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Saving the Frozen Scythian Tombs of the Altai Mountains (Central Asia)

Jean Bourgeois, Alain De Wulf, Rudi Goossens and Wouter Gheyle
World Archaeology
Vol. 39, No. 3, The Archaeology of World Heritage (Sep., 2007), pp. 458-474
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40026211
Page Count: 17
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Saving the Frozen Scythian Tombs of the Altai Mountains (Central Asia)
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Abstract

The frozen tombs of the Scythian civilization, preserved for over 2000 years in the permafrost of the Russian, Mongolian, Chinese and Kazakh Altai Mountains, are a major archaeological find dating back to the 1920s. Inside the tombs lie bodies which have often been so well preserved in the frozen ground that even the tattoos on their skin remain intact. Grave robbers and fortune hunters have been the tombs' traditional enemies but, today, a new threat hangs over them. Climatic change is causing the permafrost in this part of Siberia to thaw. With the permafrost that preserves the "kurgans" now gradually thawing, the remaining frozen tombs and the insights they provide into the ancient nomad Scythian culture could be lost for ever, after 2000 years of perfect conservation. The University of Ghent (Belgium) and the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, together with local institutions in Russia and Kazakhstan, have started a project to preserve the remaining frozen tombs. Besides making an inventory of the archaeological heritage in several research areas in Russia and Kazakhstan, they are looking for ways to detect the tombs that are frozen, and are searching for technical solutions to preserve the frozen tombs "in situ."

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