from the digging-up-the-past dept.
Deep in a swamp in the Russian republic of Tuva, SNSF-funded archaeologist Gino Caspari has discovered an undisturbed Scythian burial mound. All the evidence suggests that this is not only the largest Scythian princely tomb in South Siberia, but also the earliest -- and that it may be harbouring some outstandingly well-preserved treasures.
Gino Caspari made the most significant find in his career to date not with a shovel, but at a computer. A recipient of Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) funding, archaeologist Caspari discovered a circular structure on high-resolution satellite images of the Uyuk River valley (Siberia) on his computer screen. An initial trial dig carried out this summer by the Bern University scientist together with the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Hermitage Museum confirmed his suspicion: the structure is a kurgan, a Scythian princely tomb.
[...] Wooden beams found by Caspari during the test excavation date back to the 9th century BC, predating Arzhan 1, which was built at the turn of the 9th to the 8th century BC and excavated in the 1970s. "We have a great opportunity here," says a delighted Caspari, commenting on the results of the trial dig published in the current issue of Archaeological Research in Asia (*).
[...] The climatic characteristics of the Siberian soil add to Caspari's hopes. In the Uyuk Valley, the permafrost layer largely begins just a few metres below the surface. Everything above that thaws in summer, and organic material rots. However, beneath the thick stone packing of the kurgans, the rays of sunlight are unable to thaw out the soil. "Very rarely ice lenses form directly beneath the kurgans," explains Caspari. The ice prevents the decay of organic matter and preserves sensitive material. Caspari is expecting further finds to be unearthed in the course of the project: "If we're lucky, we might even find some well-preserved wood carvings or carpets under the stones, or perhaps an ice mummy."
Gino Caspari, Timur Sadykov, Jegor Blochin, Irka Hajdas. Tunnug 1 (Arzhan 0) – an early Scythian kurgan in Tuva Republic, Russia. Archaeological Research in Asia, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.ara.2017.11.001