The Birdman of Sibera

Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a man buried with dozens of bird beaks at the Ust-Tartas archaeological site in Novosibirsk, Siberia. Between 30 and 50 beaks were found assembled together at the back of the individual’s skull. Because of this placement and how the beaks appear to be massed together to form a single object, researchers believe it was a garment — a collar, a headdress, a robe, perhaps a form of protective armature (for ritual purposes, not combat).

The beaks were removed en bloc for laboratory excavation at the Novosibirsk Institute of Archeology and Ethnography. They will have to be examined by ornithologists to determine which birds they came from, but their long, thin dimensions suggest they’re heron or crane beaks. So far only one skull as been found connected to its beak. The rest visible on the top layer are beaks alone lined up closely side-by-side. It’s not clear how the beaks were put together. No mounting holes have been found so far that would have made it possible to attach them to each other or to a fabric backing. Fully excavating the block, separating out the individual beaks to count, document and study them will take months of painstaking work.

In another burial found next to the Birdman, archaeologists discovered a two-layered grave. The top layer held the remains of two children around five and 10 years old at the time of death. A wooden overlay covered the bottom layer, separating the children’s grave from the one beneath them. In the bottom were the remains of an adult male buried with numerous artifacts.

The most unusual of the grave goods was a set of two bronze circles and a bronze rectangle. They were placed near his skull with the two circles underneath the rectangle almost like a pair of eyeglasses. The circles are slightly mounded and have small circular apertures at the peak. Fragments of organic material were found inside the hemispheres, indicating they may have been part of a funerary mask or headdress. If that’s the case, the holes in the bronze circles could have been cut to allow vision. Across his waist and on his left arm were five polished crescent-shaped stones thought to have had ritual uses.

“These are unique items, we are very excited indeed to have found them,” said Lidia Kobeleva.

“Both men must have carried special roles in the society. I say so because we have been working on this site for a while and unearthed more than 30 burials.¬†They all had interesting finds, but nothing we found earlier was as impressive as discoveries in these two graves.

We suppose both men were some kind of priests.”

The burials in this area are from the Bronze Age Odinov culture which inhabited the Ishim river basin of Western Siberia around 4,800 years ago.