Gaze At The Face Of A 2,000-Year-Old Scythian Warrior From Siberia


Tom Hale

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist


The CT scan shows that he has a terrible scar on his right cheek that has been expertly stitched (State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, 2017)

The Scythians were among the most ruthless warriors the world has ever seen – they were essentially the ancient equivalent of a motorcycle gang, albeit 10 times as terrifying. These blood-drinking, marijuana-smoking, tattooed nomads lived among the vast stretches of Siberia between 900 to 200 BCE.

For the first time in nearly 2,000 years, the face of a Scythian warrior has been revealed. The head of one of these mummified warriors is going on show at an exhibition at the British Museum in London this week.


A CT scan of the head revealed a severe injury to his skull. It appears that his face was smashed with a blunt object, resulting in a large crack from his eye socket to his jaw. The top of his skull also had a hole in it where his brain had been removed for mummification.

Much of the history of this culture remained lost for centuries in the depths of Siberia. Until around 300 years ago, the world only knew about the Scythians through odd pieces of text from other cultures, most of whom appeared to be utterly terrified by them. The Scythians, themselves, were not too keen on the written word and were probably illiterate.

Their biggest cultural legacy was being one of the first warriors to master horse-mounted warfare. It’s believed they were one of the earliest cultures to use bows shot from horseback. Along with this unique skill, they took to the battlefield with pointed battle-axes, short swords for close combat, powerful bows for long-distance archery, and painted wooden shields. Over the centuries, they fought (and were feared by) many of the great ancient civilizations, such as the Greeks, the Assyrians, and the Persians.

Many of their lost artifacts have since been excavated from the Siberian permafrost and have made their way to London, including weapons, gold jewelry, fur-lined clothing, horse, and mummified bodies. They even have a tattooed sheet of skin off the torso of a warrior.


The BP exhibition Scythians: warriors of ancient Siberia, running from September 14, 2017, to January 14, 2018, at the British Museum, features over 200 of these rare artifacts, including a major loan of objects from the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg. It’s the first time many of these objects have ever left Russia.

In order to see the face under the mask, the head had to be CT-scanned: State Hermitage Museum curator Dr Pankova is seen here in the process (State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, 2017)


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