Princess Ukoka – the ice mummy

“Princess” Ukoka’s tombGo to Google Earth and enter 49.299748, 87.562505, then zoom in to the circular formation and you will find the 2,400 year old tomb of “Princess Ukoka” who is buried in Tchu – an extremely remote Siberian valley. She is just 10 feet away from the disputed Russian–Chinese border and her tomb was excavated in 1995. Now zoom out slightly and roam the valley – particularly to the west – and you will make the exciting discovery of a plethora of ancient circular tombs, sometimes linked in rows and sometimes alone. Some are marked by photographs, several are not.

Siberian landscape
The local area

You have found the tombs of nobles from the ancient nomadic Pazarik culture, which was closely related to Herodotus’s famed Scythian warriors, who were, in turn, almost certainly the basis of Amazon women warriors. The Scythians, with their fabulous gold burials, lived slightly to the west of here, though several are buried in this valley.

Ukoka’s tomb was almost perfectly preserved as, like the other tombs in the region, it filled with water that turned to ice in this region of permafrost. As excavators melted the ice tomb was found to be simply stunning.

Scythian jewellery From the Hermitage MuseumShe had an elaborate three foot high headdress and was found covered in fur and adorned with silk and gold leaf ornaments. She was in wooden (larch) framework (3.3m x 2.3 m) and the floor was covered with felt. There were dishes of meat, one piece with an iron knife stuck in, plus flat-bottomed ceramic jugs, There were arranged effigies of the upper part of a wolf’s snout with Capricorn’s horns.

Six sacrificed horses lay in the northern part of the pit, all with plaited tails, wooden harness ornaments and felt covers for saddles – all perfectly preserved. The cloth was still soft to the touch and her boots would still have been wearable. The seams of her yellowish silk shirt were trimmed with thin red cord, while its hem, neck, the edges of the sleeves and the centre of the shirt were decorated with red ribbon; her red and white woollen skirt had a thick red belt. O­n her legs she had long white felt stockings decorated with patterns of felt appliques on the upper parts.

Excavators found the polished surface of a bronze plate that had been rubbed with mercury, to make the surface shine like a mirror. Amulets, beads, bronze pendants and a “vanity case” with an horse hair brush, blue and green powder, a peculiar pencil made from a rod of iron rings with a vivianite slate (used for ritual face painting) were all found, as was a stone saucer with coriander seeds.

Ukoka showing her tattooed armUkoka was obviously a special lady – not a princess (we know their tombs are different) – but wealth with high social status; possibly a spiritual leader, an healer, a story-teller or a fortune-teller? She had tattoos o­n her arms from her shoulders to her wrists and hands. She was carefully embalmed and was around 25 when she died from unknown causes. Stunningly, even the soft contours of her body had changed little since she was laid to rest in the 5th century BC. A two inch hole in her skull was found to be post-mortem.

She was probably not a warrior or a concubine as she, unlike several other women in the area, had no weapons and was buried not as an adjunct to a man but alone. Sources say that Pazarik women were not allowed to marry until they had killed an enemy male. DNA evidence implies she was related to the Eastern Slavs and was probably Caucasian, though some say she may have had certain Mongolian features. There is so much more that could be said about Ukoka, but space here, unlike in her tomb, is sadly limited.

By Gerry Palmer

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