A troupe of ancient warrior women buried 2,000 years ago alongside dozens of weapons has been discovered in a Russian cemetery known as Devitsa V, illuminating how Scythian women lived, died, and were celebrated in the afterlife.
Archaeologists with Russia’s RAS Institute of Archaeology have been studying the site since 2010, gradually working toward excavating the 19 massive archaeological mounds that throughout the years have been slowly plowed over for agricultural purposes. It is under one of these mounds – measuring 1 meter high by 40 meters wide (3.3 feet high by 130 feet wide) – that the Don excavation team discovered a narrow entrance leading to the remains of a tomb made of crisscrossing oak blocks and surrounded by earthen clay.
Buried below the mound were four women of differing ages: a young girl around the age of 12 or 13, a woman in her 20s, another between the ages of 25 and 35, and a woman 45-50 years old. The entrance to the tomb was sealed, leading archaeologists to believe that all four individuals were buried at the same time.
Two untouched skeletons were laid to rest on a wooden bed covered by grass, one of whom was a young woman placed in the “position of a horseman”, which required the tendons of her legs to be cut in order to position her. Under her left shoulder were a bronze mirror and two nearby spears. On her left hand was a bracelet made of glass beads.
Nearby, a middle-aged woman between 45 and 50 years old – a “respectable age” considering the average lifespan was between 30 and 35 – was buried in a ceremonial headdress called a calathos. The jewelry was made mostly of gold with traces of copper, silver, and iron, the rim of which was decorated with pendants in the shape of amphorae, ancient containers used to hold coveted goods. The unique headdress is the first of its kind to be found in this state and of this quality from the region.
"Such head dresses have been found a bit more than two dozen [times] and they all were in 'tzar' or not very rich barrows of the steppe zone of Scythia. We first found such headdress in the barrows of the forest-steppe zone and what is more interesting the headdress was first found in the burial of an Amazon," said Valerii Guliaev, head of the Don archaeological expedition, in a statement.
An iron knife wrapped in fabric and a uniquely forked arrowhead were also placed near the woman, suggesting she was an Amazon – Scythian women-warriors who rode along the nomadic horse-people of Iran and Eastern Europe.
Also found in the tomb were more than 30 iron arrowheads, an iron hook made in the shape of a bird, a horse harness and hook to hang it, iron knives, fragments of pottery vessels, and animal bones.