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11 February 2018
Earliest tomb of a Scythian prince found in Siberia

Swiss archaeologist Gino Caspari of Bern University discovered a circular structure on high-resolution satellite images of the Uyuk River valley in Siberia, and a test excavation has confirmed the structure is a kurgan, a Scythian princely tomb.
     Working with a Swiss-Russian team, Caspari has shown the burial mound is similar in construction to a kurgan located 10 kilometres to the northeast, which had long been regarded as the earliest Scythian princely tomb in the region, known as the "Siberian Valley of Kings". Consisting of a stone packing with a circular arrangement of chambers, the earliest princely tombs have walls made of larch logs. Scythian burial objects typically include weapons, horse harnesses, and objects decorated in the 'animal style'.
     Wooden beams found during the test dig date to the 9th century BCE, predating the previously known nearby tomb, excavated in the 1970s and dating from the turn of the 9th to the 8th centuries BCE.
     "We have a great opportunity here," says Caspari, "Archaeological methods have become considerably more sophisticated since the 1970s. Today we have completely different ways of examining material to find out more about the transition from the Late Bronze Age to the Iron Age."
     The newly discovered mound's location amid swampy terrain makes it difficult for grave robbers to reach. Possibly undisturbed, it may contain treasures similar to another of its neighbours. Between 2001 and 2004, a German team discovered an undisturbed 7th century BCE Iron Age burial chamber containing the richest collection of burial artefacts ever found in the Eurasian steppe. Over a thousand gold objects had been placed with the two corpses in the tomb's main chamber, including a solid gold necklace weighing 2 kilos, along with magnificently adorned weapons, pots, and horses with exquisite harness.
     Climatic conditions add to the researchers' hopes; permafrost in the valley mostly begins just a few metres below the surface. Beneath the thick stone packing of the kurgans, sunlight is unable to thaw the earth. "Very rarely ice lenses form directly beneath the kurgans," Caspari explains; the ice prevents the decay of organic matter and preserves sensitive material. Caspari expects further discoveries: "If we're lucky, we might even find some well-preserved wood carvings or carpets under the stones, or perhaps an ice mummy."

Edited from ScienceDaily (11 January 2018)

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