Enormous 'Frozen Tomb' Discovered In Siberia

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Archaeological news out of Siberia. A team of researchers there have found a previously untouched burial mound that they believe may be the resting place of Scythian royalty. The mound is over 2,800 years old, and could well be the oldest, largest such burial mound in all of Siberia.

The Scythians were the dominant power in the Eurasian steppes between the ninth century BC and the first century BC. Like the Mongols, they were a nomadic, horse-riding culture that was feared for their skill in combat. Herodotus once commented that Scythians, after battles, would drink out of the skulls of their fallen enemies, and wear cloaks made from their scalps.

The Scythians did not leave any permanent structures other than very large burial mounds. The mounds were filled with Scythian artifacts, including jewels, cups and weapons.

The remains found in the mounds tend to be very well preserved, due to the extreme, permanent cold that saturates the ground. The earth is so frigid that archaeologists have even found multiple "ice mummies" in them.

A previously excavated kuragn, via Mongols, China and the Silk Road

The burial mounds, properly called "kurgans," have been the subject of archaeological scrutiny since the seventies. The kurgans are concentrated in an area called the Siberian "Valley of the Kings," in reference to the site in Egypt where the pharaohs were buried. The kurgans are found in the Uyuk Valley in Tuva, which is very close to Mongolia.

Archaeologists estimate that the kurgans could be over 330 feet in diameter, which is an especially enticing number when you consider the fact that another kurgan, called Arzhan 2, yieelded 9,000 golden artifacts when excavated in the early 2000s.

The new kurgan was actually discovered by satellite. Gino Caspari, a University of Bern archaeologist, was inspecting high-res satellite photos of the region, looking for clues as to where he might find undiscovered tombs, when he spotted a large circular structure in an Uyuk River swamp. Caspari believed, based on the image, that the structure was made of wooden beams under a layer of stones.

The first expedition to the monument, a joint Swiss-Russian effort, found the mound totally intact. They believe that it was left unlooted thanks to its extremely remote location.

Radiocarbon dating places the wooden beams date to the ninth century BC. This means it's one of the oldest kurgans in Siberia. It was measured at 460 feet in diameter.

Caspari wrote, "No other frozen kurgans of this size are known in Eurasia. It is, however, also danger because with the global rise in temperature these treasures are in immediate risk of being lost. Large excavation campaigns need to be carried out throughout the next years to excavate the complete object and preserve the knowledge we can gain from it."

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Matt lives in Southern California. He is interested in politics, history, literature and the natural world.