Scythian Designs

The Pyramids of Siberia


Between 1929 and 1949, 1990 and 1995, archaelology excavations in the Altai Mountain region of Siberia uncovered a number of tombs known as kurgans.

These ancient tombs lent their name to the region, Pazyryk, after the local word for 'burial mound'. The kurgans date to around 400BC, and contained extensive artifacts including grave goods and several bodies known as Ice Mummies, which were superbly preserved the result of deliberate embalming and having lain in the frozen ground for almost 2500 years.

Grave robbers have looted many of the valuable artifacts.


 The following list can be viewed at

Burial Mound 1

Sergei Rudenko Russian Archaelogist

1924 Rudenko and M P Griaznov led an expidition to the Altai, the expidition was organised by the State Ethnographic Musseum, Leningrad. 


 The first Burial Mound 1 was excavated in 1929.

The kurgan was looted by grave robbers.  No bodies were found.   

The log coffin was decorated with a frieze depicting cocks facing each other, a mirror image design.  The kurgan contained the burial of ten freeze-dried mummified horses, their bodies were untouched. A good collection of horse equipment was recovered. 

The horses were exhibited at the World's Fair, Paris 1936.t of the great burial mounds were excavated.

Horse Artifacts from Burial Mound 1

 Photography Professor Daniel C. Waugh  Silk Road Seattle

Burial Mound 2

After WWII Rudenko returned to the Altai to excavate the Pazyryk River valley. Burial Mound 2 was excavated in 1947-8.

The shaft was 7.1 x 7.8 m in cross section and 4 m deep. At the bottom there was a layer of stones on which earth had been spread and over a layer of logs. This formed the base for the outer log chamber. Within this outer log chamber was an inner chamber that measured 3.65 m long, 4.9 m wide and 1.5 m high. The upper surfaces of the ceilings of the inner and outer chamber were covered with birch bark and brush. There was a space of 10-15 cm between the inner and outer wall of the burial chamber. Nine layers of logs were placed over the top of the outer chamber.

Horse burials: Next to and over the burial chamber were found seven horses as grave gifts. The horses had been covered over by beams, earth and rocks (outer part of burial mound). The horses lay higher up in the shaft and were not well frozen as items in the log chamber and were additionally crushed by the weight of the logs. The horses had been placed in a row, lying on their left or right side with their heads facing east. The horses were killed by blows to their heads. Their manes had been clipped and the hair of their tails plaited or twisted together. The horses were uniformly dark in color. Four of the horses had carved wooden cheek pieces on their halters that ended in animal heads such as a cat-like animal, a goose, sheep, or ibex. Each of the cheek pieces was covered with a tin or gold foil. Two of the horses had a mask-like headgear of felt and leather. Saddles were made of leather cushions covered by felt saddlecloths and stiffened by wooden frames. Appliqué felt designs covered the saddlecloths. Scenes are of a griffin, elk or other animals portrayed as locked in combat or of a leopard attacking an elk (moose). Next to the horse burials were placed small shields of parallel staves. One nearby fur bag contained cheese.

One whip handle shows a horse in flight being pursued by a cat creature whose body is coiledaround the handle.


 Horse Artifact from Burial Mound 2

Photography Professor Daniel C. Waugh   Silk Road Seattle



Funerary Chamber

Funerary chamber-the floor was covered by a layer of ices 12 cm thick. Ice had begun to form before the grave was robbed thus aiding in the preservation of some of the grave materials. Foodstuffs in the burial chamber had, however, decomposed. Elsewhere in the chamber, a yellowish, muddy water had entered as the result of the robbers’ forced entry and then frozen. This also contributed to preservation of items in the burial chamber. The floor of the chamber and the walls (up to 65 cm high) were covered by black felt. A decorative trimming, consisting of a band of white felt with a frieze of colored lotus blossoms, had formed a decorative border on the black felt covering and had been ripped off by the robbers. Along the south wall stood a log coffin, along the east wall were eating utensils and musical instruments, and near the west wall were incense burners with their accessories. Four small tables with carved legs held oval shaped ceramic plates. The robbers had eaten from the plates and then smashed them. The legs of one table were shaped in the form of an elongated lion that had been covered with tin and gold foil and parts were painted. Next to the tables were clay vessels and two vase-shaped containers. Both of the containers had been covered with appliqué leather and embellished with tin. One had a frieze consisting of striding roosters, the other lotus silhouettes. Two wooden containers, and cup-like forms were nearby. A fragment of a carpet had circles of felt worked into its surface. An iron knife with a flat handle decorated with gold lay near these objects. Its wooden sheath was also close by. One of the musical instruments was a small drum in the form of an hourglass. Stringed instruments in the form of a lyre (harp) also were found.


Wooden Table Burial mound 2

Photography Professor Daniel C. Waugh Silk Road Seattle

Coffin: The coffin was a hollowed out log more that 4 m in length. On the sides it had loops to aid in lowering it into the chamber. The front of the coffin was covered with birch bark and decorated with appliqué leather showing two reindeer walking behind each other. The interior of the coffin was lined with a double layer of black felt and a carpet on the bottom. The robbers had ripped off the cover of the coffin. Since the corpses, that of a man and woman were frozen, the robbers had to break open the side of the coffin to drag out the corpses. Some items were left behind in the coffin such as a wooden headrest covered with leather, a leather bag with carrying straps, stiffened at the top by a stick which ended in two lions heads [possibly part of the woman’s belongings], a round leather box filled with coriander seeds, a mirror of Greek form (two silver plates clamped together, fitted with a handle of ox horn), an iron fork with diverging prongs (use unknown), a small hide pouch containing black hair, finger-nail pairing [probably an amulet worn around the neck] that probably belonged to the robbers rather than as part the burial; a fragment of a comb made of horn, an earring that had been decorated with varied colored stones, beads of bone and cornelian [found in the coffin, on the floor of the burial chamber and in the passage made by the robbers].

Under the headrest was a diadem made up of a strip of wool covered with leather that showed a row of strutting roosters. From this band dangled small strips of sable skin that were trimmed with ornaments such as wooden figures with wings, horns, or ears of leather. Aclaws. Another similar piece was found outside the coffin. Both of the deceased were found outside the coffin, mutilated by the robbers in order to get at their jewelry. No single piece of clothing was left intact. A mantle made of squirrel skin with the fur inside had been slung over the shoulders of one of the individuals. It had imitation sleeves (too narrow to put on). On the outside, the parallel seams were sewn with strong sinew making the garment rather stiff. It was decorated small stag with enormous antlers was found standing on a chamfered ball with a peg beneath. Two griffins with short wings and huge crests and a gold covered head of a griffin may have been part of the diadem. Also in the coffin was the head of a griffin holding in its mouth the head of a stag. On the sides of the griffin there is a bas-relief of a griffin holding a goose in its  with leather appliqué representing cock’s combs covered with gold. The edges of the garment were trimmed with horse skin. An apron was also reconstructed and apparently was made by the same method as the mantle. A man’s shirt of considerable length was found as well as fragments of at least three different belts decorated with leather appliqué, gold or tin or silver plates showing an ibex with its head turned to the rear and being attacked by a lion.

 The woman’s boots were decorated with a curvilinear plant-like form. The sole of each boot was decorated with a network pattern into which were worked 42 crystals of pyrite. Over the instep of the boots ran a border trimmed with small golden aquatic birds. Small glass beads were attached to trimming along the legs of the boots. Felt socks were inside the boots.

Scattered over the floor of the chamber were small ornamental plaques with figures of horses, griffins, elk, etc.




Photography Professor Daniel C. Waugh Silk Road Seattle

Corpse of Woman

Approximately 40 years old, tall and strong with delicate hands and feet. Her hair had been shaved off. The pigtail of black hair found elsewhere in the chamber was probably hers. There was a cavity in one of her teeth otherwise she was quite healthy. There was no trace of violent death, but in the Altai region women were poisoned before being buried with men. To mummify her body, the scalp had been folded back over the right parietal bone, the skull chiseled open, the brain removed and the cavity filled with some vegetable substance, the section of bone replaced and the scalp reattached with horsehair. The abdomen had also been opened, the contents removed, then filled with a vegetable material and sewn up. Similar incisions ran also from the buttocks to the thigh. Here muscular material was removed and the cavity filled. The purpose of this procedure is unknown. Grave robbers had battered the woman’s skull and her head, hands and feet had been chopped off and the fingers severed from the hands to get at jewelry.

Corpse of Man

About 60 years of age, very powerfully built, broad cheekbones. On theright parietal bone were two oval shaped holes caused by a pick like instrument that probablycaused his death, probably in warfare. He was then scalped. An incision had been made fromone ear to the other and the scalp pulled off. A false scalp was laid over the skull and sewn backon with horsehair, probably by the man’s relatives after the body was recovered. Themummification was similar to that of the woman, trepanned skull, eviscerated. Small incisionswere made on thighs but these were only cuts. A false beard had been tied on to the man’sshaven chin. Tattooed designs had been made on his chest, back, arms and legs illustratinganimals in elaborate design patterns [Scythian contorted animal style].In the burial chamber another mirror was found in a case of leopard skin that wasdecorated with small beads. An important discovery was a bronze cauldron with two side handlesthat had been covered with birch bark. The vessel had a layer of black felt on the bottom and was filled to the top with large stones. Among the stones were seeds of a kind of wild hemp, some charred. As hemp is a strong narcotic, the caldron would have produced a strong vapor that was apparently inhaled. Six poles lashed together at the top formed a hexapod for suspending the caldron. Associated with the caldron and stand was a leather blanket decorated with winged liongriffins that were pouncing upon elks. The blanket was likely thrown over the stand so that the owner could inhale all of the vapors. In another corner was another stand of six poles covered with birch bark and underneath a square pan supported on four legs that was also filled with rocks and hemp seeds. A small stone table with four legs was thought to be a small altar for burning sacrifices.

Tattooed Human Skin Burial Mound No 2.

Burial Mound 2 though ransacked by robbers still contained an amazing amount of material.


Burial Mound 3

Burial Mound 3 was excavated in 1948.

Grave robbers had heavily impacted the tomb. Within the burial chamber, archaeologists found the skeleton of a man that had been thrown out of his log coffin onto the floor. In the chamber were found remains of clothing, two caps, woolen fragments, fragments of decorated arrow shafts, and hexapod stands. The burial of 14 horses over the burial chamber again provided much information on horse trappings.


Photography Professor Daniel C. Waugh Silk Road Seattle  

Burial Mound 4

Burial Mound 4 was excavated in 1948.

In the burial chamber were the skeletons of a man and a woman lying in log coffins. The chamber was looted with little left behind. Recovered were two hexapod stands, a little table, and some beads. Fourteen horse burials with some bridle pieces, etc. had been placed over the burial chamber.


Burial Mound 5

Burial Mound 5 was excavated in 1949. 

Barrow 5 had good preservation as the man’s and woman’s corpses were quite intact.


 Photography Professor Daniel C. Waugh   Silk Road Seattle

The felt wall hanging was decorated with a sphinx, a bird, and a patterned border.

Other items inthe burial chamber included a female head-dress and pigtail,

Photography Professor Daniel C. Waugh   Silk Road Seattle

felt stockings, a sheep’s fleece, a goat skin, a horn drum, remains of cheese, rods of hexapod stand, a turquoise bead, an earthenware bottle, and seeds of cultivated  coriander. Nine horses were buried outside the chamber. With the horses was a light four-wheeled carriage that had a felt canopy that was surmounted by two felt swans.

There was also part of a dome of a portable dwelling, a large felt carpet or wall-hanging bearing the portrayal of a seated goddess and a rider standing before her, a pile carpet, deer antler, and wood decorations covered with gold leaf.decorations covered with gold leaf.




BURIAL MOUNDS 6, 7, 8 excavated in 1949 were heavily looted.

BURIAL MOUND 6  contained the skeletons of a woman and a young girl.

BURIAL MOUND 7  contained the skeleton of an infant.

BURIAL MOUND 8  contained the skeleton of a woman.


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