Scientists scan the “death mask” of an ancient nomad with a tattoo on his face

The scan revealed traces of craniotomy, made 1,700 years ago, writes The Siberian Times.

The tattooed man discovered in the Oglakhty burial ground in the mountainous region of Khakassia died at the age of 25 to 30 about 1700 years ago. A computer scan of his death plaster mask revealed the face of an ancient tashtyk with brown pigtailed hair and a scar on his face that had been stitched up after his death.

Scientists believe that in this way those who buried the deceased sought to correct his face, disfigured with a fatal blow, in order to improve his appearance before he was “sent to the afterlife.”

The carriers of the Tashtyk culture were pastoralists and farmers who lived between the 1st and 7th centuries. AD in the Minusinsk basin of the Yenisei River in central Russia, one of the longest rivers in Asia. The Oglakhty necropolis was discovered by a shepherd in 1902. Local explorer Alexander Adrianov began excavations in 1903, during which three graves were examined. In 1969, Professor Leonid Kyzlasov discovered a burial log cabin made of larch, dating back to 3-4 centuries AD. It contained three mummified corpses with plaster masks on their faces.

The scientists analyzed used computed tomography techniques to scan the mask, the face without the mask, and the skull itself. As a result, Dr. Svetlana Pankova, curator of the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg and curator of the Siberian collection of the archeology department, discovered that the scar on the man’s face was not the only evidence of the posthumous work of ancient surgeons. His skull was also trepanned on the left side with a 6 by 7 centimeters diameter hole made with a series of blows with a chisel or hammer.

“They couldn’t just put a mask on their disfigured face,” says Dr. Pankova, because the Tashtyks took posthumous rites very seriously. In an article in Sibirskaya Gazeta, Pankova explains that the hole was made to remove the brain during a complex burial ceremony, and the scar on the face can be explained in a similar way.

The death mask has black stripes on a reddish background, crossing the eyes and bridge of the nose of the deceased, just like the tattoo on his face during life.

Now, the faces of a woman and a child found in the same burial chamber will also be reconstructed using a similar CT scan to determine if the three people were related. As scientists have found out, male and female masks are colored differently: the faces of women were decorated with red spirals and scrolls, men – red with black stripes.

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