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Ancient Siberian Tattoos
August 23, 2012 10:36 AM   Subscribe

In Siberia, several frozen human burials dating to 2,500 years ago have intact skin with elaborate tattoos. Warning: link contains graphic pictures of dead people.
posted by Rumple (36 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

 
Warning: link contains pictures of dead people's graphics.
posted by yoink at 10:42 AM on August 23, 2012 [11 favorites]


Wow. Super cool. I hadn't heard of these finds before, but I don't really keep up on the latest in archaeology.
posted by hamandcheese at 10:49 AM on August 23, 2012


These are really neat, they seem timeless. So well preserved too.
posted by carter at 10:54 AM on August 23, 2012


When they dig us up 2,500 years from now, we'll have the same harsh tatties and be clutching an iPhone.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:54 AM on August 23, 2012


Those are gorgeous. Almost makes me want to get inked.
posted by notsnot at 11:00 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


awesome!! those tattoos are soooo gorgeous!! what an amazing find
posted by supermedusa at 11:01 AM on August 23, 2012


Tattoos with meaning, American Spirit Lights.
posted by TheRedArmy at 11:03 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is awesome. Great find on all parts.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:05 AM on August 23, 2012


Great find on all parts.

Technically, the find was only on some parts, but hey, great find.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:11 AM on August 23, 2012


I'm always hearing people say "how are those tattoos going to look when he or she is 70, with those tattoos stretched and faded?" Knowing that they still look good at 2500 is kind of cool.
posted by Forktine at 11:11 AM on August 23, 2012 [16 favorites]


Earlier post about Scythian mummies that mentioned the Altai Princess. It contains a link to a transcript from a NOVA show that discussed her tattoos:

And her feelings turn to alarm when Natalia found the Ice Maiden's freezer was faulty. Fungus was growing on her body and her tattoos were fading. Another journey was launched. The deteriorating body was rushed to Moscow. Soviet scientists were experts at preserving dead bodies, especially those of revered Communist leaders. Now their techniques would be applied to the Ice Maiden. The Soviet method entails soaking the body in a cocktail of chemicals over several months. This bath is said to preserve a body indefinitely. The treatment halted the Ice Maiden's decline and saved her tattoos.
posted by Kabanos at 11:13 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


> Knowing that they still look good at 2500 is kind of cool.

Ah, but that's because the fine princess died in her 20s.

This is a great find, and for me just underscores how huge and rich and diverse Siberian history, and how little it pings the radar of the west.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:14 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Loved this!

I first saw this design in a little side bar story in a Nat Geo when I was in my teens. I found the stylized stag image so powerful that I traced it over and over and eventually took into a tattoo shop to get it on my shoulder blade. I've never felt compelled to get any other tattoos afterwards because I couldn't think of anything that would blend well with this one.

Really liked getting more information about the Altai Princess.
posted by Kurichina at 11:17 AM on August 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm really enjoying the Siberian Times.
posted by stbalbach at 11:18 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is great. The only problem is how hackneyed these tattoos will be in approximately 6 months. This maybe the moment when body art jumps the shark.
posted by howfar at 11:37 AM on August 23, 2012


That picture of the Ukok Plateau makes me want to drop everything and buy a plane ticket to Siberia now.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 11:48 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Noted Anthropology blogger John Hawks has many pictures of the Altai region and tells the story of the return of the young woman's remains here.
posted by Rumple at 11:49 AM on August 23, 2012


The only problem is how hackneyed these tattoos will be in approximately 6 months.

Modern Altai Warrior
posted by Kabanos at 11:52 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fascinating stuff, but this is depressing:
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.
By all means let's let this unique repository of information about human history be destroyed because of vague notions of "peace." Do not disturb the Spirits or the wolves will come and chew on our faces at night!
posted by languagehat at 11:58 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Tatoooooos of the Anciennnnnts
posted by gottabefunky at 12:35 PM on August 23, 2012


By all means let's let this unique repository of information about human history be destroyed because of vague notions of "peace." Do not disturb the Spirits or the wolves will come and chew on our faces at night!
Yeah. How dare these people think they can have some say over what happens to their ancestors' bodies? How irrational. How primitive. Let's dig all the bodies up so we can put graphic pictures of them on the internet for random foreigners to say, "nice ink, brah!" at.
posted by Sonny Jim at 12:46 PM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


How dare these people think they can have some say over what happens to their ancestors' bodies?

Ancestors? 2,500 years? They're just as likely to be my ancestors!

Let's dig all the bodies up so we can put graphic pictures of them on the internet for random foreigners to say, "nice ink, brah!" at.

Well thanks for putting archaeology in its proper perspective.
posted by howfar at 1:05 PM on August 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


Ancestors? 2,500 years? They're just as likely to be my ancestors!
I bet all the pretty girls are your ancestors!
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:19 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm for both archaeological digs and preserving tombs. Ideally what could happen is that there could be a systematic dig of the area and the bodies could be re-interred afterwards.

But the characterization ( Face chewing and brahs) on both sides of that just now was pretty silly and not useful.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:24 PM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the people buried in those Kurgans are almost certainly not the ancestors of the people who live there now. Banning further archaeological digs in the area helps no one, and is probably equivalent to throwing away future discoveries thanks to global warming.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:33 PM on August 23, 2012


> But the characterization ( Face chewing and brahs) on both sides of that just now was pretty silly and not useful.

Useful? How exactly is the wording of a MetaFilter comment going to be "useful" in this situation? What exact degree of respect is due to idiots who want to soothe the spirits of dead people who have nothing to do with them? Also: glass houses, &c.
posted by languagehat at 1:47 PM on August 23, 2012


Amazing. It would be cool if someone were inspired enough by these to actually get the same tattoos so we could see them on a live person.
posted by homunculus at 1:50 PM on August 23, 2012


Useful? How exactly is the wording of a MetaFilter comment going to be "useful" in this situation? What exact degree of respect is due to idiots who want to soothe the spirits of dead people who have nothing to do with them? Also: glass houses, &c.

So let's say you have an idea for a research project that involves exhuming and displaying in a traveling exhibit all of the bodies from the older sections of Arlington National Cemetery. Are the people who will object "idiots" if they have no direct family connections to the dead there? How old do the bodies have to be before the contemporary ideas about death of the local people can be casually overridden?
posted by Forktine at 1:55 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


'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.'

I blame this guy.
posted by homunculus at 1:57 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


> How old do the bodies have to be before the contemporary ideas about death of the local people can be casually overridden?

I don't know, but I'm quite confident 2,500 years is long enough. I hereby give permission for anyone who happens on my bones in the fifth millennium to do whatever the hell they want with them.
posted by languagehat at 2:07 PM on August 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Forktine: How old do the bodies have to be before the contemporary ideas about death of the local people can be casually overridden?
Reinterrment in mass graves is allowed after something like 100 years, in modern cemetaries. Next question?
posted by IAmBroom at 2:12 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


In many cases "not disturbing the spirits of the dead" is shorthand for a more practical "we're concerned about access to or control of land". Although, there seems to be more superstition in this case.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:18 PM on August 23, 2012


How old do the bodies have to be before the contemporary ideas about death of the local people can be casually overridden?

It's an odd question in many ways. I think there is perhaps a Rousseauism implicit in your reasoning that assumes an authentic aboriginal identity and tradition endangered by superficial or artificial Western or modern culture. In reality the dichotomy is a false one. Being local confers no more authentic relationship than any other standing, and doesn't give people a special moral claim to determine the cultural significance of a part of our shared heritage.

On the other hand, being local and in control of the government seems to give a practical claim. That claim doesn't please me, but while Western countries continue to jealously guard their own borders, I find it difficult to occupy the moral high ground in condemning it. Things like this are good examples of what should be blindingly obvious, we have a shared history and a shared home, and we need to take the hint.
posted by howfar at 2:30 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Amazing. It would be cool if someone were inspired enough by these to actually get the same tattoos..."

It's just a matter of time...
posted by klarck at 3:32 PM on August 23, 2012


That Hawks piece linked above is very cool. He is in the middle of nowhere but 3000 years ago that was a crossroads of proto-civilization intercourse. Kind of like the Kennedy airport or the Heathrow airport is today. And now it's the middle of nowhere. It isn't too far from where Spencer Wells (link) claimed to find the most ancient extant paternal DNA chunks.
posted by bukvich at 3:42 PM on August 23, 2012


Forktine: "How old do the bodies have to be before the contemporary ideas about death of the local people can be casually overridden?"

I suspect there's a continuum here.
posted by Red Loop at 7:34 PM on August 23, 2012


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