Imagine that tattoos were just as trendy back in the Iron Age too?
Well that’s what archaeologists discovered in Russia when they uncovered mummies bearing intricate tattoos all over their bodies. Those mummified remains belong to members of the Pazyryk tribe. Originating in the Iron Age (600-300 BC), researchers say that this nomadic tribe used the tattoos for personal identification, and possibly also so that others could identify a tribesman in another life.
What’s astounding is the intricate details of the tattoos considering the lack of technology at that time.
The Pazyryk tribe people are from the Altai Mountains in Siberia, south of the modern city of Novosibirsk, Russia. They are described as nomads who traveled by horseback to trade goods with merchants in China, India, and Persia. Much of what is known of their culture has been revealed by findings from the tombs where these tattooed mummies were found. That includes: felt hangings, Chinese silk, pile carpet, wooden furniture, household goods, a fur bag containing cannabis seeds, an incense burner filled with stones, and the frame of an inhalation tent. It’s interesting how the mummies and artifacts were actually well-preserved, due to water seeping into the tomb and freezing everything into a solid block of ice all these years.
One of the mummified bodies seems to be a Chief of the tribe. The strongly built man was believed to be about 50 years old at the time of his death. The portions of the remains that had not decayed have clearly visible tattoos.
So how did they do it?
Researchers say it is likely that the tattoos were created using fine needles, (also used for embroidery). The designs on the Chief include great beasts, a donkey, a mountain ram, two deer with long antlers, an unidentified carnivore on the right arm, two beasts resembling griffins, three damaged images believed to be two deer and a mountain goat, a fish, a monster, and four rams. Many of the images are intertwined with one another. The chief also had several small, circular tattoos near his spine, which may have been for therapeutic purposes such as ancient medicine.
They also found an Ice Maiden.
The second body is one known as Altai Mauden or Princess Ukok. Her burial is noteworthy. She had been given a ceremonial burial in a wooden chamber with six horses. She was young, with her head shaven, but wore a wig and a headdress. Her tattoos were similar to that of the Chief. It may be that different animals and images were used to define an individual’s place in society.
Should she be in the ground or within walls?
When the Ice Maiden’s remains were placed on display at a museum, many Siberian villagers had voiced and want the remains to be reburied. They blamed the recent natural disasters on the disturbance of the Ice Maiden’s spirit. The belief is that her body was placed specifically to block the entrance of the chamber to the dead, and that recent flooding and earthquakes are a direct result of the removal of her body. Historians argue that they are just evidence and like other artifacts, should be placed on display in the safe confines of a museum.
Scientists also speculate, even with the use of fine needles, how these tattoos were created without the use of some type of technology. These stunning tattoos represent some of the most complex ancient tattoos to date, (so it’s no wonder that many people today wear the tattoos of the 2,500-year-old Pazyryk tribe).
The Pazyryk tribe findings gives us another tiny glimpse into a large part of ancient human civilization and possible technology to have created such intricate and beautiful work. What do you think?