Tomb of Ancient Scythian 'Amazon' Woman with Ceremonial Headdress of Gold, Silver and Copper Discovered

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of an ancient Scythian Amazon woman, buried in an impressive headdress forged from precious metal.

The same tomb contained the remains of two young Scythian women aged between 20 to 29 years old and 25 to 35 years old, and those of a teenage girl aged between 12 to 13.

The discoveries were announced in a statement released by the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Scythian Woman
Burial of Amazon woman with a headdress made of precious metal dated to the second half of the 4th BCE.

Archaeologists found the remains at a burial site at Cemetery Devitsa V in southwest Russia. The site consists of 19 partially covered mounds.

The women are female Scythians, nomads and warriors who came from the Eurasian steppe in what is now Southern Siberia—before extending their influence throughout Central Asia, from China to the Black Sea.

The eldest of the four women is thought to have died when she was between 45 and 50 years old—an impressive feat for a time when the average life expectancy is believed to have been around 30 to 35. Scythians appear to have had a higher risk of dying in early adulthood than those in other Iron Age groups as a result of their penchant for warfare.

The woman was found buried in a ceremonial headdress decorated in floral patterns, with a rim displaying amphora-shaped pendants. Testing shows the headdress is made from gold (65 to 70 percent) with copper, silver and a small fraction of iron making up the rest. According to the researchers, this is a high concentration of gold for Scythian culture.

Valerii Guliae, who headed the expedition, calls it a "unique" find. While fragments of headdresses have been found in the past, they are often damaged by the time they reach archaeologists.

Scythian Headdress
Left: Graphic headdress' reconstruction. Right: The headdress as it was found on the Amazon's skull.

One of the younger women was found in the position of a horseman, laid in a way so that the tendons of her legs were cut. She was found with a bronze mirror, a beaded bracelet, two spears and two vessels, including a one-handed cantharus—an ancient Greek drinking cup. It was made of black lacquer and has been dated to the second quarter of the fourth century B.C.

The archaeologists unearthed a treasure trove of ancient goods alongside the burials, including an iron hook in the shape of a bird, fragments of a horse harness, including iron hooks for hanging harnesses, scraps of molded vessels, iron knives, animal bones and a collection of more than 30 iron arrowheads.

The team also discovered a robbers' passage at the north end of the burial site, which they say would have been burrowed a century or two after the tomb was built. Only the northern and eastern parts of the tomb—where the teenager and one young woman are buried—appear to have been targeted.

Guliaev said this is the first time a burial of Scythian women of all different ages has ever been found. "We have come across an enigma: we have two women in their prime of life, one is a teenager and another is a woman quite old for the Scythian epoch," he said in a statement. "It is not clear how they could die at the same moment. They do not have any traces of bones injuries ... There are some marks of the tuberculosis and brucellosis, but these illnesses cannot cause death simultaneously. That is why we still cannot understand what the cause of death was and why four women of different age were buried at the same time."

The discovery also adds to our understanding of the female Scythians and the role they played in society.

Adrienne Mayor, a folklorist and historian of ancient science at Stanford University, previously told National Geographic, that approximately a third of Scythian women have been found buried with weapons, bearing war injuries. She calls the domestication of horses "the great equalizer" that allowed women to pick up a bow and arrow and fight—and to be just as "fast and as deadly" as the men.

Roman relief of Amazons
Roman Relief Sculpture Battle Scene with Amazon Warriors. © Bill Ross/CORBIS/Corbis/Getty