Ancient Arctic Mystery Unearthed: Medieval ‘Mummy’ Wrapped in Birch Bark Cocoon Discovered in Enigmatic Village Site in Russia ‎

Margie Jones
18/10/2023

The remains of a medieval ‘mummy’ wrapped in a cocoon of birch bark has been discovered at the site of a village that belonged to a mysterious arctic civilisation.

The human remains, which were found wrapped in a birch bark ‘cocoon’ shown above, are thought to have been mummified by a combination of copper buried with the body and the freezing permafrost. Archaeologists have removed the body in its wrappings from the sandy soil so it can be examined at in Salekhard, Russia

Archaeologists discovered the remains, which they believe may be a child or teenager from the 12th or 13th century, while excavating near the town of Salekhard in Tyumen Oblast, Russia.

The site, which is 18 miles south of the Arctic Circle, is thought to be a medieval necropolis where several bodies have been buried in ways unlike anything else found in the region

Artifacts found at the site, including bronze bowls, have led experts to conclude the people had links to Persia, some 3,700 miles to the south-west.

 

These images captured by local television crews from broadcaster Vesti Yamal show archaeologists studying the bark wrapped remains before removing them so they can be preserved and examined in more detail

Experts say bodies found at the site appear to have been naturally mummified in the permafrost as a result of being buried with sheets of copper in their shrouds and frozen conditions.

Archaeologists have now removed the latest body to be discovered from the sandy soil, which is now only frozen for part of the year – it is the first human remains to be found since 2002.

The remains, which are being kept in a special freezer in the Shemanovsky Museum in Salekhard, are due to be examined next week.

Five other mummified bodies have been found at the mysterious Zeleny Yar site, including the red headed man above who was found covered in copper plating and buried with an iron hatchet and covered in furs

The birth bark cocoon is around 1.3 metres (4 feet) long and 30cm (12 inches) wide and initial examination has revealed there is metal beneath the birch bark.

Experts say it is likely the body inside has been mummified much like others found at the site.

Alexander Gusev, a fellow of the Research Centre for the Study of the Arctic in Russia who led the excavation, told the Siberian Times the birch bark cocoon appeared to have been wrapped around the body.

He said: ‘It follows the contours of the human body. If there is really a mummy, the head and skull are likely to be in good condition. We think it is a child, maybe a teenager.

The mummified remains are the first to be uncovered at the site since 2002 and were carefully removed so they could be preserved, as shown above. Scientists hope to open the bark cocoon next week

‘The find is now in Salekhard, in the Shemanovsky Museum, in special freezer. We plan to return to Salekhard on 15 July and immediately start the opening of the ‘cocoon’.’

The mummy was discovered at the site of a medieval necropolis called Zeleny Yar, which has baffled some archaeologists due to its closeness to the Arctic Circle.

Previously they found 34 shallow graves at the site and 11 bodies with shattered or missing skulls.

Five mummies were found to be shrouded in copper and elaborately covered in reindeer, beaver, wolverine or bear fur. Among them was a female child whose face was masked by copper plates.

Three male infants, also shrouded in copper masks, were also found nearby. They were also bound in four or five copper hoops.

A red-haired man, protected from chest to foot with copper plating and buried with an iron hatchet, firs and a bronze head buckle depicting a bear was also found at the site.

One of the burials dates to 1282 while the others are thought to have been older.

The latest discovery makes six of these unusual burials.

 

The feet of the deceased were all aligned to point towards the Gorny Poluy River in the area, which has been interpreted as having religious significance.

However, it is not thought the mummification of the individuals was deliberate and the copper plating may have been merely a way of protecting the bodies before burial.

The copper is thought to have prevented oxidation and bacterial activity in the graves while the cold conditions helped to dry out the remains.

 Mr Gusev said: ‘The mummification was natural. It was a combination of factors – the bodies were overlain with copper sheets, parts of copper kettles and together with the permafrost, this gave the preserving effect.’

Local television crews filmed the latest mummy as it was removed from the sandy ground at Zeleny Yar.

Previous work at the site had been ended in 2002 after locals on the Yamal peninsula objected and claimed it was disturbing the souls of their ancestors.

Geneticists who have used DNA from the bodies recovered from the site recently revealed that their mitochondrial DNA appeared to match those of modern populations living in West Siberia.

Natalia Fyodorova, from the Ural branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences said previously about the discoveries: ‘Nowhere in the world are there so many mummified remains found outside the permafrost or the marshes.

 

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