Everyone loves a good mystery – and the older, the better, it seems. With archaeology, for example, we glimpse into the lives of those from long-lost civilizations, but sometimes we are left with even more questions. And, curiously, that’s exactly what this discovery in Siberia has done.
When archaeologists uncovered this grave, they must have been amazed. Of course, they found plenty of intriguing artifacts. But the positions of the two bodies therein were even more astonishing.
Lying hand-in-hand for the past 5,000 years, perhaps, were the remains of a man and a woman surrounded by intricate and unusual objects. And the discovery gives us insight into the culture of a people who once roamed Siberia.
During the Bronze Age, the Glazkov people made pilgrimages to Lake Baikal – the largest body of freshwater by volume in the world. But archaeologists are keeping the exact location of this sacred site secret to deter interference during the excavation.
However, the Glazkov tribes are well known to have lived around the giant lake and the headwaters of the Angara River. And if the bodies do indeed belong to one of these tribes, they have been holding hands since around the second millennium BCE.
Coming from the south, the tribes of the Glazkov Tungus people displaced other tribes in Siberia around this time. They were hunter-gatherers and fishers, and the rich lands around the lake and river were a treasure trove of sought-after resources.
But climate change eventually brought interest in the land from the nomadic Huns. Their needs were different, however, as they sought open pastures for grazing their cattle.
With respect to the items found in the Glazkov burial site, though, some clearly demonstrate how the culture treated the dead. Other items, however, have left scientists scratching their heads.
Of particular interest was a large jade knife. It measured around 6 inches long and was found in the grave close to the woman’s skeleton. But for what purpose it served is unknown. Furthermore, the excavators discovered a number of jade items – all of which may have some significance to the funeral ritual.
Strangely located on the man’s body were four jade rings. Three of them were close to his chest cavity, but the fourth was in one of his eye sockets. And all of the rings were made out of white jade, which is a rare form of green jade.
Alongside the jade artifacts, meanwhile, a number of other curios were unearthed. For example, red deer and musk deer teeth pendants lay around the man’s head and feet. Of course, it is likely that he was buried with these as ceremonial decorations. But there was yet another strange discovery as well.
Between the man’s knees, the archaeologists found a small leather pouch with what they vaguely described as a “metal implement.” Strangely, the scientists have yet to provide any further information about this object.
This leaves us amateurs with yet another unanswered question about the discovery. Of course, there are theories about who the couple might have been. Indeed, their identities have sparked a great deal of speculation – even among experts.
One idea among archaeologists is that the pair were an older man and his most favored concubine. There’s also been some discussion about whether the two bodies might have been related. But, apparently, the required DNA tests to finally answer this riddle are beyond the budgets of the scientists involved.
Another unfortunate aspect of the find is that rodents gnawed away at the top half of the female remains – damaging all but her lower body. Still, the male skeleton at least has provided one of the best ever preserved remains of its kind.
In fact, this burial site has generated so much excitement that intrepid archaeologists now wonder whether it could be the tip of the iceberg for the region. Over the coming months, in fact, they intend to perform more digs on and around the site in an attempt to unearth more answers.
They are cautious, however, as this is one of those mysteries that is likely to take years to piece together. And that’s perhaps not surprising: after all, the funereal practices and rituals of these people date to about 5,000 years back.
But of course, that’s exactly the point of archaeology. It’s a discipline that lets us discover the past while learning about what it means to have been human at any point during our brief reign on the surface of this planet.
What we learn may surprise us, of course, or we might find it creepy. Perhaps the scientific analysis of the objects will reveal something about the past that we didn’t want to know. But one thing still remains true.
And that’s that a pair of people spent 5,000 years holding hands. Sure, it was underground, and they were dead for most if not all of that time – with one of them getting half-eaten by rodents – but ultimately it’s undeniably remarkable.