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Tales of the Ice Maiden

October 6, 2012
Elsa Evans-Kummer , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

(Editor's note: Elsa Evans-Kummer, of Onchiota, is living in Gorno-Altaisk, in the Altai Republic in Siberia, Russia, with her mother and sister until Dec. 1. She plans to write a regular column for the Just for Kids page about her impressions of living there.)

Archeology is the study of human cultures past and present. The Altain Ice Princess (or Maiden) is one of the greatest archaeological finds in Asia. She was found in the early 1990's in the Altai on a sacred mountain plateau. Her body was preserved in a burial mound (called a kurgon) by permafrost. These burial mounds were specifically constructed in cold mountains so they could keep the contents cool. Finding her was the first sign that women may have had power among the nomadic Pazyryk people (2,500 years ago). Not only was finding a woman's body significant, but she was of high enough rank to have her six horses, their gold-leaf bridles and riding tack buried with her. She had ornate tattoos with complicated designs of animals on her arms, shoulder and one thumb. She was buried with a headdress that was a meter tall and made of wood and gold with detailed carvings. Her clothing also showed signs that the Pazyryk people traded not only with China but possibly India as well. Her blouse was not made of domestic silk but came from wild silk worms, more common in India at the time. Even though they don't know what her role was in the society, her discovery opens a window to the tribe's structure and practices.

After her discovery by Natalia Polosmak, an archaeologist from Nova Novosibirsk (six hours north of Gorno), the body was taken to Moscow for research and preserving. They wanted to take her to a museum in Moscow for display. However, the people in the Altai Republic wanted her body in the capital city, which just happens to be Gorno-Altaisk. The museum where her body has just been relocated is not five blocks from the flat where I live. Though the relocation of the princess brings fame and tourism to this "small city in the mountains," not all the Altaian people feel that it was respectful to have removed the body from the burial mound in the first place. Some people refuse to go to the museum to see it. Experts say there is no ancestral connection between the native Altaians and the Pazyryk people from which the Ice Princess comes, but the Altian people feel a connection because the body was found in their sacred land.

Article Photos

Last Sunday we went to the new museum (built for the arrival of the Ice Maiden, with money from the company that wants to build a pipeline through all of Siberia!). We hoped to catch a glimpse of this historical discovery but were not so lucky. The Ice Princess is in the building but not on display for the general public.



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