National Geographic : 2003 Jun
(Continuedfrom page 118) jewels, and leaving all else-human remains, weapons, food for the afterlife-in a chaotic jumble. Indeed, a depres sion in Arzhan-2's center suggested that the kur gan had been violated centuries ago. "Looters always dug into the center," Parzinger said, "because if a king was buried beneath the kur gan, that's where his grave would be." Systematically the archaeologists began removing rock from the kurgan's perimeter, slowly clearing a swath toward the center, the presumed jackpot. Presently they spied a slight indentation in the newly exposed earth. It was well short of the center, some 15 yards from it. Still, could it be a burial? They began to dig. On the fourth day of digging Leus's shovel thumped against wood-the roof of the vault, made of decay-resistant larch logs. Switching to a trowel, he cleared the logs of earth. It was then that he glimpsed the most spectacular Scythian discovery in decades. In all, there were some 5,700 gold pieces, not counting handfuls of beads. Most were small animal figures, particularly felines that resem bled lions or possibly tigers, and also boars. These evidently had been sewed to the costumes (which had not survived) of the man and woman whose skeletons lay side by side on the vault's floor. There were 431 beads of amber from the far-off Baltic, which must have reached Siberia as trade goods or booty. And 1,657 tur quoise beads; arrowheads of bronze, bone, and iron; the remains of a bow; stone ceremonial dishes; and still other goods. "Even without the gold," Chugunov said, "this would have been an extremely valuable find." Radiocarbon dates placed the grave in the seventh century B.C. Cascades of animal figures and beads lay close to the skeletons, as if both persons had been sim ilarly adorned. "We don't know if the woman was a queen or a concubine" Parzinger said, "but since their ornaments were similar, both must have had high status." Tests on the bones put the man's age at 40 to 45, the woman's at 30 to 35, at least a decade younger than the typical Scythian death ages. They were buried at the same time, meaning that in all probability she was sacrificed to join him in the afterlife. In male-dominated Scythian soci ety it wouldn't have been the other way around. "Maybe she was poisoned," said Chugunov, "or maybe she chose to die to be with her husband."