Gone But Not Forgotten
- Jun 2, 2002
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St Pete researchers find tattoos on ancient Siberian mummies
St PETERSBURG, March 28 (Itar-Tass) - Infrared photography methods, used for the first time by researchers at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, have made it possible to discover tattoos in ancient mummies excavated in the Pazyryk mounds in the south Siberian Altai Mountains.
The mounds date back to the 8th to 5th centuries BC.
The discovery was made on three mummies – two that used to be female bodies and one male body -- that were produced by special treatment for burial ceremonies.
One more male mummy was found in the east Siberian region of Khakassia. That person was buried at the beginning of this era.
The Pazyryk mummies are very dark and nothing special could be found on them visually. The Khakassia mummy has a lighter color, but it was kept in its burial garments that concealed the tattoo until fairly recently.
The latter mummy was the first one on which the researchers found a tattooed image – the restorers identified oblique bluish figures on its shoulders.
Infrared photography helped find other invisible tattoos.
The ancient man from Khakassia had tattoos on the shoulders, the chest and arms, as well as on the back and near the lowest part of the neck. They resemble commas and rosettes, and a tattooed image on the inner side of the elbow shows a bow and an arrow attached to it.
That discovery prompted the researchers to apply the same method to the Pazyryk mummies. The pictures they got proved the presence of tattooed tigers, leopards, horses, roe deer, birds, and fantastic creatures – winged predators and hoofed animals with birdlike heads.
All the images were made in a specific artistic style typical of other pieces of Pazyryk art, known as the Scythian-Siberian manner. They depict separate animals and the so-called scenes of “tearing to pieces” – predators tearing apart the hoofed animals.
One of the female mummies has the tattoos differing from the classic Pazyryk compositions and bearing indications of a different cultural identity.
It might be Chinese identity, since the Pazyryk culture had periodic contacts with ancient China.