The remote Arctic Circle site of Zeleniy Yar, often dubbed ‘the end of the world’ by the indigenous Nenets people, is now the focus of archaeological exploration. Unveiling nearly a dozen enigmatic mummies with artifacts linked to ancient Persia, located some 6,000 kilometers away, has left researchers puzzled. These mummies, seemingly out of place in the region, were laid to rest in a different locale than their discovery site. Genetic analysis is underway to unravel the mysteries surrounding this ancient civilization.
Early in the last decade, Russian archaeologists stumbled upon 34 shallow graves housing 11 mummified corpses within what appears to be an ancient necropolis dating back 800 years. Despite initial excavations being interrupted by locals on the Yaмal Peninsula, who argued that the work disturbed the souls of their ancestors, the current team, led by Alexander Pilipenko, a research fellow at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics within the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, has chosen to press on, disregarding the plea.
The discovery was exceptionally rare – the mummies, found in a remarkably well-preserved state seemingly by accident, were adorned with copper masks. Among the findings were seven male adults, three male infants, and one female child, all interred amidst a trove of jewelry and assorted artifacts. Their skulls show signs of shattering or are entirely missing, while the skeletons bear evidence of deliberate smashing. Five mummies are enveloped in copper, alongside coverings of reindeer, beaver, wolverine, or bear fur. Notably, one mummy, a red-haired male, is protected from chest to foot by a layer of copper plating. Alongside him in the resting place lay an iron hatchet, furs, and a bronze head buckle depicting a bear.
Researchers propose that the mummification of the bodies might not have been intentional but resulted from a combination of the preservative properties of copper, preventing oxidation of the remains, and a dip in temperatures in the centuries following the group’s burial.
In the words of Natalia Fyodorova from the Urals branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, as reported in The Siberian Times, ‘Nowhere in the world are there so many mummified remains found outside the permafrost or the marshes.’ Ms. Fyodorova also posits that the condition and arrangement of the remains indicate some form of religious ritual. She suggests that the intentional smashing of the skulls may have occurred shortly after death ‘to render protection from mysterious spells believed to emanate from the deceased.’ Intriguingly, the feet of the deceased all point towards the nearby Gorny Poluy River, perceived to hold religious significance. However, such burial rituals are unfamiliar to experts and not typical of others in the region, implying that the mummies may belong to a foreign race of people.
Indeed, the artifacts strongly hint at this possibility. Some of the items uncovered at the site, including bronze bowls, trace their origins to Persia, located some 3,700 miles (6,000 km) to the southwest and dating back to the 10th or 11th centuries. This discovery contributes to the evidence suggesting that Siberia was not an isolated wasteland but a crossroads of international trade and cultural diversity.