Thursday, March 12, 2015

An Ancient Face Revealed

I don’t have any tattoos, or “skin illustrations” as Ray Bradbury called them, but don’t have a real objection to them on other folks if they are tasteful and well executed.  I overheard a person say some time ago that the kids didn’t tattoo themselves so much back in the “old days.”  I guess that fellow had a different idea than myself on what constituted the “old days.”  Using ink to color human skin has been going on, across cultures, long before history began to be written down.  The "Ice Princess" of Siberia, is a perfect example.

By The Siberian Times reporter
14 August 2012
The ancient mummy of a mysterious young woman, known as the Ukok Princess, is finally returning home to the Altai Republic this month.
She is to be kept in a special mausoleum at the Republican National Museum in capital Gorno-Altaisk, where eventually she will be displayed in a glass sarcophagus to tourists.
A beauty from the past.  The reconstructed face of the Ice Princess. 
For the past 19 years, since her discovery, she was kept mainly at a scientific institute in Novosibirsk, apart from a period in Moscow when her remains were treated by the same scientists who preserve the body of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin.
To mark the move 'home', The Siberian Times has obtained intricate drawings of her remarkable tattoos, and those of two men, possibly warriors, buried near her on the remote Ukok Plateau, now a UNESCO world cultural and natural heritage site, some 2,500 metres up in the Altai Mountains in a border region close to frontiers of Russia with Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan.
They are all believed to be Pazyryk people - a nomadic people described in the 5th century BC by the Greek historian Herodotus - and the colourful body artwork is seen as the best preserved and most elaborate ancient tattoos anywhere in the world.
To many observers, it is startling how similar they are to modern-day tattoos.
The remains of the immaculately dressed 'princess', aged around 25 and preserved for several millennia in the Siberian permafrost, a natural freezer, were discovered in 1993 by Novosibirsk scientist Natalia Polosmak during an archeological expedition.
Buried around her were six horses, saddled and bridled, her spiritual escorts to the next world, and a symbol of her evident status, perhaps more likely a revered folk tale narrator, a healer or a holy woman than an ice princess.
There, too, was a meal of sheep and horse meat and ornaments made from felt, wood, bronze and gold. And a small container of cannabis, say some accounts, along with a stone plate on which were the burned seeds of coriander.
'Compared to all tattoos found by archeologists around the world, those on the mummies of the Pazyryk people are the most complicated, and the most beautiful,' said Dr Polosmak. More ancient tattoos have been found, like the Ice Man found in the Alps - but he only had lines, not the perfect and highly artistic images one can see on the bodies of the Pazyryks.
'It is a phenomenal level of tattoo art. Incredible.'
While the tattoos, preserved in the permafrost, have been known about since the remains were dug up, until now few have seen the intricate reconstructions that we reveal here.



'Tattoos were used as a mean of personal identification - like a passport now, if you like. The Pazyryks also believed the tattoos would be helpful in another life, making it easy for the people of the same family and culture to find each other after death,' added Dr Polosmak. 'Pazyryks repeated the same images of animals in other types of art, which is considered to be like a language of animal images, which represented their thoughts.
'The same can be said about the tattoos - it was a language of animal imagery, used to express some thoughts and to define one's position both in society, and in the world. The more tattoos were on the body, the longer it meant the person lived, and the higher was his position. For example the body of one man, which was found earlier in the 20th century, had his entire body covered with tattoos. Our young woman - the princess - has only her two arms tattooed. So they signified both age and status.'
The tattoos on the left shoulder of the 'princess' show a fantastical mythological animal: a deer with a griffon's beak and a Capricorn's antlers. The antlers are decorated with the heads of griffons. And the same griffon's head is shown on the back of the animal.
The mouth of a spotted panther with a long tail is seen at the legs of a sheep. She also has a deer's head on her wrist, with big antlers. There is a drawing on the animal's body on a thumb on her left hand.
On the man found close to the 'princess', the tattoos include the same fantastical creature, this time covering the right side of his body, across his right shoulder and stretching from his chest to his back. The patterns mirror the tattoos on a much more elaborately covered male body, dug from the ice in 1929, whose highly decorated torso is also reconstructed in our drawing here.
His chest, arms, part of the back and the lower leg are covered with tattoos. There is an argali - a mountain sheep - along with the same deer with griffon's vulture-like beak, with horns and the back of its head which has a griffon's heads and an onager drawn on it.
All animals are shown with the lower parts of their bodies turned inside out. There is also a winged snow leopard, a fish and fast-running argali.
To some, the clash depicted on the tattoes between vultures and hoofed animals corresponds to the conflict between two worlds: a predator from the lower, chthonian world against herbivorous animals that symbolise the middle world.
Dr Polosmak is intrigued at way so little has changed.
'We can say that most likely there was - and is - one place on the body for everyone to start putting the tattoos on, and it was a left shoulder. I can assume so because all the mummies we found with just one tattoo had it on their left shoulders.
'And nowadays this is the same place where people try to put the tattoos on, thousands of years on.
'I think its linked to the body composition... as the left shoulder is the place where it is noticeable most, where it looks the most beautiful. Nothing changes with years, the body stays the same, and the person making a tattoo now is getting closer to his ancestors than he or she may realise.
'I think we have not moved far from Pazyryks in how the tattoos are made. It is still about a craving to make yourself as beautiful as possible.
'For example, about the British. A lot of them go on holiday to Greece, and when I've been there I heard how Greeks were smiling and saying that a British man's age can be easily understood by the number of tattoos on his body.
'I'm talking the working class now. And I noticed it, too. The older a person, the more tattoos are on his body.'
'It was an international research programme, devoted to the Pazyryk Iron Age culture,' said Academician Vyacheslav Molodin, deputy director of Institute of Archeology and Ethnography of the Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences.
To modern man, the only way in is by helicopter, yet in ancient times this was on the 'southern steppe road' used by migrating nomadic peoples in the pre-Christian and Dark Ages.
'The burial mound with the 'princess' seemed to be half deserted, with big holes which border guards dug to use the stones.
'It seemed less than hopeful. But Natalya Polosmak was determined that we had to start working on it.....
'To our utter surprise, there was an untouched burial chamber inside the mould.
'We started working on opening the 'ice lense' - the burial inside the mould was filled with ancient ice.
'We started to melt the ice. First the skeletons of six horses appeared, some with preserved wooden decorations on the harness, some with coloured saddles made from felt.
'On one of the saddles was a picture of a jumping winged lion.
'Then the burial room appeared from under the ice. It was made from larch logs. Inside stood a massive hollowed wooden log with a top, shut with bronze nails. Inside the log was all filled with ice.
'It was a tanned arm that appeared from under the ice first.
'A bit more work and we saw remain of a young woman, lying inside the log in a sleeping position, with her knees bent.
'She was dressed in a long shirt made from Chinese silk, and had long felt sleeve boots with a beautiful decoration on them.
'Chinese silk before was only found in 'Royal' burials of the Pazyryk people - it was more expensive than gold, and was a sign of a true wealth. 'There was jewellery and a mirror found by the log.
'The great value of Pazyryk burials is that they were all made in permafrost, which helped the preservation.
'It was quite unusual to have a single Pazyryk burial. Usually men from this culture were buried with women.
'In this case, her separate burial might signify her celibacy, which was typical for cult servants or shamans, and meant her independence and exceptionality.
'She had no weapons buried with her, or on her, which means that she certainly was not one of the noble Pazyryk women-warriors.
'Most likely, she possessed some special knowledge and was a healer, or folk tale narrator.
'From the inside the mummy was filled with herbs and roots. Her head was completely shaved, and she wore a horse hair wig.
'On top of the wig there was a symbol of the tree of life - a stick made from felt, wrapped with black tissue and decorated with small figures of birds in golden foil.
'On the front of the wig, like a cockade, was attached a wooden carving of deer.
'The princess's face and neck skin was not preserved, but the skin of her left arm survived, and we saw a tattoo, going all along it.
'She had tattoos on both arms, from shoulders to wrists, with some on the fingers, too. The best preserved of all was a tattoo on her left shoulder, featuring a deer with griffon's beak and a Capricorn's horns. A bit below is a sheep, with a snow leopard by its feet.'
It is said tattoos, once done, are for life. In this case, though, it was a whole lot longer. The experts say they were made with paint, partially concocted from the burned bits of plants, their soot or ashes which contained a high level of potassium. The drawings were pierced with a needle, and rubbed with a mixture of soot and fat.
Site of the Ice Princess's grave in Siberia. 

The experts say she died in her 20s, with the best guess at 25 to 28, and that this was 2,500 or more years ago, making her, for example, some five centuries older than Jesus Christ, and several hundred years the senior of Alexander the Great.
'She was called 'Princess' by the media. We just call her 'Devochka', meaning 'Girl'. She was 25-28 years old when she died,' said Irina Salnikova, head of the Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences Museum of Archeology and Ethnography.
'The reason for her death is unknown, because all her internal organs were removed before the mummifying. All we see is that there is no visible damage to her skull, or anything pointing to the unnatural character of her death.
'Her body is curled, so we can’t say for sure how tall she was. Some estimate her to be 1.62 metres, others say she could have been as tall as 1.68 metres. We could not establish when the young woman has had her tattoos made, at what age. The horses, found by her burial, were most likely first killed, and then buried with her.'
In 2010 an MRI scan was conducted on the mummy, the first time this had been done on ancient remains in Russia. The final results of exhaustive analytical work has still not been released.
But Andrei Letyagin, chairman of the MRI Center of the Siberian department of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said: 'The cause of death remains unknown. I don't believe that it will be possible to find an answer to this question because there's no brain and no internal organs in the body.'
In all probability she did not die from injury. 'Her skull is fully preserved, and so are the bones,' he confirmed. DNA obtained from her remains is intriguing.
The Princess of Ukok is not related to any of the Asian races, the scientists are convinced. She is not related, evidently, to the present day inhabitants of Altai. Moreover, she had a European appearance, it has been claimed.
'There was a moment of gross misunderstanding when a legend came about this mummy being a foremother of people of Altai,' said Molodin.
'The people of Pazyryk belonged to different ethnic group, in no way related to Altaians. Genetic studies showed that the Pazyryks were a part of Samoyedic family, with elements of Iranian-Caucasian substratum.'
So perhaps more Samoyedic than Scythian.
'We tried to overcome the misunderstanding, but sadly it didn't work.'
Many locals in Altai were nervous from the start about the removal of remains from sacred burial mounds, known as kurgans, regardless of the value to science of doing such work.
In a land where the sway of shamans still holds, they believe the princess's removal led immediately to bad consequences.
'There are places here that it is considered a great sin to visit, even for our holy men. The energy and the spirits there are too dangerous,' warned one local. 'Every kurgan has its own spirit - there is both good and bad in them - and people here have suffered much misfortune since the Ice Princess was disturbed.'
It is nothing short of sacrilege to pour hot water on the remains of ancients who have survived in the permafrost for thousands of years, he said.
The 'curse of the mummy' even caused a crash of the helicopter carrying her remains away from Altai, some believe. Then in Novosibirsk, her body, preserved so well for so long, started to decompose.
Stories circulated that the princess had been stored in a freezer used to preserve cheese. Fungi began growing on the preserved flesh, it was claimed.
Whatever the truth, the scientists sought emergency help from the world-renowned Lenin embalming experts who worked on her remains for a year.
Back in Altai, many ills have been blamed on her removal: forest fires, high winds, illness, suicides and an upsurge in earthquakes in the Altai region.
Local woman, Olga Kurtugashova, said: 'She may be a mummy but her soul survives, and they say a shaman communicated with her and she asked to go home. That's what the people want, too.'
'Our ancestors are buried in these mounds,' insisted Rimma Erkinova, deputy director of the Gorno-Altaisk Republican National Museum as a war of words raged over the last decade. 'There are sacred items there. The Altai people never disturb the repose of their ancestors. We shouldn't have any more excavations until we've worked out a proper moral and ethical approach.'
'She was a beautiful young woman, whom they dug up, poured hot water and chemicals upon, and subjected to other experiments. They did this to a real person,' complained Erkinova to the Irish Times newspaper in in 2004.
The same year, an Altai regional chief insisted: 'We must calm people and bury the Altai Princess.
'We're having earth tremors two or three times a week. People think this will go on as long as the princess's spirit is not allowed to rest in peace.'
Many wanted the princess to be returned from the Archaeological and Ethnographic Institute of Novosibirsk, some 600 km away, and restored to her original burial site.
After some 300 earth tremors in a six month period, the head of Kosh-Agachsky district Auelkhan Dzhatkambaev,appealed to the Siberian Federal District presidential envoy Leonid Drachevsky for this to happen.
Drachevsky travelled to Kosh-Agach and told residents that the mummies would not be returned, saying they were serving important scientific purposes, and that he was 'simply uncomfortable hearing about angry spirits, as if we were living in the Middle Ages'.
Erkinova's plan was different. 'We shall put the princess in a glass sarcophagus, so everybody can come and bow before her,' she said.
'This is a very painful issue. Altai's native people worry about their forbear. The Princess must return to us.'
People were angry, too, that the mummies were taken on a tour to Korea and Japan with one report saying the princess 'was met like a diva, with vast crowds, admirers on their knees and bouquets of red roses'.
Eventually a compromise was reached, though delays and arguments followed. Finally this culminates in this month's return of the princess not to her burial place but to the Altai museum.
'We agreed to give back the princess once the conditions for looking after it were right. That means proper accommodation with an air conditioner and a special sarcophagus,' said Molodin as long ago as 1997.
'Another condition was that this was our intellectual property and that we would have the right to use it for exhibitions and to study it. We're not doing this out of curiosity but in the interests of science. The soul is somewhere else and we're studying the remains. So I don't see a violation of any accepted social rule here.'
Finally, all now agree the princess is coming home.
The Altai authorities have now declared the remote mountain area from where the princess and her kinsmen were buried as a 'zone of peace' where no more excavations will take place, despite the near-certain treasures lying in the permafrost.
Such work amounts to plundering, they believe.
To Molodin, who found the male mummy several years after the princess, this deprives the world of a valuable scientific inheritance. He argues, too, that the issue is critical since global warming means the ancient bodies will decay.
Scientists reckon there are thousands of burial mounds here, hundreds of which date to the Pazyryk period, many of which may contain answers to questions about where we come from.
More information about the facial reconstruction and the other artifacts found in the burial can be found here:

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Most Unlucky Sword

A very unique weapon came up for auction recently, one that holds a personal interest for me.  It did not meet its reserve and thus did not sell.  I'm happy for that, as there is now more chance that it will be purchased by a museum, where it can be seen by all.  I believe much of the "history" of this sword as provided by the auction house is speculation or was simply fabricated.  A good story will sell even a wonderful artifact for even more.   I'll let you read the story as presented in a UK Daily Mail article for your self before I offer my comments at the end of the blog.

An unlucky sword used by the losers of the Battles of Stamford Bridge, Hastings, Bannockburn and Boroughbridge over a period of 250 years is expected to reach £120,000 at auction.

It is believed that the 11th century broadsword was originally carried to Britain by Viking raiders when it was captured, only to be lost a few weeks later at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. 

In 1314, the sword was carried to Scotland at the Battle of Bannockburn, where the owner was forced to retreat having witnessed his nephew axed to death. 

However, the cursed sword's bad luck continued at the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322, when the unfortunate owner was speared in the anus and killed.  Now, the weapon is going to be auctioned by Christie's auction house in London. 

The 27-inch 11th century Viking blade features an iron cross-guard. The sword has the coat of arms of Sir Humphrey de Bohun, whose nephew Henry was killed Bannockburn by Robert the Bruce.

According to Christie's the sword was captured three weeks before the Battle of Hastings after King Harold, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England defeated the Norwegian raider King Hardrada at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire. 

The doomed sword was used at Hastings where King Harold was defeated by William the Conqueror. 

Experts believe that the sword was picked up from the battlefield by Humphrey De Bohun, who was the victorious king's god father.

The blade was remounted with the De Bohan coat of arms, where Sir Humphrey De Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford and Essex carried it north to Scotland.  He was killed eight years later at the Battle of Boroughbridge where a patient pikeman speared him in the anus. 

Christie’s spokeswoman Dernagh O’Leary said today: 'Whilst it cannot be proved, it is not at all inconceivable that the blade of the present sword was captured or taken as a trophy by de Bohun at Hastings and was later remounted to become a family sword.

'The present sword, whilst not being a war sword, would have served as a clear badge of identity with its gold and enamelled coat of arms on the pommel and eminently more practical as a side arm around camp when not mounted and armed for battle. It is therefore entirely possible that this sword was present at Bannockburn in June 1314 if not actually on the field of battle.

'Sir Humphrey went to meet with a particularly gruesome end at the battle of Boroughbridge in Yorkshire in March 1322.  

'For the last 50 years, the sword has been in the hands of two private collectors, firstly with the Australian-based Corrigan Collection, and latterly with the present, anonymous, vendor.'

Sir Humphrey's unfortunate demise was later celebrated by the children's TV show Horrible Histories. 

A Christie’s expert said: 'The whereabouts of the sword prior to Corrigan’s ownership is not known, but the mention of a family sword bearing the de Bohun arms in Sir Humphrey’s will and the use of a mid-11th century Viking blade makes for an interesting train of thought potentially linking significant events of British history from the Vikings, Hastings and Bannockburn through this object.

'A series of x-rays which accompany the sword support the age of the items and show no modern repairs.”
The sword blade is described as 'an extremely rare late medieval broadsword, with earlier Viking blade, and bearing the arms of the De Bohun family'. 

Celia Harvey, Christie’s Head of Sale, said: 'We are delighted to be offering this extremely rare sword during the year in which the Battle of Bannockburn celebrates its 700th birthday.

'We imagine that the sword will be of broad interest to collectors of historical artefacts or arms and armours as well as to museums and institutions.

'The sword will be on display for a month at our South Kensington saleroom which will allow it the publicity and exposure it deserves.'


The Viking sword arrived in September 1066, where it was captured at the Battle of Stamford Bridge
The Viking sword arrived in September 1066, where it was captured at the Battle of Stamford Bridge

Battle of Stamford Bridge September 1066 

  In September 1066 King Harald of Norway landed in Yorkshire, with Earl Tostig, the brother of the reigning English monarch King Harold.   Harold marched north to challenge the Vikings who had already captured York and were threatening his throne. 
  After freeing York, Harold confronted the Viking invaders at Stamford Bridge where the sword was picked up from the battle field by forces loyal to the English king, who returned south to face the threat posed by the Normans 
One of King Harold's men carried the sword south where it was again on the losing side at Hastings 
One of King Harold's men carried the sword south where it was again on the losing side at Hastings 

 Battle of Hastings, October 14, 1066

   Just three weeks after the Battle of Stamford Bridge, King Harold was again facing a major challenge to his throne.  This time, William the Conqueror, who had been promised the English throne by Edward the Confessor landed on the South Coast. 
   William delayed his invasion until after Harold fought the Vikings at Stamford Bridge so his adversary's forces would be weakened. 
The battle took place on October 14, 1066 when William's cavalry charged the defending English troops. 
   Historians believe the English defenders had an effective shield wall and were able to repel the initial charges until King Harold was killed in battle, reputedly by an arrow in the eye. 

Sir Humphrey de Bohun witnessed his nephew killed by Robert the Bruce  before fleeing with the unlucky sword 
Sir Humphrey de Bohun witnessed his nephew killed by Robert the Bruce  before fleeing with the sword

Battle of Bannockburn, June 1314

  The two-day battle between June 23-24 1314 is one of the major points in Scottish history. 
   Outnumbered by three-to-one, the Scottish army under Robert the Bruce, routed the forces of Edward II. 
    Among those at the battle was Sir Humphrey de Bohun, who was carrying the sword, his ancestor Humphrey de Bohan had picked up from the battle field in Hastings 200 years earlier.
    He witnessed his nephew Henry de Bohun charge Robert the Bruce across the battlefield where the Scottish king struck the English knight in the head. 
   Sir Humphrey fled the scene and was captured - along with his sword.   
Sir Humphrey de Bohan was killed at Boroughbridge 
Sir Humphrey de Bohan was killed at Boroughbridge 

Battle of Boroughbridge March 16, 1322

   Eight years after escaping with his life at Bannockburn, Sir Humphrey de Bohan was marching against troops loyal to Edward II. 
Sir Humphrey tried to charge forces guarding a wooden bridge in Boroughbridge in Yorkshire, with his unlucky sword.
   As he reached the bridge, a man using a pike, stabbed Sir Humphrey from below, reportedly ramming the weapon through his anus. 
   Sir Humphrey was fighting for the Earl of Lancaster, who was contesting the English throne. 
   Following his defeat, the Earl of Lancaster was captured and later executed for treason. 
Historians believe that Edward II's men had learned several of the tactics deployed by the     Scottish at Bannockburn to defeat his rivals. 

This article was reblogged from:

I believe that this sword was used by a member of the de Bohun family, as evidenced by the family arms engraved on the pommel.  The pommel and cross guard of the sword also point to the time frame of Sir Humphrey de Bohun.  However the shape of the blade may indicate that it was most likely made long after Stamford Bridge and Hastings.  The claim that the blade is of "Viking" heritage is spurious at best.  I think we can disregard the early history of the sword, as the sword itself disputes it and there is nothing else to verify that aspect of the tale. 

With a 27 inch blade, the sword is rather short for the era, but within the realm of swords of this type.  It is an arming sword, a one handed sword that was for everyday wear.  Sir Humphrey would have owned many swords and may have had a much larger, "Sword of War" that he also took into combat.  

But the fact remains that this sword may have been at Bonockburn and Boroughbridge.  Sir Humphrey met with disaster at Bonockburn and and lost his life at Boroughbridge.  That alone would make this sword quite unlucky.  It also gives the sword a remarkable provenance that few others can match.  And why does it have a personal connection for me?  Sir Humphrey de Bohn, the 4th Earl of Hereford was my 19th Great Grandfather!