Friday, 31 August 2012

Buddhism in China: An Enduring Legacy on View at the Freer

Known as the transmitter of Chan, or Zen Buddhism, the Chinese monk, Bodhidharma, was said to have a volatile temperament. Portrait of Bodhidharma. Fourteenth century, ink on silk. Courtesy the Freer Gallery of Art.
Though Buddhism was not native to China, curator Stephen Allee says it wasn’t a hard sell. “It’s a religion of salvation, and so it had great popularity and appeal,” he says. As curator of the Freer Gallery‘s new exhibit, “Enlightened Beings: Buddhism in Chinese Painting,” Allee points out that missionaries and traders traveled across the Silk Road in the first century BCE, and over the centuries, they gained a court audience, making Buddhism an integral part of Chinese culture.
Vaisravana sits surrounded by figures from across the Buddhist world. Fourteenth century, ink and color on silk. Courtesy the Freer Gallery of Art.
The exhibit’s 27 works, ranging from the 11th century to the 19th century, tell the story of both Buddhist thought and its adoption in a new land. The lens may seem wide-angle but historical memory holds an important place in a religion that records the transmission of its dogma from person to person. Within a single painting in the exhibit, for example, are representations of 53 generations beginning with Buddha and continuing all the way into the 16th century. The work is meant to record the unbroken transmission of Buddha’s teachings across time.
“Buddha in Sanskrit means to be awakened or enlightened,” says Allee. Born Siddartha Guatama, Buddha began life as a prince in what is now southern Nepal. Gautama left home and lived without luxury. After learning to meditate, he was able to be awakened to the truth: “that all existence is empty and all beings are trapped by their desires,” writes Allee in the introductory text for the exhibit. “Only by recognizing the emptiness of things and severing one’s attachment to them is it possible to end suffering and enter the state of spiritual bliss known as nirvana.”
Allee explains that though China had many native philosophies and religions at the time, few of them dealt with the idea of the afterlife satisfactorily. Thus, the promise of reincarnation, salvation and nirvana appealed to many when Buddhism reached them from northern India.
Though salvation was the name of the game, there were other paths practitioners could take. One group, the Bodhisattvas, for example, achieve enlightenment but stay on Earth to aid in the salvation of others. Another, the Luohan, meanwhile, also choose to remain on Earth to protect the teachings of Buddhism. The exhibit also features depictions of lineage masters and Zen monks.
Describing Zen, or Chan, monks as eccentric, Allee explains that Zen Buddhism relied on a wordless transmission rather than strict understanding of dogma. “Buddha gave a sermon and one of his followers asked a question,” says Allee. “Instead of answering, he simply held up a flower and the follower instantly achieved enlightenment.” A native product of China in the fifth century, Zen Buddhism became associated with its own style of expressive brushwork.
While monks sometimes produced the artworks, patrons could also commission works for temples or for their own homes. Common in both were representations of the four directional gods. Vaisravana, guardian king of the North, served to protect temples and practitioners. He also became associated with wealth, making him all the more popular, says Allee. In one 14th-century ink and color silk painting from China, the artist has included Central Asian dancers and Chinese scholars, thus depicting the religion’s broad geographic and historical reach.
Luohan protect the dogma on earth. Luohan Laundering, Lin Tingugui. Twelfth century, ink and color on silk. Courtesy the Freer Gallery of Art

“Enlightened Beings: Buddhism in Chinese Painting” opens September 1 and runs through February 24, 2013. 

Groundbreaking Exhibit of Chinese Temple Sculpture Artifacts Opens

Popular Archaeology

Wed, Aug 29, 2012
Exhibition of Famed Sixth-Century Carvings from Historic Buddhist Complex In Northern China Features FullL-Scale Digital Reconstruction of Temple Interior.
Groundbreaking Exhibit of Chinese Temple Sculpture Artifacts Opens
A groundbreaking exhibition that unites masterpieces of Chinese sculpture from the famed sixth-century cave temples at Xiangtangshan with the first-ever digitized reconstructions of their original setting opens on September 11, 2012, at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University (ISAW). Based on the most recent scholarship and utilizing advanced imaging technology, the installation provides new insights into the history and original appearance of one of China's most remarkable Buddhist devotional sites.
The majestic temples at Xiangtangshan—carved into mountains in northern China and lavishly decorated with sculpted images of Buddha and other celestial beings—were damaged during the early twentieth century, when many of the carvings were removed. Echoes of the Past: The Buddhist Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan brings together twelve of the finest of these temple sculptures, on loan from American and British museums, and features a full-scale, digital, 3-D reconstruction of the interior of one of the site's most impressive caves.
The exhibition is the result of a ten-year research project on the Xiangtangshan temples and their carvings by an international team of scholars based at the University of Chicago's Center for the Art of East Asia. Echoes of the Past remains on view through January 6, 2013.
ISAW Exhibitions Director and Chief Curator Jennifer Chi states: "While the sculptures from Xiangtangshan can—as indeed they have for many years—stand alone as powerfully impressive works of art, this exhibition is a rare and tremendously exciting opportunity to experience the carvings in their original context and to better understand the sacred meanings they were meant to convey. Echoes of the Past is a superb example of the enormous potential of digital technology in the public presentation of ancient sites and objects."
Carved into the limestone mountains of Hebei province in northern China, the Buddhist cave temples of Xiangtangshan (which translates as "Mountain of Echoing Halls") were the crowning cultural achievement of the Northern Qi dynasty (550-577 C.E.), whose rulers established Buddhism as the official religion of their realm. The interiors of these vast, multistoried structures, intended as replications of paradise itself, were lavishly decorated with hundreds of carved and painted images of Buddhist deities, disciples, and crouching monsters. Notwithstanding the enormous scale of the project, the carvings are among the most artistically refined surviving examples of Chinese medieval sculpture. Collectively, they are considered fundamental to our understanding of the history of Chinese Buddhist style and iconography.
Unfortunately, during the early twentieth century, the outstanding quality and remote location of the temple carvings made them an attractive target for removal. Heads and hands of figures, as well as freestanding sculptures, were removed.
Exhibition Overview
Echoes of the Past reunites twelve of the sculptures that are representative of the imagery, iconography, style, and scale of the sculptural program at Xiangtangshan. Of supreme importance were the images of Buddha, in his many and varied manifestations. A magnificent head of Buddha, measuring nearly three-feet high, likely belonged to a colossal seated figure of Prabhūtaratna, Buddha of the Past, that is still in situ in the caves. Gently smiling, with downcast eyes, the head exudes an aura of serenity and calm. A smaller, exquisitely carved freestanding figure of a seated Buddha was apparently removed intact, and even retains its large and elaborately worked halo of floral and vegetal motifs. The exhibition also reunites the left and right hands of a colossal Maitreya, Buddha of the Future; although only fragments, the hands are highly expressive, with the creases in the flesh and such details as the fingernails all finely observed.
Also on view are several superb examples of the bodhisattvas and pratyekabuddhas (enlightened spiritual beings worshipped as deities) that abounded in the sculptural program of the caves. A life-size head of the Bodhisattva Mahāsthāmaprāpta, with its symmetrical but sensitively carved features, exemplifies the wonderful balance of abstraction and naturalism that characterizes the finest Xiangtangshan sculptures. The figure of a standing pratyekabuddha, his mouth slightly open, as if reciting a prayer, has been hailed as one of the most majestic Chinese sculptures of any period. In contrast to the serenely elegant Buddhist deities are the grotesque and grimacing monsters found in the caves, probably representing evil spirits vanquished by Buddhist wisdom. 
In addition, visitors to the exhibition have the unprecedented opportunity to virtually "walk through" one of the caves, experiencing it as it might have appeared in the sixth century, thanks to an enveloping media installation that layers 3-D laser scans of dispersed sculptures onto digitized scans of the existing temple walls and ceiling.
Exhibition Tour, Organization, and Sponsorship
ISAW is the final venue for this exhibition, which was organized by the Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago, and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C. Ithas been seen at the Smart Museum; the Sackler Gallery; The Meadows Museum, Southern Methodist University, Dallas; and The San Diego Museum of Art.
Echoes of the Past is curated by Katherine R. Tsiang, Associate Director of the Center for the Art of East Asia, University of Chicago, in consultation with J. Keith Wilson, Associate Director and Curator of Ancient Chinese Art, Freer and Sackler Galleries, and Richard A. Born, Senior Curator, Smart Museum of Art. The ISAW presentation is curated by Peter De Staebler, Assistant Curator.
Major funding is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Leon Levy Foundation, the Smart Family Foundation, and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation. The catalogue was made possible by Fred Eychaner and Tommy Yang Guo, with additional support from Furthermore: a program of the J. M. Kaplan Fund.
Source: ISAW Press Release
Cover Photo, Top Left: Standing Bodhisattva Avalokite vara (Guanyin), Xiangtangshan: Southern Group of Caves, Attributed to Cave 2, 565-577 CE. Limestone freestanding sculpture with lacquerlike coating, 74 x 20 1/16 x 14 9/16 in. (188 x 51 x 37 cm). University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Purchased from C.T. Loo, 1916 (C113).
Institute for the Study of the Ancient World
Established in 2006, the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University is an independent center for scholarly research and graduate education intended to cultivate comparative and connective investigations of the ancient world. ISAW encourages approaches that encompass cultures from the western Mediterranean to China, and that cross the traditional boundaries between academic disciplines. In so doing, it promotes methodologies open to the integration of every category of evidence and method of analysis. It also engages the larger scholarly community and the public with an ongoing program of exhibitions, lectures, and publications that reflect its mission and scholarship.
The inspiration for the Institute was the lifelong passion for the study of the ancient world shared by the late Leon Levy and his wife, Shelby White, and ISAW was established with funds from the Leon Levy Foundation. Ms. White is the founder of ISAW and chairman of its board. Roger S. Bagnall, a historian and papyrologist, is the Leon Levy Director of ISAW; Jennifer Y. Chi, an expert in Roman imperial sculpture, is Exhibitions Director and Chief Curator. For additional public

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Family Tree of Languages Has Roots in Anatolia, Biologists Say

Biologists using tools developed for drawing evolutionary family trees say that they have solved a longstanding problem in archaeology: the origin of the Indo-European family of languages.

Readers’ Comments

Readers shared their thoughts on this article.
The family includes English and most other European languages, as well as Persian, Hindi and many others. Despite the importance of the languages, specialists have long disagreed about their origin.
Linguists believe that the first speakers of the mother tongue, known as proto-Indo-European, were chariot-driving pastoralists who burst out of their homeland on the steppes above the Black Sea about 4,000 years ago and conquered Europe and Asia. A rival theory holds that, to the contrary, the first Indo-European speakers were peaceable farmers in Anatolia, now Turkey, about 9,000 years ago, who disseminated their language by the hoe, not the sword.
The new entrant to the debate is an evolutionary biologist, Quentin Atkinson of the University of Auckland in New Zealand. He and colleagues have taken the existing vocabulary and geographical range of 103 Indo-European languages and computationally walked them back in time and place to their statistically most likely origin.
The result, they announced in Thursday’s issue of the journal Science, is that “we found decisive support for an Anatolian origin over a steppe origin.” Both the timing and the root of the tree of Indo-European languages “fit with an agricultural expansion from Anatolia beginning 8,000 to 9,500 years ago,” they report.
But despite its advanced statistical methods, their study may not convince everyone.
The researchers started with a menu of vocabulary items that are known to be resistant to linguistic change, like pronouns, parts of the body and family relations, and compared them with the inferred ancestral word in proto-Indo-European. Words that have a clear line of descent from the same ancestral word are known as cognates. Thus “mother,” “mutter” (German), “mat’ ” (Russian), “madar” (Persian), “matka” (Polish) and “mater” (Latin) are all cognates derived from the proto-Indo-European word “mehter.”
Dr. Atkinson and his colleagues then scored each set of words on the vocabulary menu for the 103 languages. In languages where the word was a cognate, the researchers assigned it a score of 1; in those where the cognate had been replaced with an unrelated word, it was scored 0. Each language could thus be represented by a string of 1’s and 0’s, and the researchers could compute the most likely family tree showing the relationships among the 103 languages.
A computer was then supplied with known dates of language splits. Romanian and other Romance languages, for instance, started to diverge from Latin after A.D. 270, when Roman troops pulled back from the Roman province of Dacia. Applying those dates to a few branches in its tree, the computer was able to estimate dates for all the rest.
The computer was also given geographical information about the present range of each language and told to work out the likeliest pathways of distribution from an origin, given the probable family tree of descent. The calculation pointed to Anatolia, particularly a lozenge-shaped area in what is now southern Turkey, as the most plausible origin — a region that had also been proposed as the origin of Indo-European by the archaeologist Colin Renfrew, in 1987, because it was the source from which agriculture spread to Europe.
Dr. Atkinson’s work has integrated a large amount of information with a computational method that has proved successful in evolutionary studies. But his results may not sway supporters of the rival theory, who believe the Indo-European languages were spread some 5,000 years later by warlike pastoralists who conquered Europe and India from the Black Sea steppe.
A key piece of their evidence is that proto-Indo-European had a vocabulary for chariots and wagons that included words for “wheel,” “axle,” “harness-pole” and “to go or convey in a vehicle.” These words have numerous descendants in the Indo-European daughter languages. So Indo-European itself cannot have fragmented into those daughter languages, historical linguists argue, before the invention of chariots and wagons, the earliest known examples of which date to 3500 B.C. This would rule out any connection between Indo-European and the spread of agriculture from Anatolia, which occurred much earlier.
“I see the wheeled-vehicle evidence as a trump card over any evolutionary tree,” said David Anthony, an archaeologist at Hartwick College who studies Indo-European origins.
Historical linguists see other evidence in that the first Indo-European speakers had words for “horse” and “bee,” and lent many basic words to proto-Uralic, the mother tongue of Finnish and Hungarian. The best place to have found wild horses and bees and be close to speakers of proto-Uralic is the steppe region above the Black Sea and the Caspian. The Kurgan people who occupied this area from around 5000 to 3000 B.C. have long been candidates for the first Indo-European speakers.
In a recent book, “The Horse, the Wheel and Language,” Dr. Anthony describes how the steppe people developed a mobile society and social system that enabled them to push out of their homeland in several directions and spread their language east, west and south.
Dr. Anthony said he found Dr. Atkinson’s language tree of Indo-European implausible in several details. Tocharian, for instance, is a group of Indo-European languages spoken in northwest China. It is hard to see how Tocharians could have migrated there from southern Turkey, he said, whereas there is a well-known migration from the Kurgan region to the Altai Mountains of eastern Central Asia, which could be the precursor of the Tocharian-speakers who lived along the Silk Road.
Dr. Atkinson said that this was a “hand-wavy argument” and that such conjectures should be judged in a quantitative way.
Dr. Anthony, noting that neither he nor Dr. Atkinson is a linguist, said that cognates were only one ingredient for reconstructing language trees, and that grammar and sound changes should also be used. Dr. Atkinson’s reconstruction is “a one-legged stool, so it’s not surprising that the tree it produces contains language groupings that would not survive if you included morphology and sound changes,” Dr. Anthony said.
Dr. Atkinson responded that he did indeed run his computer simulation on a grammar-based tree constructed by Don Ringe, an expert on Indo-European at the University of Pennsylvania, but that the resulting origin was, again, Anatolia, not the Pontic steppe.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The “Silk Roads” in Time and Space: Migrations, Motifs, and Materials Edited by Victor H. Mair

Edited by Victor H. Mair


Victor H. Mair: Introduction: Reconsidering and Reconfiguring the “Silk  Roads” 

Matthew Anderson: The Languages and Writing Systems of the Tarim Basin 

Pablo N. Barrera: Wind and Water: Anthropogenic Use of Landscape at Small River Cemetery No. 5

Vivian Chen: “Weather” You Like It or Not: The Effects of Macro- Climatic Fluctuations on the Tarim Basin

Amelia WilliamsAncient Felt Hats of the Eurasian Steppe

Julia Becker: The Tarim Basin Beauties of Xiaohe and Krorän 

Kimberly M. Castelo: The Loulan Coffin: The Cultural Influence of Han Dynasty China in the Tarim Basin

Eiren Shea Warneck: Representations of Tocharians in Buddhist Paintings

Robert Glasgow: The Evolution of Sogdian Identity

Joel Dietz: Hidden Dragon: Indo-European, Near Eastern and Chinese Poetic Themes

Zhou Ying: Jia Yi’s Proposal of the “Three Exemplifications and Five Means of Allurement” and the Han-Xiongnu Relationship in Early Western Han Period

Rebecca Shuang Fu: A Misinterpreted Transmission: The Kang Poem in Dunhuang Manuscript S. 5381 and the Kong Poem in Benshi shi

Rashon Clark: The Northwestern Muslim Rebellions 


Reconsidering and Reconfiguring the “Silk Roads” 

Victor H. Mair

The papers in this volume were originally written as part of the requirements for a course entitled “Mummies of the Silk Road” that I taught at the University of Pennsylvania during the spring semester of 2011. There were over seventy students and auditors in this class. The present collection represents the best of the fifty or so papers that were turned in during that semester. With these papers, we wish to problematize the very idea of a Silk Road or Silk Roads. To be sure, during roughly the period from the late second century BCE to the end of the ninth century CE, there was a trans-Eurasian traffic that spanned from one end of the Eurasian super- continent to the other, but it was not monolithic, nor was it of high volume. This was what may be termed the classic Silk Road, and silk was indeed one of the most important commodities transported along this route. Yet, even during this period, many other goods and products were traded by stages along the so-called Silk Roads: glass, beads, silver, gold, medicines, spices, wool, furs, and so forth. Still further back in time, we know that jade was being exported to the Central Plains of East Asia from the mountains along the southern rim of the Tarim Basin. Even more importantly, during the second millennium BCE bronze metallurgy was transmitted from west to east,1 as were wheat, the chariot, the domesticated horse, domesticated ovicaprids, and other important elements of civilizations. During the first millennium BCE, iron metallurgy spread along these same routes. In terms of technology, industry, military affairs, and the general economy, surely wheat, bronze, iron, and the chariot are of far greater consequence than silk. Thus, referring to the Eurasian transcontinental trade routes as the “Silk Road” truly does present considerable difficulties. Furthermore, starting from the third millennium BCE, trans-Eurasian contact and exchange was not at all simply about goods and products. Equally important were intangible assets such as ideas and ideologies. Religions, burial practices, art forms, musical instruments and styles, calendrical and astronomical sciences, scripts and languages, and many other intellectual and cultural properties and practices were transferred from place to place across the length and breadth of Eurasia. Above all, peoples and the languages they spoke also spread across the megacontinent. The means for tracking their movements and migrations are becoming increasingly sophisticated with genetics, physical anthropology, historical linguistics, archeology, and other disciplines all playing key roles in the analysis of the abundant data. The papers in this volume cover a rich assortment of large and small topics, ranging from climate to caps, from mythical dragons to Muslim rebellions. Some of the papers look at various phenomena in startlingly new ways (e.g., the aerodynamics of a desert necropolis), while others go over new materials using tried and trusted methods (e.g., a close philological examination of an old poem in the light of recently recovered manuscripts).

1) Andrew Sherratt, “The Trans-Eurasian Exchange: The Prehistory of Chinese Relations with the West,” in Victor H. Mair, ed., Contact and Exchange in the Ancient World (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2006), pp. 30–61.

Monday, 27 August 2012

China's excavation of archaeological ruins in the Lamu Islands in northeast Kenya

Watch Video

Play Video
China and Kenya are joining hands in an archaeological excavation project. The excavation work held around the Kenyan town of Malindi, is aimed at revealing the prosperity of ancient Malindi, a port city which thrived in the 15th century and witnessed the earliest trade between Asia and Africa.
The joint project was agreed upon by China and Kenya in 2005 and involves the excavation of archaeological ruins in the Lamu Islands in northeast Kenya. The first phase of the project was carried out in 2010, while this phase began in late July this year and will last for two and a half months.
The current excavation is mainly in three places, Mumbrui village near the town of Malindi, the Khatibu Mosque, and the old part of town in Malindi. The whole excavation area measures up to 1600 square meters.
Qin Dashu, professor of Deputy of Archaeology, Peking University, says, "China boasts the earliest record of the ancient Malindi. An Arabian person also wrote about it in his travel notes, saying the ancient town was located near a river. He was referring to the Sabaki River. The village Mumbrui is near the Sabaki River, and the town Malindi is actually far away from it. So we think perhaps Mumbrui is the earliest inhabitated area of ancient Malindi."
The archeologists are working at six excavation spots in Mumbrui village and the town Malindi. They hope to reveal the history of ancient Malindi through the excavations. Archeologists have found a lot of blue and white porcelain at the sites. The porcelain, dating back to the Ming dynasty, proves Malindi was an important trading port before Portuguese explorers arrived there at the end of the 15th century.
There are also thirty pieces of pottery discovered in the sites. Archeologists from both sides have begun to clean up, restore and research the relics. In the progress of the excavation, more mysteries of ancient Malindi are expected to be revealed.


Monday, 20 August 2012

Amazing tattoos covered ancient Siberian princess

The elaborate tattoo of a deer with a griffons beak and Capricorn antlers found on the body of a Polosmak 'princess'.

Tattoos as complex and abstract as any modern design have been found on the body of Siberian princess buried in the permafrost for more than 2500 years. 

Natalia Polosmak, the scientist who found the remains of Princess Ukok high in mountains close to Russia's border with Mongolia and China, said she was struck by how little has changed in the past two millennia.
Tattoos of mythological creatures and complex patterns are believed to have been status symbols for the ancient nomadic Pazyryk people first described by the Greek historian Herodotus in the 5th century BC.
A striking tattoo of a deer with a griffon's beak and Capricorn antlers was found on the left shoulder of the ancient 'princess', who died about age 25.
The antlers are decorated with the heads of griffons. And the same griffon's head is shown on the back of the animal.
She also has a dear's head on her wrist, with big antlers.
"Our young woman - the 'princess' - has only her two arms tattooed,"
Dr Polosmak told the Siberian Times. "So they signified both age and status." Buried with the 'princess' were six saddled-and-bridled horses, bronze and gold ornaments - and a small canister of cannabis.
She is not known to be a 'princess', as her name implies.
Experts are divided over whether she was a poet, healer or holy woman.
Two warriors recovered from the same burial site in the permafrost of the Ukok Plateau were similar fantastical creatures.
One had an image reaching across his right shoulder from his chest to his back.
The reconstructed tattoos were released to mark the moving of the remains of the princess to a permanent display in the National Museum in Gorno-Altaisk where she will be put on display.
"Tattoos were used as a mean of personal identification - like a passport now, if you like," said Dr Polosmak.
"I think we have not moved far from Pazyryks in how the tattoos are made.
"We can say that most likely there was - and is - one place on the body for everyone to start putting the tattoos on, and it was a left shoulder. I can assume so because all the mummies we found with just one tattoo had it on their left shoulders.
"And nowadays this is the same place where people try to put the tattoos on, thousands of years on. "I think its linked to the body composition - as the left shoulder is the place where it is noticeable most, where it looks the most beautiful."
Another similarity is how the number of tattoos is linked to age.
Dr Polosmak related the analogy of Greek tourist operators assessing the age of British tourists by the number of tattoos on their body. But there the similarities end.
The tattoos used by the Pazyryk nomads were intended to help members of the tribe identify each other in the afterlife. Read more: click HERE


More information:

The mummy of a woman called the "Altai Princess" is in the museum of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk, Russia.


The mummy of a woman called the "Altai Princess" is in the museum of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk, Russia.

Tattoos aren’t just a trendy way for people to express themselves - they’re also apparently a time-honored tradition dating back almost three thousand years.
A Siberian mummy, who reserachers believe was buried 2500 years ago, will show off her intricate ink when she finally goes on display this month, and her shockingly well-preserved body art makes her look surprisingly modern.
The mummified body of the young woman, believed to be between 25 and 28 years old, was found in 1993, researchers told The Siberian Times.
Since then she has been kept frozen in a scientific institute, but she will soon be available to the public to be viewed from a glass case at the Republican National Museum in Siberia’s capital of Gorno-Altaisk.
The woman, dubbed in the media as the Ukok “princes,” was found wearing expensive clothing - a long silk shirt and beautifully decorated boots - as well as a horse hair wig.


A sculptor's impression of how Princess Ukok looked 2,500 years ago.

Archeologists told the paper that because she was not buried with any weapons she was not a warrior, and that she was likely a healer or storyteller.
Though her face and neck weren’t preserved, she was inked across both arms and on her fingers, in what researchers say was an indication of status.


Princess Ukok's hand, as the scientists saw her first, with marked tattoos on her fingers. She was buried with two men and six horses. Because she was not buried with weapons, researchers think that she might have been a healer or storyteller.

“The more tattoos were on the body, the longer it meant the person lived, and the higher was his position,” lead researcher Natalia Polosmak told the Times.
The woman was buried beside two men whose bodies also bore tattoos, as well as six horses.


A drawing of a tattoo on a warrior's shoulder.

Researchers think the group belonged to the nomadic Pazyryk people, and that their body art is something special even in comparison to other mummies who have been found wih tattoos in the past.
“Those on the mummies of the Pazyryk people are the most complicated and the most beautiful,” Polosmak told the Times.


This diagram shows the placement and greater detail of the princess' tattoos.

“It is a phenomenal level of tattoo art,” she said. “Incredible.”
Not everyone was pleased that the mummy was uncovered.


This diagram shows placement of the princess' tattoos on her shoulder.

Controversy erupted after she was discovered, as many believed she should not have been removed from her burial site. Some locals even believed her grave’s disruption caused a “curse of the mummy” which they blamed for the crash of the helicopter carrying her remains.


The "Altai Princess" mummy was found at the Gorny Mountain Altai by Natalya Polos'mak, a scientist of the Novosibirsk Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

“The Altai people never disturb the repose of the interned,” Rimma Erkinova, deputy director of the Gorno-Altaisk Republican National Museum told the Times. “We shouldn’t have any more excavations until we’ve worked out a proper moral and ethical approach.”


Tattoos that appear on the Princess' hand. Because she was relatively young, researchers theorize, she had fewer tattoos.

Local authorities in the region have declared the area a ‘zone of peace,’ so no more excavations can be done in an effort to prevent plundering, though scientists believe there are many more mummies that can be found.


One of the most mysterious vistas in the world: The Ukok plateau, Alta, Siberia.

Read more: