A beautifully tattooed mummy dating back to the 5th century B.C. tells us more now thanks to advances in imaging technology. Scientists have gleaned further insight into ancient Siberian cultures thanks to modern MRI scans.
Known as the Ukok Princess, the lone, highly elaborate burial is believed to be of the mummified remains of a high-ranking, female shaman. The mummy, first discovered in 1993, is from the Pazyryk culture. Most notable, besides her incredible tattoos, is that she was buried with a bag full of marijuana.
After advances in MRI technology, further studies revealed new findings in 2010. Researchers now think the Princess was in her mid-twenties when she died. As her organs were removed prior to mummification, it was difficult to determine the cause of death in the beginning. Recent scans revealed that she most likely died from last-stage breast cancer. She was likely in great pain when she died, and the marijuana was for pain relief, say scientists.
Along with the mummy were buried six horses elaborately harnessed and saddled, as well as sheep and horse meat—perfectly preserved by the Siberian permafrost—and a platter of burnt coriander seeds. The burial also contained exquisite accessories, including a Chinese silk gown, jewelry, a mirror, and intricately patterned felt boots.
In Pazyryk culture, having more tattoos signifies greater status. The Ukok Princess’s incredible tattoos display across her arms and body what appears to be a battle between hooved and winged animals, or possibly herbivories and carnivores. Depicted are highly ornamented representation of deer, argali (mountain sheep), both with eagle beaks, and a snow leopard with wings, Ranker reported.
The scientist who discovered the mummy, Dr. Natalia Polosmak, explained:
“Compared to tattoos found by archaeologists around the world, those on the mummies of the Pazyryk people are the most complicated, and the most beautiful.
“Tattoos were used as a mean of personal identification—like a passport now, if you like,” she added. “The Pazyryks also believed the tattoos would be helpful in another life, making it easy for the people of the same family and culture to find each other after death.”
The highly elaborate burial of a lone female also signifies celibacy—further indication that Ukok Princess was likely either a healer or shaman and lived a celibate life.
— RT (@RT_com) February 10, 2016
“It was quite unusual to have a single Pazyryk burial,” archaeologist Vyacheslav Molodin told The Siberian Times. “Usually men from this culture were buried with women. In this case, her separate burial might signify her celibacy, which was typical for cult servants or shamans, and meant her independence and exceptionality.”
Since these new revelations came to light, a German museum asked a Swiss taxidermist to reconstruct the mummy as she would have looked prior to her burial. In 2014, Marcel Nyffenegger recreated Ukok Princess’s likeness using a 3D model of the mummy’s skull, along with facial tissues consisting of a rubber-resin compound.
Along with a perfect replica of the mummy’s horsehair wig, Nyffenegger also recreated in painstaking realism the extraordinary tattoos still visible on her body today.