Arctic Ice Maiden

Digs & Discoveries November/December 2017

(Courtesy Alexander Gusev)

At a medieval necropolis in the Russian High Arctic, researchers have excavated the naturally mummified remains of a woman who lived some 800 years ago. Dozens of burials have already been discovered at the site, known as Zeleny Yar, but this is the first woman to have been identified. “Before this, we thought that perhaps only men were buried here,” says Arctic Research Center archaeologist Alexander Gusev, who leads the excavation. “This transforms our understanding of the burial ground.” The woman’s hair and even eyelashes are perfectly preserved thanks in part to a copper plate that covered her face. Gusev notes that after oxidizing, the plate set off a chemical reaction that helped slow decomposition. The plate was fashioned from a copper cauldron that was made in Persia, almost 4,000 miles to the south. This object and other Persian artifacts found at the site suggest that the people buried at Zeleny Yar were engaged in long-distance trading networks, likely exchanging furs for exotic foreign goods.

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