A Sarmatian burial mound excavated this summer in Russia’s Southern Ural steppes has yielded a magnificent but unusual treasure.
The artefacts contained within the mound are helping to shed light on a little-known period of the nomadic culture that flourished on the Eurasian steppe in the 1st millennium BC.
The archaeological study of this remarkable ancient tomb, or kurgan, was carried out by the expedition of the Institute of Archaeology (Russian Academy of Sciences), led by Professor Leonid T. Yablonsky.
Under the eastern mound an undisturbed burial chamber was discovered measuring approximately 4x5m and 4m deep. At the bottom of the chamber several stratified layers of debris were excavated to reveal exceptionally rich and varied grave goods accompanying a human skeleton. The material associated with the burial seemed to belong to a woman as it contained what is regarded as representing typically female artefacts and jewellery. However, initial osteological examination of the skeletal morphology revealed the occupant of the burial to be male; though DNA-analysis is still to be carried out.
A small wicker chest that is thought to be a vanity case was found near the skull. It was filled to the brim with items including a cast silver container with a lid, a gold pectoral, a wooden box, cages, glass, silver and earthenware bathroom flasks, leather pouches, and horse teeth that contained red pigments.
Nearby lay a large silver mirror with gilded stylized animals on the handle and embossed decoration on the back with the image of an eagle in the centre, surrounded by a procession of six winged bulls.
The garments were decorated with several plaques, depicting flowers, rosettes and a panther leaping on a saiga’s (antelope) back. There were also 395 pressed pieces of gold leaf sewn onto the breeches, shirt and scarf. A fringed shawl was held together with a golden chain and the sleeves of the shirt were embellished with multicoloured beads, forming a complex geometric pattern. Two cast gold earrings decorated in places with cloisonné enamel were found in the area of the temporal bones.