The study of an undisturbed "royal" burial of the Scythian
period in Tuva is the product of a joint Russo-German scientific project.
The excavations were performed by the Central Asian Archaeological Expedition
created on the basis of the St Petersburg branch of the Russian Scientific
Research Institute for Cultural and Natural Heritage of the Ministry of
Culture of the Russian Federation and the Eurasian section of the Deutsches
Archäologisches Institut in Berlin with the participation of section
director Hermann Parzinger and Doctor Anatoly Magler. The excavation work
was directed by the head of the Central Asian Expedition, Konstantin Vladimirovich
The greatest scientific resonance was caused by the excavation of the famous Arzhan burial mound (197174) under the direction of the outstanding Leningrad scholar Mikhail Petrovich Griaznov and the Tuva archaelogist Mongush Khurgui-oolovich Mannai-ool. The material obtained from the investigation of this monument of colossal dimensions made it possible to examine anew many questions in the archaeology of the Scythian period. All the hitherto investigated graves in the burial mounds of the "Valley of the Kings" had been plundered back in ancient times.
The diameter of the above-ground structure of the Arzhan-2 mound is 80 metres with a height of 2 metres. Preliminary examination of the mound was carried out in 1988: a detailed plan of the monument was drawn up, more than 200 ritual stone encircling inserts were discovered surrounding the structure and specialists from Germany carried out a geophysical survey of the surrounding area. In 2000 the first reconnaissance excavations were made in the area of the mound itself and part of the encircling stones alongside were investigated. This work made it possible to select the optimal method of approach to the study of this exceptional monument. At the present time roughly a quarter of the area of the above-ground structure has been studied. It takes the form of a round building made of slab-stone with clay and has an enclosure faced with slabs set vertically. Many details of this elaborate construction have yet to be ascertained.
The unexpected and exceptionally important result of the work in the 2001 season was the discovery of an undisturbed grave of the 6th5th century B.C. The burial was made in a deep square pit in the bottom of which stood the burial chamber a framework with double walls of Siberian larch. The wood is splendidly preserved and it proved possible to establish all the constructional feature of the structure. The bodies of a man and a woman were laid on the carefully prepared floor. They were lying on their left sides with their legs bent at the knees, the heads towards the north-west which is characteristic of Tuva burials of the Scythian period. The richness of the burial attire and the articles accompanying the dead indicate that they belonged to the upper echelon of the nomad nobility. Both the bodies were dressed in costumes decorated with small sewn-on gold plaques in the form of a predator of the cat family. There were some 5,000 of these in total. From the position of the plaques it proved possible for the first time in archaeological practice to make out the pattern that they formed on the clothing. The headwear was decorated with gold plaques in the form of horses, deer and snow leopards. The womans head-dress was crowned with gold pins featuring engravings in what is known as the Scythian Animal Style with tops, one of which is a remarkably exquisite little sculpture of a standing deer. In the area of the neck and chest the archaeologists found earrings and numerous pendants and beads made of gold, turquoise, cornelian and even amber. The man had a massive gold torque a symbol of power around his neck. The entire surface of the torque, like that of many of the other artefacts, is decorated with depictions of animals deer, wild boar, camels, snow leopards, and wolves, representing a sort of encyclopaedia of the art produced by the nomads of Central Asia. The trousers of the buried "king" were spangled with gold beads. The leg of his boots were covered with sheet gold. Bronze mirrors were placed in front of the faces of the corpses. Grave goods were placed in the corners of the burial chamber on poles set vertically. Alongside the woman hung a gold pectoral and leather vessels containing grain. A wooden ladle, bronze and stone incense-burners stood nearby. Close to the man was a dress belt, to which was attached a bow and quiver and a battle hammer. It should be noted that all the weapons in the burial were made of iron that was only beginning to come into use in this period and therefore was possibly prized higher than gold by the nomads.
The short akinakes-type sword, knives, hammer and even the arrow-heads were decorated with gold, but the state of preservation of these finds is such that it will be possible to evaluate the decoration of the weapons only after long and careful restoration.
The scientific processing and restoration of the material extracted will be carried out in the State Hermitage. After that, all the finds should be returned to Tuva, to the town of Kyzyl where construction of a new building for the local history museum is currently approaching completion.
The first deputy chairman of the government of the Republic of Tuva with responsibility for social matters, Chylgychi Chimit-Dorzhuyevich Ondar travelled to St Petersburg for the signing of the relevant documents. Together with the head of the excavation work, Konstantin Chugunov, the precious consignment was accompanied from Tuva by a local archaeologist, Omak Kyzyl-oolovich Shyyrap, head of the Republican Archaeological Service attached to the Tuva Institute of Humanities Research.
Work on the Arzhan-2 mound will be continued next year. The monument
is being studied with its future conversion into a museum in mind. The
Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Tuva plans to create a historico-cultural
preserve and open-air museum on the site of the burial mound in the "Valley
of the Kings".