The Mongols are often thought to be the biggest badasses in history, but centuries before Genghis Khan and his cronies took over most of Asia and Europe, there lived an equally ruthless bunch of nomadic warriors in Siberia known as the Scythians (pronounced “SIH-thee-uns”).
However, their on-the-go lifestyle means that archaeologists actually know relatively little about them. That’s why it’s exciting news that archaeologists funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation have found the earliest and largest tomb of a Scythian prince in the Russian republic of Tuva, southern Siberia. Their discovery was recently published in the journal Archaeological Research in Asia.
These ancient people, typically covered in tattoos and gold jewelry, raised hell between 900 BCE and 200 BCE across the vast plains of Siberia. The term Scythian doesn’t strictly describe a unified civilization, as such, but it’s a term used to classify a group of tribes who shared a similar culture in southern Siberia around this time. Perhaps the Scythian’s biggest cultural legacy was becoming one of the earliest groups of warriors to master horse-mounted warfare.
The newly discovered tomb, known as a kurgan, consists of a wooden beam-lined grave and a burial mound of circular stones. Analysis of these wooden beams showed the tomb dates back to the 9th century BCE, making it the earliest known tomb belonging to a Scythian leader.
It was found deep in a swampy and inaccessible area called the “Siberian Valley of Kings” using a series of high-resolution satellite images. “The kurgan is five arduous hours by off-road vehicle from the nearest settlement,” noted lead researcher Gino Caspari.
Its remote location means that it’s been virtually impossible for grave robbers to destroy the tomb. On top of that, the Siberian permafrost soil has hopefully allowed the organic material within the kurgan to be relatively well preserved. Although this particular burial tomb has not been fully excavated yet, Scythians were typically buried alongside their prized possessions, such as their weapons, fur-lined clothing, horse’s harnesses, and heaps of solid gold jewelry.
The archaeologists are therefore holding out for some incredible finds to be unearthed from this grand resting place. Caspari added: “We have a great opportunity here… If we’re lucky, we might even find some well-preserved wood carvings or carpets under the stones, or perhaps an ice mummy.”