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The Tattooed Mummies of Siberia

Little historical documentation is known on the tribes that lived in Scythia in Siberia. Most of what we know today has been gathered from archaeological evidence. Archaeologists have been able devise that the tribe of Pazyryk was a very artistically talented peoples. Perhaps the single most intriguing thing about the mummies of Pazyryk is not the preservation, or techniques of mummification used. It is the elaborate tattoos on their bodies.

The tattoos are quite indicative of the style and artistic talents of the area. The Designs would range from tigers, birds, deer, and even mythical animals. The method of tattoo application appeared to be with a skin-prick method. The tattoos were actually discovered after the clothes were removed. At the time a design could barely be seen and was indecipherable. When the Heritage museum took infrared photos of the skin though the charcoal in the tattoos shown through and brilliant designs could be seen. There were also marks of a more therapeutic nature of lines and dots found along the spine and around ankles. The designs and motifs used are identical to those found on scynthian pottery and textiles.

The scythian chieftain had perhaps the most elaborate tattoos; discovered in a tomb south of Kiev in 1947. He has two full arm tattoos as well as one that covered his entire right shin and foot. Along with the chieftain was a felt cutout of a ram design. This is believed to be the stencil used to tattoo his design. According to Herodotus the method for preserving the bodies consisted of removing the intestines and insides. These were replaced with grasses, frankincense, and seeds. Then when the body was closed up it would be coated in wax.

Unfortunately much of the ancient dead of Siberia was subject to grave robbery and desecration. So when a new tomb is discovered it truly is cause of excitement. Whether the tattoos had any spiritual significance or were just decorative remains unknown.

* Hermitage Museum

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