Pazyryk Kurgans

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Pazyryk Kurgans


a group of large kurgans in Pazyryk valley, on the right bank of the Bol’shoi Ulagan River, in Ulagan Raion, Gorno-Altai Autonomous Oblast.

The Pazyryk kurgans contain the graves of family or tribal chieftains and were constructed for the most part in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.; some researchers believe they were constructed later, in the third century B.C. The kurgans were excavated by M. P. Griaznov and S. I. Rudenko in 1929 and by S. I. Rudenko from 1947 to 1949. The excavations uncovered rectangular pits up to 4 m deep, with areas of about 50 sq m, containing burial chambers (log frameworks) up to 2 m high. Each chamber had a floor, double walls, and a double ceiling and was covered with birch bark, shrubbery, and a layer of logs that extended to the edges of the pit. A mound of earth was raised upon the logs and then covered by stones. Because of the considerable elevation of Pazyryk valley, the climate, and the mode of construction of the kurgans, a layer of permafrost formed beneath the kurgans shortly after they were erected, assuring the excellent preservation of the contents.

Particularly well preserved were the embalmed human remains (one corpse was found to be tattooed), which were placed in hollowed-out logs, and the remains of horses, which were buried on the north side of the burial pit, outside the funeral chamber. Also well preserved were items made of wood, textiles, felt, fur, and leather, including clothing, household articles, and wheeled vehicles. The finds provide a complete picture of the physical type and culture of the interred. The graves held numerous works of art, executed in a distinctive animal style, and parts of horse harnesses. Interesting finds include the oldest known Southwest Asian pile rug, of artistic design; finely worked Southwest Asian woolen textiles; and an embroidered silk fabric from China. These finds attest to the wide cultural ties of the ancient population of Altai.


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Rudenko, S. I. Kul’tura naseleniia Tsentral’nogo Altaiia v skifskoe vremia. Moscow-Leningrad, 1960.
Kiselev, S. V. Drevniaia istoriia Iuzhnoi Sibiri. Moscow, 1951.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.