Russian archaeologists have uncovered the mummified remains of a 2,000-year-old woman along the shoreline of a Siberian reservoir. The remains, who researchers believe was a Hun, were dressed in silks and wore a beaded belt with a gemstone buckle at the time of her burial.
Archaeologists with St. Petersburg’s Institute of History of Material Culture were working along the shoreline of the Yenisei River Reservoir when they saw a pile of stones that resembled a burial site. Dubbed by various media outlets as a “sleeping beauty”, the remains were likely not intentionally mummified.
“This is not a classic mummy,” archaeologist Dr Marina Kilunovskaya told The Siberian Times. “In this case, the burial was tightly closed with a stone lid, enabling a process of natural mummification.”
Nature does a pretty good job of mummifying organic matter when the conditions are just right. Examples can be found all over the world, from Otzi the Iceman in the Italian Alps to northern Chile’s Chinchorro cadavers. According to the New York Times, bodies left in hot, dry climates mummify in about two weeks. Enclosed environments take as long as three months.
When a person dies, their body starts to decompose as digestive enzymes break down cells. Most of the time, these enzymes work in an aqueous environment. If fluids are removed, the decomposition process slows down. In the case of natural mummification, the body is placed in an environment that forces it to lose water more rapidly than the enzymes can deconstruct the body, particularly in crypts where ventilation – or lack thereof – keep them dry.
Other factors, such as the presence of heavy metals, fungi, bacteria, and even clothes, can play a role in the mummification process. Different parts of the body decay at different rates, which could explain why the lower half of her body is more intact than her upper body.
“The mummy was in quite a good condition, with soft tissues, skin, clothing and belongings intact,” one of the researchers told the publication. Perhaps more impressive than her natural mummification is the fact that the remains have been so well-preserved despite being buried under dam waters since the 1980s.
Other items believed to be carried into the afterlife were also found in the tomb, including a “funeral meal”, a Chinese mirror in a birch-bark makeup bag, a Hun-style vase, and a pouch of pine nuts placed on the woman’s chest. Researchers have not dated the remains in a lab, but speculate the woman was buried between 1,900 and 2,000 years ago.
[H/T: The Siberian Times]