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Marc Di Duca

Ancient girl Amazon warrior no older than 13 is confirmed by modern scientific techniques

By Anna Liesowska
16 June 2020

Warrior’s grave found in 1988 was identified as male - yet now the 2,600-year-old teenager 'with wart on face’ is revealed to be female.

‘It was so stunning when we just opened the lid and I saw the face there, with that wart, looking so impressive.’ Pictures: Vladimir Semyonov, M.O. Mashezerskaya

The 'stunning' discovery appears further confirmation of ancient Greek claims about female fighters known as Amazons among the Scythians of central Asia. 

In 1988 Dr Marina Kilunovskaya and Dr Vladimir Semyonov came across the partially mummified young warrior’s grave Saryg-Bulun in Siberia’s modern-day Tuva republic during an emergency excavation. 

The archeologists found the prepubescent warrior’s remains so well preserved that a ‘wart’ was visible on the face, and yet at the time there were no indications that this was a female.

Amazon girl in grave

This Scythian child was buried with a complete set of weapons -  an axe, a one-metre bow made of birch and a quiver with ten arrows some 70 centimetres in length. Picture: Vladimir Semyonov

‘It was so stunning when we just opened the lid and I saw the face there, with that wart, looking so impressive,’ said Dr. Kilunovskaya.

There was a rough seam on the skin in the abdomen area, implying an attempt at artificial mummification - but no traces were found of trepanation, which was usual among such burials.

The age was estimated at 12-to-13 years yet - at the time - all the clues suggested this was a male. 

Cap in original condition


Restored cap


Detail of the cap

She journeyed  to the afterlife in a leather cap - the shape of which was thoroughly restored by prominent leather and fabric restorer Natalya Sinitsyna. Pictures: Vladimir Semyonov, Varvara Busova/Stratum plus, No 3, 2020

This Scythian child was buried with a complete set of weapons - an axe, a one-metre bow made of birch and a quiver with ten arrows some 70 centimetres in length.

The adolescent Amazon had a choice of arrows - two were wooden, one had a bone tip, and the arrowheads of the rest were bronze. 

There were no beads, or mirrors, or other indications that this was the grave of a girl, and three decades ago the ancient remains were classified as a young male warrior. 

Yet modern scientific advancements mean more detailed genetic tests are now available. 

Axe

Amazon girl even had her battle axe. Picture: A.Yu. Makeeva/Stratum plus, No 3, 2020

'We were recently offered the chance to undertake tests to determine the sex, age, and genetic affiliation of the buried warrior,’ said Dr Kilunovskaya. 

‘We agreed with pleasure and got such a stunning result.’

The revealing palaeogenetic analysis was undertaken at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology at the Laboratory of Historical Genetics, Radiocarbon Analysis, and Applied Physics by Dr Kharis Mustafin, Dr Irina Alborova and postgraduate Alina Matsvai. 

Amazon girl in grave

There were no beads, or mirrors, or other indications that this was the grave of a girl. Picture: Vladimir Semyonov

‘The burial of the child with weapons introduces a new touch to the social structure of early nomadic society,’ said Dr  Kilunovskaya, from the St Petersburg Institute of Material History Culture.

‘This discrepancy in the norms of the funeral rite received an unexpected explanation: firstly, the young man turned out to be a girl, and this young ‘Amazon’ had not yet reached the age of 14 years.

‘The results of genome-wide sequencing, which showed that a girl was buried in a wooden coffin, were unexpected. 

‘This opens up a new aspect in the study of the social history of Scythian society and involuntarily returns us to the myth of the Amazons that survived thanks to Herodotus.’ 

Quiver


Quiver close-up


Quiver close up

Amazon had quiver, made of leather and horse skin, attached to the belt. Pictures: A.Yu. Makeeva, Varvara Busova/Stratum plus, No 3, 2020

The girl warrior was buried in a below-the-knee double-breasted fur coat with long straight sleeves made from a rodent, a member of the jerboa family. 

It was sewn in a patchwork.

She wore a shirt under the coat but it has not survived,  and  light brown and beige trousers or perhaps a skirt. 

She journeyed  to the afterlife in a leather cap - the shape of which was thoroughly restored by prominent leather and fabric restorer Natalya Sinitsyna.

A spiral ornament spanned the entire surface with red pigment, unevenly descending to one of the edges of the cap.

bow

Metre-long bowl was made of single piece of birch. Picture: A.Yu. Makeeva/Stratum plus, No 3, 2020

The Amazon warrior is from the period 7 - early 6 centuries BC, with the current best assessment that she died around 2,600 years ago. 

The depth of her coffin - hollowed from a single piece of wood -  was little over half a metre under the ground, oriented to the southwest.

Aside from Herodotus, Greek physician Hippocrates - who lived approximately from  460 BC to 370 BC - noted female warriors among the Sarmatians, a Scythian grouping famed for their mastery of mounted warfare.

Arrows


Arrows and shifts

The adolescent Amazon had a choice of arrows - two were wooden, one had a bone tip, and the arrowheads of the rest were bronze. Pictures: A.Yu. Makeeva/Stratum plus, No 3, 2020

'Their women, so long as they are virgins, ride, shoot, throw the javelin while mounted, and fight with their enemies,' he wrote. 

'They do not lay aside their virginity until they have killed three of their enemies, and they do not marry before they have performed the traditional sacred rites. 

'A woman who takes to herself a husband no longer rides, unless she is compelled to do so by a general expedition.'

Comments (9)

The cord weave appears complex; or was this pattern known during the 6th century B.C.? Thank you for reporting new discoveries and understandings.
Gary S, Rochester,ny
05/07/2020 04:12
1
0
A delicious amount of detail in the article - some good archaeological work has been done. Also it's sobering to see how skilled they were all those years ago when all the machinery and equipment that we take for granted didn't exist.
Chris Lea, The Home of British Cider - Taunton
25/06/2020 15:14
3
0
Interesting...no indication whether she died in battle or of natural causes.
SteveC, Odessa FL USA
22/06/2020 22:42
4
0
Wonderful and surprising
Xóchitl, Alunail@nds / La Rioja / Argentina
22/06/2020 05:56
2
2
So what are the results of the genetic analysis? What is the haplogroup? What ethnic affiliation? How can this be left out?
Geoffrey Sea, United States
19/06/2020 19:26
18
3
I very much doubt that a 'wart' could be seen on the face of what was essentially skeletonized remains, it would also have been nice if some information could have been provided as to the cause of death, were there any signs of trauma such as might be found in a hunting accident.
M.T Tai, Brooklyn USA
18/06/2020 17:55
17
11
All your articles are interesting but I find those on archeology very well written. Perhaps you could do some on prospecters and russian rock hounds
marie-claire Hocking, France
18/06/2020 16:36
2
0
Thank You for the detailed article and many excellent photos of the grave as it was found and detailed photos of the many interesting artifacts. The cultural aspect of the Amazons and quotes from Herodotus also were nice touches. Well Done !
John , Benton Harbor, Michigan
18/06/2020 05:22
5
1
amazing, wonderful, epic, sad she died so young.
Frank Farkel, USA city of Angels
16/06/2020 13:57
14
3
1

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