The Origins of Tattooing in Europe #3

In the summer of 1993 another Pazyryk mummified body was discovered in Siberia, on the Umok plateau. This time it was a woman, whose body had been buried for over 2,400 years in a coffin made out of a hollowed-out larch trunk.

This young woman was named “the ice virgin”. The outside of her coffin was covered in leather, which had been engraved with stylized images of deer and a snow leopard. What probably happened is that shortly after she was buried, frozen rain flooded the tomb and so the entire contents of the death chamber remained frozen until it was discovered.

Her arms were tattooed with images of mythological animals similar to those of the previously discovered Pazyryk warrior.

She was dressed with a flowing dress of white silk, a long, red, wool skirt and long felt socks. She had an elaborate hairdo consisting of hair and felt. Many artifacts were also found in the death chamber, such as gold ornaments, cutlery, a brush, a vase containing marijuana and a mirror which had a picture of a deer engraved on the back. Six horses with elaborate harnesses had been sacrificed and laid on trunks which formed the roof of the death chamber. In the pre-Christian age Pazyryk nomads, Shiites and many other local tribes gave rise to the Shiite-Siberian culture.

Tattoos from the Altai's Mummies, via Pinterest
Tattoos from the Altai’s Mummies, via Pinterest

The Shiites and the Pazyryk were two nomadic peoples who roamed the vast steppes of Central Asia with their herds. Skillful riders, they became dangerous warriors who crossed enormous distances in order to raid adjacent tribes. The Shiites and Pazyryk dominated the vast areas of Russia and Central Asia with an iron hand starting in ‘800 BC, for a millennium. Their predominance extended from Asia to the east Balkans. They were famous for their jewelry and utensils decorated with animal figures like those found in their tombs. The same animal designs appear in the tattoos of the male and female Pazyryk warriors who were discovered in Siberia.

The most beautiful and well-preserved tattoos are those displaying four rams on the ankle of a man and a horn bracelet on a woman’s wrist. The depth of the pigment in the skin suggests that the tattoos were made with the pricking technique rather than the needle and thread technique which was widespread at that time among the Eskimos, Siberian tribes and the Inuit. The mastery involved in the creation of these designs and the tattoo technique were just as good as those of Burmese and Thai tattoos from the same period, leading to the idea that perhaps these civilizations were connected in some way. Such detailed representations of real and mythological animals are present even in modern tattoos in Southeast Asia, where they are considered to be magical and protective during hunting and fishing. The Pzyryk tribes also probably considered these tattoos as good luck amulets for hunting deer. The fact that they were found on the bodies of only two warriors leads one to believe that these tattoos were reserved only for upper class people.

Tattoos from the Altai's Mummies 2 via Pinterest
Tattoos from the Altai’s Mummies, via Pinterest

… The End