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The Ak-Alakh "Frozen Grave" Barrow

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image of Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia

The 30-year hiatus in the investigation of the frozen Scythian barrows of the Altai was occasioned by the inaccessibility of the region, the need to conserve finds on site and to involve specialists of many different fields, as well as the particular requirements of defrosting such graves. In the summer of 1990 a frozen grave barrow of the 4th-3rd c. B.C. was investigated at Ak-Alakh near the Chinese border. The mound (only 30 cm. high) was excavated by hand and found to cover a grave pit, 5 x 5 x 3m. deep, with a wooden frame and log covering. Its NE section contained the poorly preserved remains of several horses, their harness and saddles (covered with felt appliqué work). An inner burial chamber, completely filled with ice, contained burial goods and two coffins, each with one corpse. One was the body of a middle-aged Europcan-type man. His headdress, clothing, ornaments and weapons were present in varying states of preservation. The second was of a young European-type woman. Fragments of weapons, clothing and ornaments were found here too. The burials were of middle-ranking nobles and the finds add considerably to our knowledge of the decorative techniques and iconography of the period. The undisturbed condition of the grave also permits the reconstruction of many previously unknown items of clothing.


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