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The following news item was first reported at http://www.nytimes.com/2002/01/09/arts/design/09GOLD.html 

Scythian Gold From Siberia Said to Predate the Greeks

January 9, 2002
By JOHN VAROLI

T. PETERSBURG, Jan. 8 Russian scholars from the State Hermitage Museum have concluded that a discovery of Scythian gold in a Siberian grave last summer is the earliest of its kind ever found and that it predates Greek influence. The find is leading to a change in how scholars view the supposed barbaric, nomadic tribes that once roamed the Eurasian steppes.

Photo: Vladimir Terebenin 

The dig near Kyzyl, the capital of the Siberian republic of Tuva, revealed almost 5,000 decorative gold pieces earrings, pendants and beads that adorned the bodies of a Scythian man and woman, presumably royalty, and dated from the fifth or sixth centuries B.C. In addition to the gold, which weighed almost 44 pounds, the archaeologists discovered items made of iron, turquoise, amber and wood.

"There are many great works of art figures of animals, necklaces, pins with animals carved into a golden surface," said Dr. Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the Hermitage Museum. "It is an encyclopedia of Scythian animal art because you have all the animals which roamed the region, such as panther, lions, camels, deer, etc. This is the original Scythian style, from the Altai region, which eventually came to the Black Sea region and finally in contact with ancient Greece, and it resembles almost an Art Nouveau style."

Russian and German archaeologists excavated a Scythian burial mound on a grassy plain that locals have long called the Valley of the Kings because of the large number of burial mounds of Scythian and other ancient nomadic royalty.

The fierce nomadic Scythian tribes roamed the Eurasian steppe, from the northern borders of China to the Black Sea region, in the seventh to third centuries B.C. In the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. they interacted with the ancient Greeks who had colonized the Black Sea region, which is now in Ukraine and southern Russia. Not surprisingly ancient Greek influence was evident in Scythian gold previously discovered, but the recent find dates from before contact with the Greeks and from the heart of Siberia where, scholars say, contact with outsiders can almost be excluded.

Research on the Tuva burial mound, known as Arzhan 2, began in 1998, and to the amazement of scholars the grave was discovered to be untouched, though failed attempts by grave robbers to locate the burial chamber were evident on the sprawling, 185-foot-long, 5-foot-high mound.

This was the first such discovery since the early 1700's, when Russian explorers brought Scythian treasures to Czar Peter the Great, a find that became the State Hermitage Museum's collection of Scythian gold. All burial mounds explored since then had been robbed.

To avoid contamination and disturbing the items stored in the grave, the Russian and German archaelogists entered it first with a small remote-control video camera to study how burial items were originally arranged and to reconstruct the burial rituals. The discovery was made by Russian scholars from the Hermitage Museum and the St. Petersburg branch of the Russian Institute of Cultural and Natural Heritage, led by the Russian archaeologist Konstantin Chugonov, who has been studying Bronze Age and Scythian sites in Tuva for 20 years. 

German scholars also took part in the dig and were led by Herman Parzinger and Anatoli Nagler from the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin. 

"Tuva's Valley of the Kings has long been a major area of interest for archaeologists because it contains the largest burial mounds in the region of Tuva and in all of the Altai region," Mr. Chugonov said. "We chose to work on those mounds in greatest danger, and we chose this one because of all the major mounds it is the most damaged."

About 25 percent of the excavated burial mound, which is stone slate, was destroyed when Soviet authorities built a road through the area in the 1960's. Over the years, residents walked off with pieces of the stone to use in building their houses.

After its discovery, the treasure was sent to the Hermitage Museum for storage and restoration, and it will stay there until Tuva can build a museum to house the items. This is in accordance with Russian Federation law stating that items be displayed in their place of discovery so long as local authorities provide the proper conditions.

Building such a museum is years away, however, Dr. Piotrovksy said. Until then they will remain in the Hermitage, and at some point will be put on display.

Though the Russian-German dig began last May, preparations took almost three years. Scholars first approached the burial mound in 1998, studying it with geophysical equipment allowing them, without excavating, to determine the presence of almost 200 items inside. The first reconnaissance dig was made in the summer of 2000.

"The find was not an accident, because scholars know there are burial mounds in that area, but most were robbed, and empty," Dr. Piotrovsky said. "Their success in actually finding something was a combination of hard work and luck."