Mummies Around the World @ Mummy Tombs


Scythian Mummies

also called Pazyryk mummies, Altai mummies, Altay mummies


Where they were found

Scythian mummies come from a people made up of many tribes who lived in southern Russia from the eighth to the fourth century B.C. They are known for mummifying their dead kings. 

When they were made

Scythian mummies were made between 300-700 B.C.

How they were made

The Greek writer Herodotus visited the Scythians and described what they did when a king died. After digging a large, square grave,

they take the king's corpse and having opened the belly, and cleaned out the inside, fill the cavity with a preparation of chopped cypress, frankincense, parsley-seed, and anise-seed, after which they sew up the opening, enclose the body in wax, and placing it on a wagon, carry it about through all the different tribes.

On seeing the body, every man in the tribe had to sever a piece of his ear, cut his hair short, make a cut all the way around his arm, make a hole in his forehead and nose, and finally, as if this weren't enough, drive an arrow completely through his left hand.

After the king's body was shown to each tribe, it was taken to Gerrhi, the most remote area of the Scythian territory, and buried. At that time, his servants were killed, usually by strangulation. Then earth was thrown into the grave and a tall mound was built.

But the most important part of the ceremony took place a year later. Fifty of the dead king's best attendants were strangled along with fifty of the king's most beautiful horses. Then their internal organs were removed and their abdomens were filled with chaff and sewn shut.

Next the Scythians dug a large circular grave around the king's burial mound. Each horse was placed in the grave, staked down so that it looked as if it were galloping. Onto each horse a strangled and mummified attendant was placed - with a large stake driven down the spinal cord and through the horse. Then all were covered with earth - a ring of mummified horses with mummified riders encircling the grave of the beloved king.

How many were made

No one knows.

What's special about them

The tattoos and the ceremonies attributed to the Scythians make them quite special mummies. 

Where to see them

Few Scythian mummies exist today, but some (men and horses) are on display at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Where to find more information

Mummies, Disease and Ancient Cultures by Eve and Aidan Cockburn and Theodore Reyman describes the Scythian mummies in a chapter on mummies found in cold places.

In The Scientific Study of Mummies by Arthur C. Aufderheide, the Scythian mummies are described in a chapter on the geography of mummies.