The Siberian Ice Maiden

Cold also helped preserve an ancient Pazyryk woman, dating to the 400s B.C., whose elaborate undisturbed burial mound was discovered in Siberia in 1993. The body had been embalmed and packed with peat and bark, which would have provided some preservation through its tannic acid content, but the primary factor in her preservation was flooding, which appears to have occurred soon after the interment. The waters then froze, locking the tomb in permafrost for 2,400 years.This preservation has left the Ice Maiden's hair still blonde, and she bears elaborate and fantastical vivid blue animal tattoos on her still pale skin. Pazyryk mummies of this type have been found in other tombs in the region, which were protected from the sun's heat by rock piles and thus kept in cold storage after their initial burial. The mummies exhibit careful embalming that involved evisceration and defleshing, followed by restitching of the skin using horsehair thread.

Horses preserved in the tomb with the Ice Maiden appear to have been sacrificed as part of the burial. Dental examination shows that all six horses were old, rather than strong and vital animals that would be a much greater loss to the community. The horses had not been embalmed, but had been well preserved by the natural freezing, to the degree that their stomachs could be sampled (by researchers sufficiently determined to brave the smell, which was reported still to be very strong after two and a half millennia). The presence of a horsefly larva in one stomach conclusively dated the horse's death to the later two weeks in June, the only time of year when this species of fly is at its larval stage. Since the horses appear to have been killed specifically for the burial, this provides a probable time of year for the event, a striking degree of precision for an event so far in the past.

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