eastern and northern Asiatic elementsto the west, particularly to Iran and the Middle East; these ele-ments had forms that were connected to shamanism (Brentjes1982: pl. 48-53) and became adapted to express aspects of Is-lamic mystical art, and western and southern European feudalsymbolism.

Endnote1. A similar event may be recalled in the case of the discovery in two

sacks, the two gold sets of royal crockery known as the treasure of Nagy

Szent Miklos (Laszlo and Racz 1977).

‘Animal Style’ and Shamanism: Problems of Pictoral Tradition in Northern in Central Asia

ReferencesAlfoldi, A. 1931. Die theriomorphe Weltbetrachtung in denhochasiatischen Kulturen, pp. 393-418, Archäologischer Anzeiger.Deutsches Archäologisisches Institut, Jhrgg (“The theriomorphreception of the world in the cultures of High Asia”).

Alfoldi, A. 1948-1949. Die Goldkanne von St. Maurice d’Agaune.Zeitschrift für schweize- rische Archäologie und Kunstgeschichte 10,1-27 (“The gold jug of St. Maurice of Agaune.” Journal of theArchaeology and History of Art of Switzerland).

Artamonov, M. 1973. Socrovisha sakov. Moscow: Iskusstvo (“Trea-sures of the Saka”).

Bespaly, E. I. 1992. Kurgan sarmatskogo vremen u g. Azova.Sovetskaya Archeologiya 1, 175-91 (“A Sarmatian period kurganfrom near the Sea of Azov.” Soviet Archaeology).

Bongard-Levin, G. and Grantovsky, E. 1974. Ot Skifii do Indii.Moscow: Nauka (“From India to Scythia”).

Brentjes, B. 1978. Die iranische Welt vor Mohammed. Leipzig:Köhler and Amelang (“The Iranian world before Muhammad”).

Brentjes, B. 1982. Der Tierstil in Eurasien. Leipzig: VEB EASeemann (“The Animal Style in Eurasia”).

Brentjes, B. 1983. Alte Siegelkunst des Vorderen Orients. Leipzig:VEB EA Seemann (“The ancient art of seals in the Middle East”).

Brentjes, B. 1996. 1. Frühe Steinstelen Sibiriens und derMongolei. Central Asiatic Journal 40, 21-55 (“Early stone stelaein Siberia and Mongolia”).

Brentjes, B. and Vasilievsky, R. S. 1989. Schamanenkrone undWeltenbaum. Kunst der Nomaden Nordasiens. Leipzig: VEB EA

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Kurgans, Ritual Sites, and Settlements: Eurasian Bronze and Iron Age

Fig. 1. Idol. Luristan, ca. 1000 BC.

Fig. 2. The bird of victory attacks acamel. Decoration on a dagger foundnear Azov, Russia, AD 2nd century.

Seemann (“The crown of the shaman and the tree of life - Art ofthe nomads of Northern Asia”).

Chernezov, V. N. 1953. Bronza Ustpolujskogo vremeni. Materialyi Issledovaniya po Archeologiya SSSR 35, 121-78 (“Bronzes ofUstípoluy times.” Materials and studies on the Archaeology ofthe USSR).

Childs-Johnson, E. 1991. Jades of the Hongshan Culture. Dragonand fertility cult worship. Ars Asiatiaques 46, 82-95

Ettinghausen, R. 1962. Arabische Malerei. Geneva: Albert-Skira-Verlag (“Arabian Paintings”).

Hentze, C. 1937. Frühchinesische Bronzen und Kultdarstellungen.Antwerpen: De Sikkel (“Early Chinese bronzes and ritual repre-sentations”).

Hentze, C. 1941. Bronzegerät, Kultbauten, Religion im ältestenChina der Shang-Zeit. Antwerpen: De Sikkel (“Bronze utensils,ritual buildings and the oldest religion in the Shang period ofChina”).

Jettmar, K. 1964. Die frühen Steppenvölker. Baden-Baden: Holle-Verla (“The early peoples of the steppes”).

Kessler, A. T. 1993. Empires beyond the Great Wall. Los Angeles:Natural History Museum.

Kubarev, V. D. 1991. Kurgany Justyda. Novosibirsk: Nauka(“Kurgans of Yustid”).

Laszlo, G. and Racz, O. 1977. Der Goldschatz von Nagyszent-miklós.Budapest: Corvina Kiato (“The golden hoard of Nagyszentmiklos”).

Leroi-Gourhan, A. 1971. Prähistorische Kunst. Freiburg - Basel -Wien: Herder-Verlag (“Prehistoric Art”).

Lukonin, W. G. 1967. Persien II (Archaeologia Mundi). Geneva:Nagel-Verlag (“Persia II”).

Orthmann, W. 1975. Der Alte Orient (Propyläen Kunstgeschichte14). Berlin: Propyläen Verlag, (“The Ancient Orient.” ThePropyläen History of Art).

Rostovtzeff, M. 1922. Iranians and Greeks in South Russia. Ox-ford: Clarendon Press.

Rudenko, S. I. 1953. Kultura naseleniya gornogo Altaya v skifskoevremya. Moscow - Leningrad: Nauka (“Culture of the populationof the Altai Mountains in the Scythian period”).

Sarianidi, V. I. 1985. Baktrisches Gold. Leningrad: Aurora Pub-lisher (“Bactrian Gold”).

Sarianidi, V. I. 1986. Die Kunst des Alten Afghanistan. Leipzig:VEB EA Seemann (“The art of Ancient Afghanistan”).

Skobelev, S. G. 1994. Podveski s izobrazheniem drevnetjurskoj boginiUmay. Sovetskaya Archeologiya 2, 226-233 (“Earrings with representa-tions of the ancient Turkish goddess Umay.” Soviet Archaeology).

Willets, W. 1970. Das Buch der chinesischen Kunst. Leipzig: VEBEA Seemann (“The book of Chinese art”).

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Fig. 3. Deer stone (olenniye kamni). Mongolia, early firstmillenium BC.

Fig. 4. Coiled animal. Saka, Siberian Gold Collection, Hermitage,St. Petersburg.

Fig. 5. “Dragon,” Hongshan Culture, fourthmillenium BC.

Fig. 6. “Dragon” on a bronze dish. Yin Dy-nasty, late second millenium BC.

‘Animal Style’ and Shamanism: Problems of Pictoral Tradition in Northern in Central Asia

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Kurgans, Ritual Sites, and Settlements: Eurasian Bronze and Iron Age

Fig. 7. “Dragon.” Saka carving. Yustid, Altai, 5th-4th centuries BC.

Fig. 8. “The Black Warrior from the North.” Relief, Han Dynasty.

Fig. 9 (above). Gold plaque, snake and feline. Saka, Hermitage Museum, St. Pe-tersburg.

Fig. 10 (right). Eagle-owl holds a man. Bronze, Chou Dynasty.

Page 7: Animal Style and Shamanism


Fig. 11. Eagle owl lifts a “soul.” Silk, Seljuk, Quedlinburg .

Fig. 12. Ascension of Christ.” Capella Palatina,Palermo.

Fig. 13. “Ascension” scene. Sasanian silver plate,AD 6th-7th centuries.

‘Animal Style’ and Shamanism: Problems of Pictoral Tradition in Northern in Central Asia

Page 8: Animal Style and Shamanism


Kurgans, Ritual Sites, and Settlements: Eurasian Bronze and Iron Age

Fig. 14. Falcon with a head of a cat. Jade, Hongshan Culture, fourth millenium BC.

Fig. 15. Decoration on two grave vessels: 1- found at Xiabaogou, Manchuria; compare with 2 - Chilitka gold ornaments, Kazakhstan,6th century BC.

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Fig. 16. Comparison of details. 1a–b - Xiabaogou with Saka ornaments; 2 a–c - Chilikta 6th century BC;2 d–e - Pazyryk 4th century BC; 2f - Issyk Kurgan; 3 - “Assistant ghost” of a shaman from the Lena Riverregion, AD 17th century.

‘Animal Style’ and Shamanism: Problems of Pictoral Tradition in Northern in Central Asia

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Kurgans, Ritual Sites, and Settlements: Eurasian Bronze and Iron Age

Fig. 17. Com

pare. 1- Nom

an coat of arms; 1a – detail, Palerm

o, AD

13th century; 2 - tw

o bronze plaques, Saka, Central A

sian 2nd century B


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AbstractAccording to the classification of trepanations used by modernpalaeopathologists, one group includes ritual operations. Inprehistoric Europe trepanatio postmortem sive posthuma wasaccomplished to create amulets from the bones of human skulls,while in Central Asia postmortem operations were connectedwithin funerary traditions, including embalming and mummi-fication. Craniological materials in this study are dated to theend of the Early Iron Age, and originated from the MinusinskBasin in Southern Siberia. From three series, numbering 270Tagar skulls, 46 trepanned skulls were recognized in whichthis procedure was performed on crania before the soft tissuehad disappeared. Lesions, classified according to location andsize, revealed five basic types. Analyses were also conductedon crania from northwestern Mongolia, Tuva, Kazakhstan, andthe Altai, indicating that skull trepanation had a wide distribu-tion throughout many different nomadic societies.

KeywordsCentral Asia, burial rites, trepanation, nomads

IntroductionTrepanation may be defined as the removal of a disk of bonefrom the skull. This type of surgery was practiced widelythroughout the ancient world, and still is important in somemodern ethnic groups. Currently, it is unclear as to which sci-ence was involved in this phenomenon. Research on trepana-tion was originally in the realm of physicians and anthropolo-gists. Many famous scientists such as P. Broca in France, D.Anuchin (1895) in Russia, and J. Matiegka (1928) in the CzechRepublic, who developed different branches of study withinphysical anthropology, did not avoid including the provocativetheme of trepanation in their research. Subsequently, with thedifferentiation of sciences, palaeopathology has entered thesphere of research on human trepanation (Ruffer 1918). In thisstudy, rhetorical questions may be asked: Is it sufficient to limitthe study of this science to descriptions and interpretations ofsuch a complex phenomenon using only the medical aspects?Is it not equally important to incorporate the social aspects oftrepanning?

Palaeopathologists frequently provide analyses of apertures thatshow traces of healing; they also describe various traumaticconditions. Unfortunately, many of the studies have not includedthe historical context of the skeletal remains since only the geo-

graphical location of the finds and the approximate date wereof interest to traditional palaeopathologists. Undoubtedly, de-fining other details pertaining to the skeletal material wouldalso be useful, and therefore, it should be considered absolutelynecessary to include the features surrounding the burial rites inthe study of trepanation.

Archaeologists must describe the consequences of postmor-tem manipulations. Historical sciences have recorded valuableinformation pertaining to the ancient cults of various parts of abody. Of primary importance are cults of the skull related toancestors cults, distribution of postmortem masks, embalmingand mummification traditions, manipulations of the defeatedenemy, neutralization of buried spirits, decapitation, and scalp-ing. In addition to the skill required to describe apertures inhuman skulls that came about as a result of external influences,the studies should include issues such as: How did the peoplewhose skeletal finds are under study interact within the ancientcultures? Were migrations of the peoples involved? What wasthe distribution of the religions and cultic concepts, wars, andcolonization in other territories? What will be the result of ana-lyzing the two discrete approaches as they come together?

Methods of TrepanationThe common methods for trepanation are (a) scraping; (b)grooving; (c) boring-and-cutting and (d) rectangular intersect-ing incisions (Lisowski 1967). The scraping technique was prob-ably one of the most common methods and was distributedchronologically from ancient Egypt to the Renaissance periodin Italy. The grooving technique was also frequently used inmany parts of the world and is currently still performed inKenya. The boring-and-cutting method was used in Peru. Itwas also described by Celsus in Roman times, then adopted bythe Arabs, and became standard in the Middle Ages. A methodin which four straight incisions were made was commonlyadopted in Peru, but is also known in Neolithic France, IronAge Palestine, and modern Africa.

The classification of trepanations currently in use today in-cludes: (1) real or surgical trepanation (trepanatio ante mortem),defined as any opening of the skull on a living person; (2) ritualtrepanation (trepanatio post mortem sive post huma), any post-humous opening with the aim of obtaining a part of the skullvault to be use as an amulet or other use (Broca 1877); (3)

Post-Mortem Trepanations in Central Asia: Types and Trends

Maria MednikovaInstitute of Archaeology

Russian Academy of Sciences

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symbolic trepanation, an operation on the skull roof of a livingperson that does not affect the inner compact layer of the bone(Bartucz 1950; Nemeskery et al 1960).

Using the current system of classification of trepanation pro-cedures, a group of undoubtedly ritual postmortem operationsmay be described. In prehistoric Europe, the majority of caseswere performed in order to obtain amuletic material from hu-man skull bones. In Central Asia, however, the postmortemoperations were performed in connection with the funerary tra-ditions of embalming and mummification.

In Russian Central Asia, the Altai-Sayan highland andMinusinsk Basin belongs to the Eurasian steppe belt that hasbeen inhabited by ancient tribes for millennia. The plains land-scape, strong continental climate, and rich natural resourcescreated favorable conditions for the development of a cattle-breeding economy. From the beginning of the Early Iron Agethe inhabitants of the region were nomads and, without a writ-ten language, information about these cultures has been mainlydeduced from archaeological investigations. The end of the firstmillennium BC is the most complex period to interpret burialrites because of the strong variability evidenced in the culturesof this time. According to archaeological and anthropologicaldata, this was a period of cultural and ethnic changes. Migra-tion to the Middle Yenisei steppes introduced new types of cloth-ing, adornments, and tools that became distributed over theHsiung-nu territory. It is possible that a new population infil-trated from the south, from Tuva or beyond (Vadezkaya 1986).Collective burials are noted for this time period. A late Tagargrave may contain more than 100 skeletons, many of whichare incomplete, but all were buried simultaneously. Burials havebeen excavated, for example, in which artificially separatedparts of the cadavers were exposed (Kuzmin 1983).

Goroshenko (1899), the first investigator of the palaeo-anthro-pological materials from the Minusinsk Basin, reported to theEmpire Archaeological Commission on the nature of the artifi-cial damage to the human remains found in late Tagar mounds.He described large perforations in the parietal bones, and clas-sified this manipulation as an after-death event in which thebrain was evacuated in connection with some variant of thedeath mask ritual. Goroshenko also noted that some “trepanned”skulls were coated with clay that, in turn, were covered withgypsum. It is possible that the skulls had lost their soft tissue atthe time the gypsum masks were created.

The goal of this study is to provide a more detailed descriptionof the lesions on skulls from Early Iron Age Minusinsk Basinburials, and to find the nearest analogies to these types oflesions.

Cranial MaterialCraniological materials from the Minusinsk Basin in SouthernSiberia, dating to the end of the Early Iron Age, were studied.Among 270 skulls in three series, 46 trepanned skulls wereidentified. The majority of trepanned individuals were buriedduring the last period of the Tagar Culture in the 3rd and 2nd

centuries BC. An absence of trepanned skulls is noted in theearlier periods of the Tagar culture. Three cases that were alsoinvestigated belonged to the later dated Tashtyk Culture thatbegan in the 2nd century BC.

About 100 years ago the Siberian archaeologist, A. Adrianov,excavated the sites of Tagarski Ostrov (Tagar Island),Samokhval, and Kyzyl-Kul. According to the tradition of thetime, only crania were collected; these were carefully preservedin the Minusinsk Museum. In Kurgan Numbers 2, 3, 6, 8 atKyzyl-Kul, excavated between 1895-1897, ceramics, ironknives, bone arrowhead, fragmented gold plates, and fragmentsof masks were excavated (Adrianov, field diaries;1 Vadezkaya1986). From these graves the author has identified 42 trepannedskulls; 22 were from male skeletons; 19 from female skeletons,and one from a child of 2-4 years of age at the time of death.

Mound Number 9, Burial 7, at the Samokhval site, excavatedin 1898, held only one example of an artificial lesion; this wason the skull of a child that was between 7 years 6 months and 8years 6 months at the time of death.

The Tagarski Ostrov series consists of the remains of 59 indi-viduals from different time periods. Three trepanned skulls fromKurgan 8 belonged to two women and a child of about 5 yearsat the time of death. They were excavated in 1883, along withgrave goods that included ceramics, bone arrows, amulets, frag-mented masks, and horse astralagi.

MethodologyThe method of testing used in the current study was visual andby palpation. Comparative study of various diagnostic tech-niques (Chege et al 1996) demonstrates that such simple meth-ods can clearly differentiate crania with bone regeneration andthose without, i.e., intravital or postmortem trepanations. Thelargest outer and inner diameters of the perforations were re-corded. Three areas on the trepanation margins were described:the outer margin, the inner margin, and the surface between themargins. To reconstruct the technique of intervention, the rela-tion of the trepanned surface plane to the horizontal plane wasdetermined (Nemeskery et al 1965).

Results of the StudyTo summarize the principal results, the technique involved inthe trepanation was to cut the fresh skulls using sharp, flat-bladed instruments. Traces of healing or inflammatory reac-tions were not present. The margins were sharp and there wereno indications of vital reaction. The outer margins of the open-ings were larger than the inner ones; this finding indicates adifferentiation of the damage from traumatic lesions. In thecase of an injury caused by a battle weapon, the exit area of theweapon seen inside the skull is larger than the external hole.This indicates that trepanations appear in the opposite manner(Berryman and Jones 1996). In most cases, the difference insize between the perforations of external and the inner com-pact skull layers was not so clear as when a typical scrapingprocedure was used (Lisowski 1967). It is apparent that thetrepanners were not especially careful and had no fear of de-

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stroying the dura mater or the brain itself. The original unchangedstructure of the spongy substance is visible; any trace of bonecallus development is not apparent. As a consequence of thesefinding and the large areas of destruction, it is apparent that theoperations would have been fatal if the patient were alive; there-fore, it can be concluded that the procedures took place after death.

The lesions were classified according to their location; the ba-sic types are as follows.

Type 1. Skulls with large symmetric perforations on the pari-etal and temporal bones. The occipital bone and the facial skel-eton were not destroyed (Fig. 1). Some skulls were plasteredand, occasionally, red clay filled the orbital cavities (Fig. 2).The preliminary technological analysis of the plaster samplesindicates the absence of any special additives in the clay, suchas fragmented shells.

Type 2. Skulls with extensive bilateral destruction. The facialskeleton and cranial base are absentand, as a rule, the parietalbones were completely removed (Fig. 3).

Type 3. The skulls have large single perforations in the parietalregions (Fig. 4).

Type 4. The skulls demonstrate both large perforations in theparietal bones and small oval or round lesions in the occipitalarea (Fig. 5).

Type 5. The skulls have large lesions on the occipital bonesand/or small holes on the temporal bones (Fig. 6). Small open-ings were made using the traditional scraping technique.

DiscussionIn the most representative Kyzyl-Kul series, trepanationswere found both among adults, juveniles, and small chil-dren. The Type 1 procedure appears to have been more com-mon among males. There is an absence of gender differ-ence when juvenile and adult female samples were com-bined (Fig. 7). Different techniques may have been used onlittle children. Infants from different kurgans at Kyzyl-Kuland Tagar Isle were trepanned after death using the Type 4and 5 methods. Funerary rituals at Tagar Island andSamokhval also influenced trepanations using the Types 4and 5 techniques..It is noteworthy that Goroshenko (1899) was correct in hisevaluation that the human remains were deliberately destroyed,and the skulls of the Tagar and the Tashtyk personages weretrepanned after death. Moreover, the artificial apertures weremore varied in form and location than was previously suspected.

Other areas of studyFor comparative analyses, northwestern Mongolia, Tuva,Kazakstan, and Altai were also included in this study. The datacollected by different authors indicate the sporadic appearanceof trepanned skulls in these territories (Fig. 8). Trepanations inthe Saglynskaya Culture in Tuva and the Pazyryk Culture inthe Altai can, undoubtedly, be interpreted as a sequence in the

embalming procedure. The Mongolian Ulaangom trepannedskulls and the single example from Central Kazakstan was ei-ther intravital or postmortem (Bazarsad and Tumen 1998, 122–129). The location of the trepanations and, probably the tech-niques used in opening the skulls, however, appear to be simi-lar to those used in southern Siberia. This is especially the casefor the Type 5 procedure, with small oval apertures. Thetrepanned skulls in Mongolia seems to illustrate an intermedi-ate position by combining the locations of apertures: found ontemporal bones in Tuva, and in the Kazakhstan example, theperforation is located on the border of the temporal and occipi-tal bones. In addition, cases from Tuva are more similar to somevariations of the apertures found in the Minusinsk basin.

Ritual trepanation was probably also distributed in western Si-beria. Dating to the Early Iron Age, artificial skull destructionwas reported at the Bystrovka 2 burial site in the Upper Ob’River region (Shpakova and Borodovski 1998). These Type 2damages appear similar to the openings and damage found onthe crania of the late Tagar Culture population at Kysyl-Kul.

We can assume that the area of ritual post mortem trepanationin Central Asia may cover a broader geographical area. Per-haps, common spiritual beliefs and religions were characteris-tic for the populations at the end of the first millennium BC. Itseems probable that the populations that practiced such ritesmay have had common genetic origins. It is noteworthy thatamong the other Tagarians, the people buried in Kurgan Num-bers 1-3 at Kysyl-Kul had the most craniometrical similaritieswith the Scythian period inhabitants of Tuva, and the Sakafrom central Kazakstan (Kosintsev 1977). The cultural andethnic relationships between populations from Tuva and north-ern Mongolia are, no doubt, very close since they were essen-tially one large population (Novgorodova et al 1982; Grach1980). The results of the study of the trepanations, therefore,generally support the hypothesis that populations moved fromthe south through Tuva into the Minusinsk Basin. During thesemigrations the nomadic populations introduced new funerarytraditions and techniques of trepanation. The earliest methodof trepanation was typically performed during the later periodof the Tagar Culture and is reflected in Types 1–4. The latertechnique, Type 5, is seen in the Tashtyk Culture.

The plastering of skulls is also another funerary ceremony thatneeds to be further studied since this practice is known in ar-chaic and geographically distant cultures as noted below.

(1) In the Ancient Near East: Jericho, Ain Ghazal, Beisamoun, TellRamad I and II, the later Pre-pottery Neolithic, Phase b 9f, PPNBCulture (Kenyon 1957; 1979; Strouhal 1973; Bienert 1991).

(2) In the Ukraine: Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporozie, Kherson, Nikolaev,Donezk provinces, and the Crimean steppes. During the Middle BronzeAge, a local variant of the Catacomb Grave Culture of the secondmillennium BC (Otroshenko and Pustovalov 1991).

(3) In the Russian Federation: Kalmykia, the Early Bronze AgePit Grave Culture (N. Shishlina pers. comm.).

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(4) In the Russian Federation, western Siberia: Botai settle-ment, fourth-third millennium BC (4300+120). A single de-capitated, intravital trepanned, and plastered skull of a femaleexcavated in the settlement area (Rykushina and Zaibert 1984).

The funerary tradition specifically found in the later TagarCulture may have very ancient roots, at least as early as theBronze Age in the Eurasian steppes, in which specific ritualbehavior frequently included simultaneous skull trepanning,plastering and masking, and the separation of body parts.

ConclusionsPost-mortem trepanation should be considered as a perspec-tive approach to be included in the study of Central Asian no-madic archaeology. It is possible that common tendencies ofspirit life and funeral traditions in the steppes of southern andwestern Siberia, northwestern Mongolia and Kazakstan in theEarly Iron Age will be discovered. Southern Siberian archaeo-logical studies may well have a positive role in the discoveryof these relationships, since the Minusinsk Basin was a uniquerendezvous point which combined discrete funerary techniquesthat including embalming, trepanation, and skull plastering.

AcknowledgementsI would like to thank Dr. Yuri Tsetlin, the Group for the Studiesof Ceramics History, Institute of Archaeology, Moscow, for theanalyses of the clay and gypsum patterns, and Dr. NikolaiLeontyev, Minusinsk Museum, for useful consultations and helpwhile working with archival data.

Endnote 1. Adrianov’s diaries are located in the Institute of History ofMaterial Culture. St. Petersburg, 2a, Naran B, Tumen D

ReferencesAnuchin D. 1895. Amulet iz chelovecheskoi kosti i trepanaziyacherepov v drevnie vremena v Rossii. Trudy IX, Arkheo-logicheskogos’ ezda v Rige, 1893, 1. Moscow: Nauka, 1893, v.1) (“An amuletfrom the human cranial bones and prehistoric trepanations inRussia.” Materials of the IX Archaeological Meeting in Riga in1983, 1.)

Bartucz, L. 1950. Adatok a koronyalekeles (trepanacio) es abregmasebek kapcsolatanak problemajahoz magyarorszaginepvandorlaskori koronyak alapjan, pp. 389–435 in Annalesbiologicae universitatis Szegediensis. Tomus I. Szegediensis: RedigitA. Abraham (“Data dealing with the relationship between trepa-nation and bregmatic skull lesions during the Migration period.”Biological Annals of the University of Szegediensis).

Bazarsad, N. and Tumen. 1998. Travmaticheskie povrezdeniyana cherepakh Chandmanskogo mogilnika, Rossiyskaya Arkheo-logiya, 4, 122–9. (“Traumatic injuries on crania from theChandman burial ground”).

Berryman, H. E. and Jones, S. J. 1996. Applying Forensic Tech-niques to Interpret Cranial Fracture Patterns in an Archaeologi-cal Specimen. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 6, 2–9.

Bienert, H. -D. 1991. Skull cult in the Prehistoric Near East.Journal of Prehistoric Religion 5, 9–23.

Boev P. and Ismagulov. O. 1962. Trepanirovannyi cherep izKazakhskoi SSR, Moscow: Sovetskaya etnographia. (“Trephinatedskull from Kazakstan SSR”)

Broca, P. 1877. Sur la trepanation du crane et les amulettescraniennes a l’epoque neolithique, Copte rendu du Congres in-tern. d’Anthropologie et d’Archeologie prehistorique 1876, Section8, Vol. I. Budapest (“On Cranial Trepanation and amulettes madefrom Cranial bone from the Neolithic Period.” Proceedings ofthe International Congress of Prehistoric Anthrology and Ar-chaeology).

Chege, N., Sartoris, D. G., Tyson, R. and Resnick, D. 1996.Imaging Evaluation of Skull Trepanation Using Radiography andCT. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 6, 249–58.

Goroshenko, K. 1899. Gypsovye pogrebalnye maski i osobyi tiptrepanazii v kurganah Minusinskogo okruga, pp. 172–88 in TrudyX Arheologicheskogo S’ezda 1886 v Rige. Moscow (“Gypsum fu-neral masks and special type of trephination in mounds ofMinusinsk district.” Materials of the 10th Archaeological Meet-ing 1886 in Riga).

Grach, A. D. 1980. Drevnie kochevniki v zentre Asii. Moscow:Nauka (“Ancient nomads in Centre of Asia”).

Kenyon, K. M. 1957. Digging up Jericho. London: Ernest BennLimited.

Kenyon, K. M. 1979. Archaeology in the Holy Land. New York:Ernest Benn Limited, W. W. Norton & Co. Inc. (4th edition).

Kosintsev, A. G. 1977. Antropologicheskij sostav i proiskhozdenienaseleniya tagarskoi kultury. Leningrad: Nauka (“Anthropologicalcomposition and origin of the Tagar culture population”).

Kuzmin, N. Y. 1983. Tesinskie pogrebalnye pamyatniki na yugeHakasii u g. Sayanogorska, pp. 72–5 in Drevnie kultury evrasijskihstepej. Leningrad: Nauka (“Tesinskie burial sites in the South ofKhakasia”. Ancient cultures of the Eurasian steppes).

Lisowski, F. P. 1967. Prehistoric and Early Historic Trepanation,pp. 651–72 in Brothwell, D. R. and Sandison, A. T. (eds.), Dis-eases in Antiquity. Illinois: Charles C. Thomas.

Matiegka J., 1928. La trepanation et autres operations sur la tetea l’ epoque prehistorique sur le territoire de la Tchecoslovaque.Anthropologie 1, 41–55 (“Trepanation and other operations onthe head in the prehistoric age in the territory of Chechoslovakia”).

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Nemeskery, J., Ery, K. and Kralovansky, A. 1960. Symbolicallytrephined skulls in Hungary. Kulolenyomat az AntropoloiaiKozlrmenyek 4, 1–22.

Nemeskery, J., Kralovansky, A. and Harsanyi, L. 1965. Trephinedskulls from the tenth century. Acta Archaeologica Hungaria 17,343–57.

Novgorodova, E. A., Volkov, V. V., Korenevskij, S. N. andMamonova, N. N. 1982. Ulangom - ein Graberfeld der skythischenZeit aus der Mongolei. Wiesbaden: Otto Harassowitz (“Ulangom- a burial site of the Scythian period from Mongolia”).

Otroshenko, V. V. and Pustovalov, S. J. 1991. Obryad modelirovkiliza po cherepu u plemen katakombnoi obshnosti, pp. 59–83 inGening, V. F. (ed.), Duhovnaya kultura drevnih obshstv na territoriiUkrainy. Kiev: Naukova Dumka (“The rite of face modelling onthe skulls among tribes of the Catacomb community.” The spiri-tual culture of the ancient societies in the territory of Ukraine).

Ruffer, M. A. 1918. Studies in Palaeopathology: Some recentResearches on Prehistoric Trephining. Journal of Pathology andBacteriology 22, 91–104.

Fig. 1 (left). Type 1 cranial trepanation.

Fig. 2 (above). Type 1 skulls with large symmetrical per-forations in the parietal and temporal bones. The facialskeleton was not destroyed. Some skulls were plasteredand red-colored clay filled the orbital cavities. SouthernSiberia. Burial site, Kyzyl-Kul.

Post-Mortem Trepanations in Central Asia: Types and Trends

Shpakova, E. and Borodovski, A. 1998. Fakty iskusstvennogopovrezdeniya cherepov iz Novosibirskogo Priobya v epochurannego zheleza, pp. 685–92 in Molodin, V. I. (ed.), Sibir vpanorame tysyacheletij - Materialy symposiuma. Novosibirsk: Insti-tute of Archaeology and Ethnography (“The occurrence of artifi-cial damage among skulls from the Novosibirsk Ob region in theEarly Iron Age.” Siberia in panorama of millennia - Abstracts ofmeeting).

Strouhal, E. 1973. Five plastered skulls from the pre-potteryNeolithic B Jericho - Anthropological study. Paleorient 1, 231–47.

Rykushina, G. and Zaibert, V. 1984. Predvaritelnoe soobshenieo skeletnyh ostatkah ludej s eneoliticheskogo poseleniya Botai,pp. 121–57 in Zaibert, V. F., Zdanovich, S., Merpert, N. andIvanova, N. (eds.), Bronzovyj vek Uralo-Irtyshskogo Mezdurechya.Chelyabinsk: Bashkir (“Preliminary report on the human skeletalremains recovered from the Eneolithic settlement site of Botai.”The Bronze Age of the Ural-Irtysh district.).

Vadezkaya, E. 1986. Arheologicheskie pamyatniki v stepyah SrednegoEniseya. Leningrad: Nauka (“Archaeological sites in the MiddleYenisej steppes”).

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Fig. 3. Type 2 crania with w

ide bilateral destruction. The facial skeleton and cranial base are absent. A

s a rule, parietal bones were com

pletely removed.

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Fig. 4. Type 3 crania with a single large hole in the parietal regions.

Fig. 5. Type 4 crania demonstrating both large trepanations on the parietals and small oval or round lesions in the occipital area.

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Fig. 6. Crania illustrating Type 4 trepanations.

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Fig. 8. The location of trepanations on nomadic crania: A. Mongolia (after Bazarsadand Tumen 1998); B. Tuva (after Grach1980); C. Kazakstan (after Boev and Ismagulov 1962); D. western Siberia (after Shpakova and Borodovski 1998).

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AbstractThe cemetery complex of Aymyrlyg is located in the Ulug-Khemski region of the Autonomous Republic of Tuva in southSiberia. Recent osteological analysis of a corpus of Scythianperiod skeletons (3rd to 2nd centuries BC) from the cemeteryhas revealed evidence of cutmarks on the remains of a numberof individuals. It is probable that the cutmarks were producedduring the defleshing and disarticulation of the cadavers, whichappears to have been undertaken during secondary burial prac-tices. The processing and mummification of the dead appearsto have been a common phenomenon in the south Siberian re-gion during late prehistory. Mummified bodies have been re-trieved from burials of the Pazyryk Culture of the High Altai.In addition, evidence for the physical processing of the deadhas been identified in burials of the final stage of the TagarCulture in the Minusinsk Basin. The different forms of mum-mification and practices of secondary burial in the south Sibe-rian region during the later stages of the Scythian period willbe presented, and the possible motivational factors for thesepractices will be discussed.

KeywordsAymyrlyg, Siberia, Scythian period, mummification, second-ary burial

IntroductionThe objective of this paper is to present evidence for second-ary burial practices among the Scythian period population groupburied in the cemetery of Aymyrlyg, Tuva, southern Siberia.An overview of the different forms of mummification and sec-ondary burial practices in operation in southern Siberia duringthe Iron Age will be provided, and the motivational forces whichmay have been responsible for these funerary customs will alsobe discussed.

The term Scythian World is applied to a group of archaeologi-cal cultures dating from approximately the 7th to the 2nd centu-ries BC and located in the steppes, forest-steppes, foothills andmountains of the Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia andthe northern part of China (Clenova 1994: 499). The culturescovered by the term Scythian World are, therefore, geographi-cally wide ranging. The culture of the Scythian World in Tuvais called the Uyuk Culture, a name that is derived from theUyuk river basin, where the first scientific excavations of monu-

ments of this culture occurred (Mannai-Ool 1970: 8). The UyukCulture was bordered by two other Scythian period cultures,the Pazyryk Culture to the west and the Tagar Culture to thenorth (Mandelshtam 1992: 179).

The material culture of the Eurasian steppe nomads and semi-nomads was markedly similar, as too were the political andeconomic practices which they each followed (Abetekov andYusopov 1994: 23). The common material culture of theScythian World is known as the Scythian Triad and consists ofweapons, horse harnesses, and objects decorated in the AnimalStyle of artwork (Moshkova 1994: 231). Other components ofthe Scythian World (such as dwellings, burial customs, ceram-ics and adornments) differ considerably, however, between thevarious cultures. Consequently, it is not possible to envisage asingle Scythian Culture but rather a variety of cultures of theScythian World (Clenova 1994: 500-501). In addition, theScythian World was not a centralized state, but rather a con-federation of powerful nomadic clans (Vernadsky 1943: 51).Artefacts discovered in Tuva’s Scythian period funerary monu-ments indicate that the economy of these highland-steppepeoples was based upon semi-nomadic pastoralism augmentedwith land-cultivation, hunting and gathering. The important rolethat warfare played in society is betrayed by the great varietyof weaponry contained in the tombs of the Uyuk Culture.

The Aymyrlyg CemeterySituated in the Ulug-Khemski region of the Autonomous Re-public of Tuva in southern Siberia (Fig. 1), the cemetery com-plex of Aymyrlyg was excavated between 1968 and 1984 byarchaeologists from the Sayano-Tuvinskaya Expedition Teamof the Institute for the History of Material Culture in St. Peters-burg. The excavations were directed by Dr. A. M. Mandelshtamduring the period between 1968 and 1978, and the researchprogramme then continued under Dr. E. U. Stambulnik untilthe mid-1980s. The burial ground was in use for a considerableperiod of time; the earliest burials date to the Bronze Age whilethe latest burials date to at least the 18th century AD(Mandelshtam 1983: 26). The majority of the burials excavatedby Mandelshtam proved to belong to the Scythian period (7th –2nd century BC), the greatest proportion dating to between the3rd–2nd centuries BC. Most of the burials excavated under thedirectorship of Stambulnik date to the Hunno-Sarmatian pe-riod (1st century BC–AD 2nd century).

Mummification and Body Processing: Evidence from the Iron Age in Southern Siberia

Eileen M. MurphySchool of Archaeology and Palaeoecology

Queen’s University of BelfastNorthern Ireland

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The interior structure of the Scythian period tombs most fre-quently encountered in the cemetery were rectangular log housetombs. Invariably, a considerable number of individuals couldbe buried within an Aymyrlyg log house tomb, with as many as15 skeletons being recovered from individual examples. Stonecists of Scythian period date were also commonly encounteredat Aymyrlyg (ibid.). The burial rite was generally uniform, withthe majority of individuals lying on their left sides with theirlegs flexed, though in some cases skeletons were encounteredwhere the individual had been buried on his or her right side.The arms were generally extended anterior to the body, but inseveral instances they were flexed (ibid.). The majority of theScythian period individuals at Aymyrlyg were orientated to thewest, with some deviations to the north and the south, althoughother orientation were also encountered (ibid. 33). Several ofthe log house tombs contained rows of individuals and, in somecases, the individuals present in a single row displayed a vari-ety of orientations.

Osteological Evidence for Disarticulation andDefleshing at AymyrlygSome 1000 human skeletons were recovered from the Aymyrlygcemetery and the skeletal remains are now stored in the De-partment of Physical Anthropology of the Peter the Great Mu-seum of Anthropology and Ethnography (The Kunstkammer)in St. Petersburg. A recent osteological and palaeopathologicalexamination of 607 Scythian period skeletons identified post-mortem cutmarks on the remains of 29 individuals (Murphy 1998).

The presence of cutmarks on bone is accepted as evidence forhuman-induced modification (White 1992: 325). While it is im-possible to definitely determine the motivational factors behind aparticular cutmark, the characteristics of each mark on the bone–its size, morphology, location, frequency and orientation–can helpto deduce the activities which led to its formation. Taken in con-junction with the evidence present in the archaeological context,the skeletal completeness and cultural affiliation this informationcan assist in efforts to interpret the modifications (Olsen andShipman 1994: 379). The majority of archaeological research oncutmarks has focused on faunal remains in which the occurrenceof marks on bones is considered as evidence for the butchering ofanimals (Lyman 1987: 260). In those cases where human remainshave been studied the occurrence of cutmarks has been interpretedas evidence for cannibalism among some populations (e.g. White1992). Turner and Turner (1999: 24) have presented sixtaphonomic criteria which they believe are necessary for the rec-ognition of cannibalism in a human bone assemblage. These char-acteristics include extensive peri-mortem cranial and post-cra-nial bone breakage, the presence of cutmarks, the occurrence ofanvil-hammerstone abrasions, burning, a large proportion of miss-ing vertebrae and fragment end-polishing. These characteristicswere not apparent in the remains of the individuals from Aymyrlygwhere the cutmarks occurred in the absence of bone breakage orburning and widespread commingling of the bodies. Consequently,cannibalism can be excluded as a probable aetiology for the oc-currence of cutmarks in the remains of the Aymyrlyg skeletons(Murphy and Mallory 2000).

Cutmarks produced during the defleshing and dismembermentof the body are commonly concentrated at specific anatomicalfeatures, such as the points of attachment of tendons and liga-ments (Ubelaker 1989: 105; Buikstra and Ubelaker 1994: 98).Defleshing cutmarks are generally represented by the occur-rence of short, fine marks or the occurrence of broader scrap-ing marks over the surfaces of the bone. The marks would havebeen made when a sharp tool was used to remove any soft tis-sue adhering to the bone (Olsen and Shipman 1994: 380-381),and the evidence for disarticulation consists of the occurrenceof fine cutmarks located on, or adjacent to, the articular sur-faces. The cutmarks are indicative of the use of a sharp tool tosever the skin, tendons and ligaments at a joint which then en-abled the body to be divided into smaller segments (ibid. 381).It is therefore probable that the cutmarks apparent in the skel-etal remains from Aymyrlyg were produced as a result of amortuary practice, which was probably unrelated to consump-tion, and involved the defleshing and dismemberment of theremains of some individuals within the society.

Details of the cutmarks apparent in the Scythian period indi-viduals from Aymyrlyg are provided in Table 1. All of the af-fected individuals were adults with 36% (10/28) having an age-at-death of 25-35 years, 28% (8/28) having died at the age of35-45 years, 18% (5/28) having an age-at-death of 17-25 years,and 18% (5/28) having died at the age of 45+ years. The lackof subadult remains with defleshing cutmarks may suggest thatthese individuals were exempt from the mortuary process. Per-haps those subadults who had died at a time when it was notpossible to bury their corpses in the tombs at Aymyrlyg wereburied elsewhere. Alternatively, because subadults are gener-ally smaller and have less body-mass than adults it may havebeen possible to store them without defleshing being required. Atotal of 62% (18/29) of the individuals with defleshing or disar-ticulation cutmarks were male and 38% (11/29) were female.

Among the individuals a total of 62 discrete skeletal regionswere affected, with approximately 161 cutmarks observed al-together. Skeleton VII. 5. Sk. 4 displayed some ten cutmarksassociated with the individual’s right hip. This finding repre-sented the greatest concentration of cutmarks observed at asingle region of the skeleton from the population under study.In general, the cutmarks were small with a sharp v-shaped pro-file, although several individuals displayed large crudecutmarks. If a cutmark displays a v-shaped cross section it wouldseem probable that it had been produced using a stone flake ormetal knife (Buikstra and Ubelaker 1994: 98). A total of 74%(46/62) of the cutmarks, or groups of cutmarks, were concen-trated in the vicinity of a joint which suggests that they hadbeen attained during the removal of the muscles, tendons andligaments which maintained the integrity of the joint, probablyduring disarticulation. Twenty-six percent (16/62) of thecutmarks appeared to have been associated with the deliberateremoval, or scraping, of tissue from the bone surface, probablyduring defleshing.

It is impossible to calculate the overall proportion of individu-als in the population group which displayed defleshing and/or

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disarticulation cutmarks due to the differential preservation ofthe remains of the population. The frequencies for the occur-rence of cutmarks at the main joints of the body as a proportionof the observable adult joints in the population group are pro-vided in Table 2. It is evident that in the entire population groupthe knee (3.6%) and the hip (3.2%) were the joints most fre-quently associated with disarticulation cutmarks. A summaryof the frequencies with which cutmarks were associated withthe different joints of the affected individuals is presented inTable 3 and Figure 2.

The knee (26.1%) and the hip (23.9%) (Fig. 3) were the jointsmost frequently associated with disarticulation cutmarks in theaffected individuals. This finding may indicate that in manyinstances the objective of the mortuary practice had been tosever the legs from the trunk and to detach the lower legs fromthe upper legs. The shoulder joint (13%) was the next mostfrequent joint to be associated with cutmarks, and this findingwould suggest that in many cases the arms were detached fromthe trunk during the mortuary process. In addition, the lowerarms (10.9%) were quite frequently severed from the upperlimbs. The presence of cutmarks on the superior and inferiorsurfaces of thoracic (2.2%) and lumbar vertebrae (8.7%) andat the lumbosacral junction (6.5%) may be indicative that thetrunk was also dismembered, probably in a transverse manner.This process appears to have been undertaken most frequentlyin the region of the lumbar spine. Only rarely were the hands(2.2%) and feet (2.2%) found to have been severed from thelimbs. In addition, the cranium was probably detached fromthe mandible at the temporomandibular joint in a proportion ofindividuals (4.3%) (Fig. 4).

The frequencies for the occurrence of cutmarks indicative ofdefleshing as a proportion of the observable adult bones in thepopulation group are provided in Table 4. The sternum appearsto have been the bone most frequently marked by cuts attainedduring the defleshing process. Since very few sternal bodieswere observable, however, this result cannot be considered asa true indication of the frequency with which the sternal bodieswere affected. As a result, the femur (1.5%) and the bones ofthe pelvic girdle (1.4%) displayed the greatest overall preva-lence for cutmarks.

Details of the frequencies of the various bones displayingcutmarks indicative of defleshing in the affected individu-als are presented in Table 5 and Figure 5. The scapula, ster-num, humerus and tibia all displayed evidence of havinghad the musculature deliberately scraped from their corti-cal surfaces. The femur (31.3%) and the bones of the pel-vic girdle (31.3%), however, displayed a notably greaterfrequency of cutmarks indicative of defleshing (see Fig. 3).It is probable that the cutmarks on the femora were pro-duced in an attempt to remove the bulk of musculature as-sociated with the thigh, while those located on the bones ofthe pelvic girdle may have been attained during dis-embowelling and the removal of the musculature of theabdominal region. One individual displayed a cutmark on

the neural arch of a thoracic vertebra which may be indica-tive of the detachment of the posterior spinal ligaments.

In several cases a number of individuals from a single commu-nal tomb displayed cutmarks on one or more bones (Table 6).Information contained in the excavation archive reports per-taining to the location of the bodies within these tombs wouldindicate that the individuals had been buried in a partly dis-membered state in only six of the 29 cases (Skeleton G. 5. Sk.3, Skeleton II. 4. Sk. 11, Skeleton II. 5. Sk. 6 (i), Skeleton VII.1. Sk. 4, Skeleton XXV. 16. Sk. 1 and Skeleton XXV. 16. Sk.3) and that the burials had been normal inhumations of unproc-essed bodies in five cases (Skeleton III. 22 (i), Skeleton XX. 7.Sk. 1, Skeleton XX. 7. Sk. 4, Skeleton XX. 8. Sk. 2 and Skel-eton XX. 10. Sk. 2). The information available in the archivereports was, however, either lacking or too vague to enable adetermination to be made on whether the corpses of 18 of theindividuals with cutmarks had been complete or dismemberedbefore burial.

To summarise, the majority of cutmarks apparent on the hu-man remains from Aymyrlyg were indicative of disarticulation.The principal objective of the disarticulation process appearedto have been the detachment of the upper and lower limbs fromthe trunk. In addition, the lower legs were severed from theupper legs and the forearms were separated from the upper arms.Although observed infrequently, evidence that some cadavershad also been defleshed was recorded, with the upper leg bones,the bones of the pelvic girdle and the shoulder blades display-ing the greatest prevalence of defleshing cutmarks. It is prob-able that these cutmarks were related to the removal of the heavymusculature of the thigh and the shoulder. The cutmarks on thepelvic bones may have been attained during disembowellingand removal of the abdominal muscles. The combination ofcutmarks indicative of defleshing and disarticulation suggeststhat a proportion of the Aymyrlyg bodies were deliberatelycleaned and processed prior to their final interment.

Mummification and Secondary Burial Practices inSouth SiberiaThe processing and mummification of the dead appears to havebeen a common phenomenon in the south Siberian region dur-ing prehistory. Mummified bodies have been retrieved fromburials of the Pazyryk Culture of the High Altai. The first em-balmed corpses identified from Altaian burials were those re-covered from Gryaznov’s excavations in the 1920s at Shibe inthe Ursul Valley. The bodies of two men were discovered, bothof whom had been defleshed, disembowelled and had had theirbrains extracted through perforations in the crania (Rudenko1970: 279-280). The individuals discovered in the royal kurgansat Pazyryk also displayed clear evidence for mummification.The remains were generally well preserved and the system ofembalming has been described in great detail by Rudenko(1970: 280-282). In general, the crania were trepanned to en-able the extraction of the brain tissue. Once the brain had beenremoved the endocranium was filled with soil, pine needlesand larch cones.

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Removal of the intestines of the Pazyryk individuals had beenundertaken by means of a slit which extended from the inferioraspect of the thorax to the naval. Once disembowelling hadbeen completed the slit was sewn with sinews. In addition tothe extraction of the brain and disembowelling, the embalmingprocedures employed at Pazyryk displayed a number of varia-tions. In Kurgan 2, for example, cuts on the arms and legs ofthe male mummy appear to have facilitated the introduction ofa preservative fluid. In the female mummy from this tomb,however, cuts on the buttocks, thighs and calves had been usedto enable the removal of body tissue from these areas. Oncethe flesh had been detached from the corpse it was replacedwith a sedge-like grass and the slits were sewn with horsehair(ibid. 280-281). Body tissue also appears to have been removedfrom the bodies in Kurgan 5 at Pazyryk (ibid. 281-282).Rudenko (1970: 279) has suggested that only members of thenobility were embalmed. While post-mortem trepanation wasgenerally the rule among the remains of the individuals buriedin large barrows, it had never been recorded among the burialsof the ordinary classes.

The remains of mummified burials have commonly been re-covered in burials dating to the final stage (2nd–1st century BC)of the Tagar Culture in the Minusinsk Basin (Bokovenko 1995a:302). It is thought that the custom was related to the new tradi-tion of building permanent burial vaults, with mummificationbeing required to preserve the body during the construction ofthe vault (Vadetskaya 1986 as quoted in Bokovenko 1995a:302).

A developmental sequence has been constructed on the basisof evidence from a number of archaeological sites to accountfor the various secondary burial and mummification practicesobserved among the Tagar burials. The earliest examples areconsidered to be those where the cadaver was buried in thetomb but the remains were not always positioned in anatomi-cal order because they had been maintained outside the tombfor a period of time prior to burial. This practice was succeededby an attempt to bury the disarticulated bones in their correctanatomical order, although the bones are commonly found inerroneous positions due to the interrer’s lack of anatomicalknowledge. The next stage in the developmental sequence in-volved efforts to prevent the disarticulation of the skeleton byfastening the body together with thin twigs. Holes were boredin the vertebrae for the attachment of the twigs, and the twigswere also used to fasten the arms and legs to the body’s trunk.This was followed by attempts to preserve the facial featuresof the deceased. This practice was complicated and would haveinvolved the removal of the flesh from the skeleton, the cre-ation of a death mask from clay which preserved the facialfeatures, the fastening together of the bones of the skeleton tomaintain its integrity and form a ‘body,’ the attachment of aclay head to the skeleton and, finally, the painting of the headand dressing of the skeleton body (Kuzmin and Varlamov 1988as quoted in Bokovenko 1995a: 302). Similar complex mum-mification procedures have been recorded from burials in Tuvaand in the Altaian Mountains (Bokovenko 1995a: 302), althoughthe dates for these burials were not provided in the text.

In the first centuries AD mummies were gradually replaced bymannequins which were stuffed with grass and clothed. In somecases the mannequins were embroidered with Chinese silk. Thehead was made from leather and a death mask was painted onits surface. The cremated remains of the deceased were placedinside the mannequin (Okladnikov 1956: 69). Descriptions ofmummified corpses and grass mannequins are provided in theaccount of the 1903 excavations undertaken by Adrianov atthe Oglakty cemetery (100 BC–AD 100) in the Minusinsk Ba-sin (Tallgren 1936: 69). The remains of mummified individu-als which had their faces covered with silk and overlain withdeath masks of plaster were recovered. Some of the masks alsocovered the neck as well as the face. Although the majority ofthe masks were red, some were white, while others displayedartistic designs. In several cases complete impressions of thefaces of the deceased were apparent on the inner surface of themasks, indicating that they had been placed on the corpses whenthey still possessed flesh (ibid. 77–78). Other cases were re-trieved, however, where the face of the skull had been restoredusing a layer of clay on top of which the death mask was placed(ibid. 78). The remains of mummified individuals and grassmannequins (some of which were dressed in red Chinese silk)were both discovered at Oglakty (ibid. 80).

Ethnographic studies of early 20th century Siberian tribes ap-pear to reveal a continuity of this practise. Czaplicka (1914:151) reported that the Siberian Maritime Koryak sometimesformed an effigy of the dead individual from dried grass whichtook the place of the deceased in the house. The objective ofthis practise was so that the kala (a malevolent spirit) wouldnot believe that it had been successful in obtaining the soul ofthe dead. A similar custom existed among the Samoyed andOstyak Siberian tribes where the wife of a dead man made afigure that represented her husband from sections of boats, skis,branches etc. The figure was then dressed and adorned like thedeceased, and treated as the husband for six months after hisdeath (ibid. 164).

The secondary burial processes in operation at Aymyrlyg appearto have more in common with the practises employed by the TagarCulture than those of the Altaian royal burials. Mandelshtam(1983: 27; 1992: 181), the director of the Scythian period exca-vations at Aymyrlyg, recorded the presence of compact accumu-lations of bones in approximate anatomical order in many of thetombs (Fig. 6). He interpreted these accumulations as represent-ing the burials of semi-decomposed corpses or defleshed bodies,and stated that the remains of leather bags or cloth sacks wereassociated in some cases with the cadavers (Fig. 7). When welook at the evidence for the Hunno-Sarmatian period at Aymyrlyg,however, we find that the practice of secondary burial is not sug-gested in the excavation archive, and this may indicate that thepractice had died out by Hunno-Sarmatian times. The descrip-tion of the Scythian period bodies having been buried in approxi-mate anatomical order has direct parallels with the early phase ofthe developmental sequence for mummification in the MinusinskBasin. It is probable, therefore, that the practice of secondary burialand mummification was common to all semi-nomadic tribes ofthe southern Siberian region, at least during the Scythian period.

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Motivational forces behind secondary burial atAymyrlygWhat motives might explain the practice of secondary burialin the Aymyrlyg cemetery? Mandelshtam (1983: 27) proposedthat burial of partially decomposed corpses may have been dueto the death of the individuals during the winter when the groundwould have been frozen, making it difficult to gain access tothe subterranean tombs. Rudenko (1970: 28) was of the opin-ion that the burials in the kurgans at Pazyryk had occurred dur-ing particular seasons. He also concluded that it would havebeen extremely difficult to bury the dead during the winter orearly spring since the ground would have been frozen to a con-siderable depth. In addition, a number of findings obtained fromthe Pazyryk kurgans support the theory that the individuals wereinterred during the early summer and autumn. First, the major-ity of horses displayed hair that did not have the appearance ofa winter coat. Second, most of the horses had an emaciatedappearance characteristic of spring and early summer, a timeof the year when they would have been recovering from hav-ing been left outside to feed during the preceding winter. Inaddition, the plant material associated with the burials alsoyielded clues regarding seasonality. In Kurgan 3 moss packinglocated between the strips of larch bark which covered the burialchamber was found to contain flowers of white-yellow scabi-ous. The stage of development of the plant indicated that it hadbeen gathered during the early summer (in late June or earlyJuly). In addition, shoots of Hylocomium splendens also presentin the moss were indicative of early growth and a spring orsummer season for burial. The nature of the bark blanket whichcovered the chamber also supported a spring or summer sea-son of burial since larch bark cannot be peeled off the trunk inbroad strips during the late summer and autumn. More recently,analysis of wood and the stomach contents of mummified horsesburied in a kurgan at Ukok in the Altai indicated that the noblewoman interred in this tomb had been buried during the spring(Polosmak 1994: 97).

The Chinese chronicles implied that the ancient Turks of the6th to the 8th centuries AD practiced seasonal disposal of thedead, stating that “they bury those who die in spring or sum-mer when the leaves on the trees and plants begin to yellowand fall; and he who dies in the autumn or winter they burywhen the leaves begin to open” (Bichurin 1950 as quoted inRudenko 1970: 279). It is possible that this custom had continuedfrom the early Central Asian populations through to this later pe-riod. It is not known, however, whether the practice of seasonalburial was restricted to members of the nobility, or if it was prac-ticed among all levels of society (Rudenko 1970: 279).

The archaeological, ethnographical and historical sources allindicate that the Scythian period individuals buried at Aymyrlygwould have practiced a semi-nomadic form of economy. It hasbeen suggested that the distribution of large tribal burial groundsin Tuva, including that of Aymyrlyg, may indicate that cyclicmigration with fixed routes and set winter camp sites wouldhave existed amongst the steppe-mountain pastoralist tribes(Vainshtein 1980: 96). These regular repeated seasonal migra-

tions would have been undertaken within the borders of a rela-tively well defined territory (Mandelshtam 1992, 193). Pre-sumably, herds would have been pastured in the mountainsduring the summer and in the more low-lying land during thewinter (Bokovenko 1995b: 255). Consequently, since Aymyrlygis located in the valley of the Ulug-Khemski River, it is prob-able that the Scythian period population would have been liv-ing in relatively close proximity to the cemetery during thewinter months, the very season when burial would have beenmost difficult because the ground was frozen.

Mandelshtam’s (1983: 27) theory that the burial of partiallydecomposed corpses may have been due to the death of theindividuals during the winter is possible, but it does not fullyaccount for the practice. If the ground were too frozen to en-able the interment of the bodies, one would imagine that theweather conditions would have been conducive for their natu-ral preservation.

If Rudenko’s (1970) model of seasonal interment is applied tothe Aymyrlyg cemetery, it is possible that burials would haveoccurred in autumn immediately before the ground became fro-zen, or in spring as soon as the ground had sufficiently thawed.The corpses of individuals who had died during the winter pe-riod may have been temporarily preserved in the snow withoutneed of artificial processing until the spring, when they couldhave been buried in a relatively undecomposed and intact con-dition. Some processing, however, would have been requiredfor the cadavers of those who died during the later spring toearly autumn months in the mountain areas. It would have beenboth unhygienic and unpleasant for the remainder of the popu-lation if the corpses had been allowed to naturally decomposein the summer heat. It would, therefore, have been extremelypractical for the bodies to have been defleshed and disarticu-lated and stored safely in a cloth sack or leather bag until thegroup returned to the main tribal cemetery at Aymyrlyg duringthe autumn.

The conservation of decomposed bodies and bones prior toburial also infers the importance of being buried in one’s an-cestral tomb (Mandelshtam 1992: 196). Jettmar (1951: 203)has postulated that perhaps a religious tradition was commonin Siberia during the Scythian period, which encouraged thepreservation of the human form for survival after death. Herelated ethnographic accounts of tribes in the eastern Taiga re-gion of Siberia where it was believed that the soul was pre-served in the skeleton, and suggested that the different burialpractices discussed above may have been related to attempts topreserve the soul of the deceased.

ConclusionThe osteological analysis of the remains from Aymyrlyg hasbeen important since it has highlighted that, in at least a pro-portion of cases, the bodies were defleshed and disarticulatedrather than left to decay naturally. Although it is possible thatthe tribes repeatedly moved between the mountains and rivervalleys throughout the year to bury their dead this seems im-

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probable and does not satisfactorily account for the burial ofbodies in different states of decomposition. In addition, theexplanation that decomposed bodies were those of individualswho had died in the winter when the ground was frozen is con-sidered too simplistic, and Rudenko’s (1970) model of seasonalburial is considered the most satisfactory explanation for thepractice of secondary burial. This policy may have been linkedto religious or ritual rites which we are unaware of today, or itmay simply have occurred for practical reasons, with the tribescongregating together at their permanent camp in close prox-imity to the central tribal cemetery of Aymyrlyg as winter ap-proached, and then moving off into the highlands as winterwaned.

AcknowledgementsI would like to thank Professors Yuri Chistov and IlyiaGokhman, Department of Physical Anthropology, Peter theGreat Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, St. Peters-burg, for granting me permission to examine the Aymyrlyghuman remains. I am also grateful to the staff of the Photo-graphic Archive of the Institute for the History of MaterialCulture, St. Petersburg, for providing me with Figures 6 and 7.I would also like to thank Professor Jim Mallory, School ofArchaeology and Palaeoecology, the Queen’s University ofBelfast, for supervising my doctorate research and Dr. ColmDonnelly, of the aforementioned School, for his comments onthe text.

ReferencesAbetekov, A. and Yusopov, H. 1994. Ancient Iranian Nomads inWestern Central Asia, pp. 23–33 in Harmatta J. (ed.), History ofCivilisations of Central Asia, Vol. III, the Development of Sedentaryand Nomadic Civilisations: 700 BC to AD 250. Paris: UNESCO.

Bokovenko, N. A. 1995a. The Tagar Culture in the MinusinskBasin, pp. 299–314 in Davis-Kimball, J., Bashilov, V. A. andYablonsky, L. T. (eds.), Nomads of the Eurasian Steppes in the EarlyIron Age. Berkeley: Zinat Press.

Bokovenko, N. A. 1995b. History of Studies and the Main Prob-lems in the Archaeology of Southern Siberia During the ScythianPeriod, pp. 255–61 in Davis-Kimball, J., Bashilov, V. A. andYablonsky, L. T. (eds.), Nomads of the Eurasian Steppes in the EarlyIron Age. Berkeley: Zinat Press.

Buikstra, J. and Ubelaker, D. H. (eds.) 1994. Standards for DataCollection from Human Skeletal Remains (Arkansas ArcheologicalSurvey Research Series No. 44). Arkansas: Arkansas Archeologi-cal Survey.

Clenova, N. L. 1994. On the Degree of Similarity between Ma-terial Culture Components within the “Scythian World”, pp. 499–540 in Genito, B. (ed.), The Archaeology of the Steppes: Methodsand Strategies. Naples: Instituto Universitario Orientale.

Czaplicka, M.A. 1914. Aboriginal Siberia: A Study in Social An-thropology. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Jettmar, K. 1951. The Altai Before the Turks (The Museum of FarEastern Antiquities Bulletin 23). Stockholm: The Museum of FarEastern Antiquities.

Lyman, R. L. 1987. Archeofaunas and butchery studies: Ataphonomic perspective, pp. 249–337 in Schiffer, M. B. (ed.),Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory 10. London: Aca-demic Press.

Mandelshtam, A. M. 1983. Issledovaniye na mogilnom polyeAymyrlyg: Nekotoriye itovi i perspektii, pp. 25–33 in Masson, V.M., Savinov, D. G. and Khlobystin, L. P. (eds.), Drevniye KulturiEuraziiskih Stepei. Leningrad: Nauka (“Research at the Aymyrlygburial ground: some results and perspectives.” Ancient Culturesof the Eurasian Steppes).

Mandelshtam, A. M. 1992. Ranniye kochevniki Skifskova periodana territorii Tuvi, pp. 178–96 in Moshkova, M. G. (ed.), StepnayaPolosa Aziatskoi Chasti SSSR v Skifo-Sarmatskoye Vremya,Archeologiya SSSR. Moscow: Nauka (“Early nomads of theScythian period in the territory of Tuva.” The Asiatic Steppe Re-gion of the USSR during Scythian and Sarmatian times).

Mannai-Ool, M. H. 1970. Tuva v Skifskoye Vremya (Uyukskaya Kultura).Moscow: Nauka (“Tuva in Scythian Times [Uyukskaya Culture]”).

Moshkova, M. G. 1994. On the Nature of the Similarity andDifference in the Nomadic Cultures of the Eurasian Steppes ofthe 1st Millennium BC, pp. 231–41 in Genito, B. (ed.), The Ar-chaeology of the Steppes: Methods and Strategies. Naples: InstitutoUniversitario Orientale.

Murphy, E.M. 1998. An Osteological and Palaeopathological Studyof the Scythian and Hunno-Sarmatian Period Populations from theCemetery Complex of Aymyrlyg, Tuva, South Siberia. UnpublishedPh.D. thesis, the Queen’s University of Belfast.

Murphy, E. M. and Mallory, J. P. 2000. Herodotus and the Can-nibals. Antiquity 74, 388–394.

Okladnikov, A. P. 1956. Ancient Population of Siberia and itsCulture, pp. 13–98 in Levin, M. G. and Potapov, L. P. (eds.), ThePeoples of Siberia. London: University of Chicago Press.

Olsen, S. L. and Shipman, P. 1994. Cutmarks and PerimortemTreatment of Skeletal Remains on the Northern Plains, pp. 377–87 in Owsley, D. W. and Jantz, R. L. (eds.), Skeletal biology of theGreat Plains. Migration, warfare, health and subsistence. Washing-ton: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Polosmak, N. 1994. A Mummy Unearthed from the Pastures ofHeaven. National Geographic 186, 80-103.

Rudenko, S. I. 1970. Frozen Tombs of Siberia: the Pazyryk Burialsof Iron Age Horsemen. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.

Tallgren, A. M. 1936. The South Siberian Cemetery of Oglaktyfrom the Han Period. Eurasia Septentrionalis Antiqua 11, 69-90.

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Turner, C. G. II and Turner, J. A. 1999. Man Corn - Cannibal-ism and Violence in the Prehistoric American Southwest. Salt LakeCity: The University of Utah Press.

Ubelaker, D. H. 1989. Human Skeletal Remains (Manuals onArchaeology 2). Washington: Smithsonian Institution.

Vainshtein, S. I. 1980. Nomads of South Siberia: The Pastoral Econo-mies of Tuva. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Vernadsky, G. 1943. Ancient Russia. London: Oxford Uni-versity Press.

White, T. D. 1992. Prehistoric Cannibalism at Mancos 5MTUMR-2346. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Fig. 1. Map showing the location of Aymyrlyg.

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Page 31: Animal Style and Shamanism


Table 2. The frequencies for the occurrence of cutmarks at the mainjoints of the body as a proportion of the observable adult jointspresent in the population group.

Table 3. A summary of the frequencies with which cutmarkswere associated with the different joints of the affected in-dividuals.

Table 4. Frequencies for the occurrences of cutmarks indicative ofdefleshing as a proportion of the observable adult bones.

Table 5. Frequencies of bones displaying cutmarks in-dicative of defleshing.

Table 6. Details of communal tombs in which more thanone individual displayed evidence of defleshing and/ordisarticulation.

Mummification and Body Processing: Evidence from the Iron Age in Southern Siberia

Page 32: Animal Style and Shamanism


Kurgans, Ritual Sites, and Settlements: Eurasian Bronze and Iron Age

Fig. 2. Graph illustrating the frequencies with which cutmarks indicative of disarticulation were associated with the differ-ent joints of the affected individuals.

Fig. 3. Cutmarks on the posterior surface of the proximal half of the right femur of Skeleton VII. 5.Sk. 5 which are indicative of both defleshing and disarticulation.

Page 33: Animal Style and Shamanism


Fig. 4. Cutmarks on the right zygomatic and zygomatic arch of Skeleton II. 4. Sk. 9 which are probably indicative ofdisarticulation of the mandible from the cranium.

Fig. 5. Graph illustrating the frequencies with which cutmarks indicative of defleshing were associated with the differentjoints of the affected individuals.

Mummification and Body Processing: Evidence from the Iron Age in Southern Siberia

Page 34: Animal Style and Shamanism


Kurgans, Ritual Sites, and Settlements: Eurasian Bronze and Iron Age

Fig. 6. Log House Tomb XX which contained a mixture of articulated and disarticulated individuals. (Photographic

Archive of the Institute for the History of Material Culture, St. Petersburg)

Fig. 7. A group of disarticulated bones contained in Log House Tomb III. 2 associated with either preserved soft-tissue of a leather sack. (Photographic Archive of the Institute for the History of Material Culture, St. Petersburg)