Pazyryk culture

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Pazyryk culture
General location of the Pazyryk culture, and contemporary Asian polities c. -325
Geographical rangeSouth Siberia
Dates6th to 3rd centuries BC
Preceded byArzhan culture
Followed byXiongnu, Tashtyk culture

The Pazyryk culture (Russian: Пазырыкская культура Pazyrykskaya kul'tura) is a Saka (Central Asian Scythian)[1] nomadic Iron Age archaeological culture (6th to 3rd centuries BC) identified by excavated artifacts and mummified humans found in the Siberian permafrost, in the Altay Mountains, Kazakhstan and nearby Mongolia. The mummies are buried in long barrows (or kurgans) similar to the tomb mounds of Scythian culture in Ukraine. The type site are the Pazyryk burials of the Ukok Plateau.[2] Many artifacts and human remains have been found at this location, including the Siberian Ice Princess, indicating a flourishing culture at this location that benefited from the many trade routes and caravans of merchants passing through the area.[3] The Pazyryk are considered to have had a war-like life.[4] The Pazyryk culture was preceded by the "Arzhan culture" (Initial Scythian period, 8th - 7th century BC).[5]


Horseman on a Pazyryk felt carpet (c.300 BC), and a horse harness from the tomb of the Siberian Ice Maiden (5th-4th century BC)

Other kurgan cemeteries associated with the culture include those of Bashadar, Tuekta, Ulandryk, Polosmak and Berel. There are so far no known sites of settlements associated with the burials, suggesting a purely nomadic lifestyle.

Because of a freak climatic freeze, some of the Altai burials, notably those of the 5th century BC at Pazyryk and neighbouring sites, such as Katanda, Shibe, and Tuekt, were isolated from external climatic variations by a protective layer of ice that conserved the organic substances buried in them. At Pazyryk these included the bodies of horses and an embalmed man whose body was covered with tattoos of animal motifs. The remarkable textiles recovered from the Pazyryk burials include the oldest woollen knotted-pile carpet known, the oldest embroidered Chinese silk, and two pieces of woven Persian fabric (State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg). Red and ochre predominate in the carpet, the main design of which is of riders, stags, and griffins. Many of the Pazyryk felt hangings, saddlecloths, and cushions were covered with elaborate designs executed in appliqué feltwork, dyed furs, and embroidery. Of exceptional interest are those with animal and human figural compositions, the most notable of which are the repeat design of an investiture scene on a felt hanging and that of a semihuman, semibird creature on another (both in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg). Clothing, whether of felt, leather, or fur, was also lavishly ornamented.

Horse reins either had animal designs cut out on them or were studded with wooden ones covered in gold foil. Their tail sheaths were ornamented, as were their headpieces and breastpieces. Some horses were provided with leather or felt masks made to resemble animals, with stag antlers or rams’ horns often incorporated in them. Many of the trappings took the form of iron, bronze, and gilt wood animal motifs either applied or suspended from them; and bits had animal-shaped terminal ornaments. Altai-Sayan animals frequently display muscles delineated with dot and comma markings, a formal convention that may have derived from appliqué needlework. Such markings are sometimes included in Assyrian, Achaemenian, and even Urartian animal representations of the ancient Middle East. Roundels containing a dot serve the same purpose on the stag and other animal renderings executed by contemporary Śaka metalworkers. Animal processions of the Assyro-Achaemenian type also appealed to many Central Asian tribesmen and are featured in their arts.

Certain geometric designs and sun symbols, such as the circle and rosette, recur at Pazyryk but are completely outnumbered by animal motifs. The stag and its relatives figure as prominently as in Altai-Sayan. Combat scenes between carnivores and herbivores are exceedingly numerous in Pazyryk work; the Pazyryk beasts are locked in such bitter fights that the victim's hindquarters become inverted.[6]


Map of Saka Cultures, with genetic profiles: they combined Western Eurasian Sintashta () and Ancient Northeast Asian (Baikal EBA, ) ancestry, with a smaller addition of BMAC ()

A 2015 study analyzed the DNA of two closely-related males from the Pazyryk culture.[8] The two individuals were found to belong to the East Eurasian maternal haplogroup C4.[9] Their paternal haplogroup was assigned to the East Eurasian haplogroup N.[10] On the basis of both the maternal and paternal lineages, it was determined that the two individuals were extremely closely related, although it is also clear that they could not be father and son, suggesting some other variation of close kinship.[11]

A 2017 study analyzed the maternal ancestry of several remains from the Pazyryk culture. 52% of these lineages were of East Eurasian origin, while 48% were of West Eurasian origin.[12] The authors of this study also analyzed the paternal haplogroup of one Pazyryk male, who was determined to belong to the West Eurasian haplogroup R1a-Z93.[13] With regards to autosomal population ancestry, around 50% of Pazyryk ancestry was related to East Asians (mainly Nganasans), while the rest was related to West Eurasians.[14][15]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ The Editors (2001-09-11). "Pazyryk | archaeological site, Kazakhstan". Retrieved 2019-03-05. {{cite web}}: |author= has generic name (help)
  2. ^ (NOVA 2007)
  3. ^ (State Hermitage Museum 2007)
  4. ^ (Jordana 2009)
  5. ^ Murphy, Eileen M. (2003). "Iron Age Archaeology and Trauma from Aymyrlyg South Siberia: An examination of the health diet and lifestyles of the two Iron Age populations buried at the cemetery complex of Aymyrlyg". BAR International Series.
  6. ^ "Altaic Tribes". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
  7. ^ "Siberian Princess reveals her 2,500 year old tattoos". The Siberian Times. 2012.
  8. ^ Pilipenko, A. S.; Trapezov, R. O.; Polosmak, N. V (2015). "A PALEOGENETIC STUDY OF PAZYRYK PEOPLE BURIED AT AK-ALAKHA-1, THE ALTAI MOUNTAINS". Archaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia (Russian-language). 43 (4): 144–150. doi:10.17746/1563-0102.2015.43.4.144-150.
  9. ^ Pilipenko, Trapezov & Polosmak 2015, p. 148: "Results from the analysis of the structure of mtDNA samples. The studied individuals were characterized by an identical structure of DNA HVR I. The HVR I haplotype structure 16093C-16129A-16223T-16298C-16327T gives unambiguous evidence that this structural variant of mtDNA belongs to the Eastern Eurasian haplogroup C (most probably, to haplogroup C4a1), falling into macrohaplogroup M. According to the results of phylogeographical analysis, variants of haplogroup C4 with an identical or similar structure of haplotypes are common both among the population of Southern Siberia (including Altai) and Central Asia (including Northern China), and also among the autochthonous populations of more remote northern regions of Siberia (Pilipenko, Trapezov, Polosmak, 2015; Derenko et al., 2003, 2007; Starikovskaya et al., 2005; Metspalu et al., 2004). Thus, the revealed variant is characteristic of modern indigenous peoples of the region under consideration."
  10. ^ Pilipenko, Trapezov & Polosmak 2015, p. 148: "The complete allelic profile obtained based on 17 STR-loci has made it possible to determine that the studied variant of the Y-chromosome belongs to haplogroup N (according to the data of Haplogroup Predictor software, the probability is 100 %)."
  11. ^ Pilipenko, Trapezov & Polosmak 2015, p. 148: "Thus, on the basis of the results of analysis of markers with uniparental inheritance (mtDNA and Y-chromosome), we have established the probability of close kinship between the studied individuals from the paired burial both through the female and male lineages. In such a situation, data on the profile of autosomal STR-loci can be of crucial importance. They suggest that the individuals under study could not be relatives in direct descent; and in this case, taking into account the sex of buried men, they could not be father and son. This may be a different variant of close kinship."
  12. ^ Unterländer 2017: Data available at Supplementary Information file, page 38, Table 7. West Eurasia (WEA): 48%, East Eurasia (EEA) 52%.
  13. ^ Unterländer 2017: From the Supplementary Information file, page 71: "Individual I0563 (Pazyryk) belonged to the Z93 clade45 which is frequent in Central Asia and was also recorded in Bronze Age individuals from Mongolia and the Sintashta culture from Samara." See also page 55, Table 22: "I0563 R1a1a1b2".
  14. ^ Unterländer, Martina; Palstra, Friso; Lazaridis, Iosif; Pilipenko, Aleksandr; Hofmanová, Zuzana; Groß, Melanie; Sell, Christian; Blöcher, Jens; Kirsanow, Karola; Rohland, Nadin; Rieger, Benjamin (2017-03-03). "Ancestry and demography and descendants of Iron Age nomads of the Eurasian Steppe". Nature Communications. 8: 14615. doi:10.1038/ncomms14615. ISSN 2041-1723. PMC 5337992. PMID 28256537.
  15. ^ Unterländer 2017: From the Supplementary Information file, page 73: "This model fits all the Iron Age Scythian groups, consistent with them having ancestry related to East Asians not found in the other populations. The Early Sarmatians have minimal such ancestry (~10%), while the Pazyryk maximal (~50%). The other two groups (Aldy Bel and Zevakino-Chilikta) are intermediate (~20–40%). Note, however, that the two individuals from each of these groups are apparently heterogeneous (Fig. 4, 5). The Iron Age Scythian groups can also be modelled as a mix of Yamnaya and the Nganasan (Supplementary Table 26)."
  16. ^ a b "Legal bid fails to rebury remains of 2,500 year old tattooed 'ice princess'". The Siberian Times. 2016.


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