The tattooed owners of the world’s oldest rugs get a health check after 2,200 years. Image: Dmitry Koshcheev
The new technology was used to obtain the secrets of two ancient mummies excavated in their tombs on the Altai Mountains in 1949.
The couple is seen as a local chief of Pazyryk culture and his wife or concubine who has been jailed alongside him, evidently with cannabis burning in the burial chamber.
Their remains – preserved because they have been enclosed in the ice for thousands of millennia in the valley of the Bolshoy Ulagan river – are preserved in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
This scan is the first of its kind for the famous Hermitage. Image: Hermitage Museum
Now the body of the curly-haired male, between 55 and 60 years old when he died, and the woman, some ten years younger, have been scanned to create tomographic images using a Siemens SOMATOM emotion in 16 separate modes.
Multidisciplinary analyzes will be conducted including radiologists, biological anthropologists, archaeologists and other scientists, with the results announced later.
This scan is the first of its kind for the famous Hermitage. The aim is to establish the cause of death, to reconstruct the appearance of the ancient couple and to study mummification techniques in more detail.
Their remains were preserved because they were enclosed in ice for thousands of millennia in the valley of the Bolshoy Ulagan river, Altai Mountains. Pictures: The Siberian Times, StanRadar, Sergey Rudenko
Most of the tomb’s treasures were robbed in prehistory, but two carpets are known to remain, which are the oldest in the world. They contain extraordinary images – shown in these impressive images – of life in the Pazyryk era in Siberia.
Inside the vast mound was a wooden funeral chamber covered with trunks. In the larch sarcophagus lie the two bodies, on which the tattoos are intriguing.
The Soviet archaeologist Sergey Rudenko – who led the excavation – wrote after his discovery: “Both the man and the woman were of the Caucasoid type.
Exhibition with the finds of the mound in Hermitage. Male body. Larch sarcophagus. Cahriot. Pictures: KunstWerk, Dmitry Koshcheev, State Hermitage Museum
‘Their hair was soft, the man is a little curly and dark. The woman is dark brown. Their faces were long and narrow, the man had a clearly protruding aquiline nose.
‘The man’s head, except his back, was shaved. Her head was also shaved, except for a pigtail on the top.
‘Both bodies have been mummified, using the same method. The skulls were trembled and the brain was removed. Through a slice in the abdomen, from the ribs to the groin, the intestines have been removed.
The felt rug was decorated with a multicolored applique with stitched figures more than 1 meter high, carved in colored felt. Images: Dmitry Koshcheev, State Hermitage Museum
“In addition, all the muscles of the body were removed through special sections of the chest, back, arms and legs, so that only the skeleton and skin remained.”
The burial ritual therefore consisted of restoring the shape of the human form by filling the remains of horsehair. The cuts of the leather were also sewn with horsehair.
Archaeologists have found traces of an incense burner, sheep and goat skins and fragments of pots.
The world’s first pile rug. Images: State Hermitage Museum
There were nine horses guarding the burial chamber – all geldings – with complete saddles and harnesses, decorated with wooden figurines of griffins, a lion or a tiger, a saiga antelope, a deer and a felt.
Two precious carpets lay undisturbed, the oldest ever found. One was made of felt – approximately 4.5 by 6.5 meters in size, probably originally a wall.
It was decorated with a multicolored applique with stitched figures more than 1 meter high, carved in colored felt. The central scene shows a knight approaching a throne on which a goddess is seated with a flowering branch in her hand.
Male tattoos: feline predator on the right shoulder, images of birds on his hands and ungulates on the leg. Pictures: Lyudmila Barkova
The other is the world’s first braided pile rug, measuring approximately 183 x 200 cm. It is believed to have Iranian influence. Radiocarbon tests indicate that it was woven in the 5th century BC.
Another valuable discovery was a disassembled wooden cart with large wheels, presumably used in the funeral rite.
The tattoos – with the images shown here – depict on the man’s left shoulder a feline predator, probably a tiger, and on the right shoulder – a horse. On the forearm of the right hand there is a donkey or an Asiatic wild horse and some predators with a striped tail. These figures cannot be seen in full because of the folds of the skin.
On his hands are pictures of birds, including a capercaillie. Groups of ungulates are tattooed on the man’s legs below the knee.
On the woman’s left forearm is a complicated – and unusual for this culture – scene with two tigers and a snow leopard attacking deer and elk. Images: Lyudmila Barkova
The images depict only real animals, seen as unusual for Pazyryk’s remains, when fantastic creatures were often found in tattoos.
The woman has no tattoos on her shoulders, but many on her forearms. On the left arm is a predatory bird, which kills a deer or moose. On her hand there is a rooster: she too had only real animals depicted on her skin.
On the left forearm it is a complicated scene – and unusual for this culture – with two tigers and a snow leopard attacking deer and elk. Some experts believe that the images indicate Chinese influence.