Grave of fearsome 11th c. warrior found in Siberia

Archaeologists excavating a burial mound near Omsk in southwestern Siberia have discovered the intact burial of an impressively large warrior slain in battle around the 11th century A.D. He was powerfully built and 180 centimeters (5’11”) tall. A member of the Ust-Ishim culture, ancestors to the Khanty and Mansi tribes that still inhabit the area today, he was far taller than his comrades; the average height for a male was 160 centimeters (5’3″), so he would have towered over them.

He was around 40 years old when he died, and the cause of death is clear: his left arm was cut off and buried with him. His shoulder was also freshly broken. These were perimortem battle wounds. He was buried with copious grave goods and careful attention to ritual indicating he was a person of high status in his community. The most remarkable indication of the respect accorded to him was the large bear fang embedded in his nose, a fearsome symbol of strength and power. He also wore a death mask, now mostly decayed because it was made of fabric. Part of the mask were caskets of birch bark over his eye sockets and mouth. Inside the caskets were metal fish figurines whose heads were deliberately snapped off before burial.

Other grave goods include a round mirror of bronze decorated with abstract swirls that was placed on his chest inside a birch bark cover and a bronze cauldron with the remains of food still inside that was placed at his feet. These served a ritual purpose. Archaeologists believe the mirror was a worn as an amulet and served as a tool used to communicate with the gods, while the cauldron and food were meant to feed the warrior in the afterlife.

Close by were remains of leather and fur, perhaps part of his costume or from the quiver decorations on his arrows.

“We found 25 arrowheads – armour-piercing and diamond shaped, made from metal and bone,” said [archeologist Mikhail Korusenko], a candidate of historical sciences, from the Omsk branch of the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

“Some of them were clearly of military purpose. Behind his skull we found a ringed bridle” – a sign that the warrior was an accomplished horseman.

The arrows are still sharp today.

Mikhail Korusenko on the significance of the find:

“The first studies we made allow us to date the burial to approximately 11th-12th centuries AD. It is a truly unique find which would allow us to fill pages about not only the cultural, but the military history of this part of the region, as we know very little about this particular period of time.”

3 thoughts on “Grave of fearsome 11th c. warrior found in Siberia

  1. Pretty impressive. I am always baffled, though, about how archaeologist, though knowing “very little about this particular period of time”, can somehow surmise the exact purpose of an article found within a grave”. I’m looking forward to hearing more about what they are able to surmise from this find.

  2. It’s intriguing to think what these things symbolized to the people of that time. What captured me was the bear claw and the fact that heads of the fish figurines were snapped off.

  3. Indeed, one might wonder why a fearsome warrior of ‘high status’ was sent to the afterlife with a meagre 25 arrowheads, a mirror, luncheon and a bear fang. A ‘birch bark cover’ seems to be what nomadic tribesman would carry around.

    The reconstruction appears as if there might have been western/Rus influences, in addition to the ones from the East. Moreover, there seem to have been central asean constants of their own kind, and expanding Mongolia was by asian standards not really far away from what is now Omsk. The Mansi language (cyrillic since 1937) seems to be related to Hungarian (as an uralic language):

    A horse is slowly walking on the shore of the lake. (transl.)
    Lú lásal mini tó szélen (M. w/ hung. spell)
    Ló lassan megy a tó szélén. (Hungarian)

    cauldron = пут / pot

    The term ‘Uralic’ derives from the fact that the original homeland is commonly hypothesized to lie in the vicinity of the Ural Mountains (W’pedia, like all the rest). Let us see what else the huge warrior can reveal.

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