"Ice Mummies: Siberian Ice Maiden"
NARRATOR: Tonight on NOVA, sacrificial horses guard her tomb. Gold and silk adorn her body. For 24 centuries, she was frozen in time. Was she a priestess? A warrior chief? NOVA unearths the secrets of "The Siberian Ice Maiden".
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NARRATOR: The thunder of hooves on the Siberian steppes echoes a legendary past. Mounted tribes once ruled these high plateaus, where towering stone monuments reach toward the heavens. Golden treasures from these days are rare and enigmatic. But new finds cast light on a culture cloaked in mystery: Sacrificed animals, valued possessions, and a startling emissary from this age of warriors—a 2400 year old woman frozen in time. But this Ice Maiden will not be left to rest. Removed from the grave, her body has traveled half way around the world to be displayed and admired. Now, she is returning to Siberia, back to the scientist who discovered her, and who hopes to learn more of the Ice Maiden's secrets.
When Natalia Polosmak found this woman and the wealth of artifacts buried with her, it was celebrated as an archeological triumph. But now, taken from her tomb, the body has sparked passion and controversy—among both scientists and the people of her homeland.
Few archaeologists have ventured into the rugged Altay Mountains. But in 1993, Natalia Polosmak was determined to reach the Ukok Plateau. In a remote part of Asia where four countries converge, she was drawn by tales of an ancient people called the Pazyryk.
POLOSMAK: The Pazyryk believed that after they died they would go to a mountain pasture. Ukok seemed to me the sort of place where the souls of the Pazyryk would have gathered.
NARRATOR: Dating back to 1000 B.C., this burial ground is still sacred to people of the Altay today. It is a sacrilege to shout here for it might offend the spirits of the dead who lie here in tombs called kurgans, marked by mounds of earth and stone. Over the centuries, many of these burial mounds have been looted. Finding an untouched tomb requires a stroke of luck.
POLOSMAK: We had a visit one day from the border guard who helped us to choose the burial mound. Their commander knew all the burial sites in the area. When I explained that I needed a large and beautiful mound, he told me he knew of one within their view. This also meant that they could protect us. So we went to find this burial mound, which turned out exactly as he described it. We liked it as much as he did.
NARRATOR: The kurgan was just ten yards from a barbed-wire fence, just inside the strip of no-man's land between Russia and China. The team first had to remove by hand the many hundreds of stones that covered the tomb. Some were already scattered, a worrisome sign that the site had been pillaged. Then, after weeks of careful digging, they hit paydirt: A large intact wooden chamber that had flooded with water, now turned to ice. Propped against the outer wall of the chamber were the frozen remains of six horses. These animals, no doubt of great value in their time, all had been sacrificed. The team could only imagine what other treasures might be preserved in the icy chamber itself.
POLOSMAK: You feel that you're about to unveil a secret when you open the lid. You don't know what's inside. A face, or something else, might appear through the ice. There was an aura of mystery.
NARRATOR: There was reason for excitement. Spectacular frozen tombs had been unearthed in this region before—but not in many decades. Starting in the 1920's, Russian Archaeologist, Sergei Rodenko, launched a series of landmark excavations in Southern Siberia. High in the mountains, he found great mounds of stone—both signifying grand burials and preserving them. The stones allowed water to seep down, but deflected the heat of the sun. This, together with the long winters, kept the ground below permanently frozen. Like Natalia Polosmak decades later, Rodenko unearthed sacrificed horses, and with them immaculately preserved cloth saddles, still soft after more than 2000 years. Woolen rugs and other splendid objects had escaped the ravages of time. They gave testament to the richness of this culture, and to its artistry.
Yet, these artifacts pale beside Rodenko's most astounding finds: Mummies unlike any seen before. Their bodies were meticulously embalmed. Their internal organs and even their muscles were removed. Their skin was stitched back together with thread made of horse hair. The care lavished on these corpses and the bounty in their bombs suggested these men were once great chiefs. Rodenko assumed that the women buried with them were their concubines, likely sacrificed to join their lovers in death.
LAMBERG-KARLOVSKY: His was one of the most important discoveries this century in the context of archaeological discipline. He went to an area that had previously been unexplored, an area high up in the mountains, and there discovered this Pazyryk culture.
NARRATOR: The Pazyryk artifacts closely resembled those of tribes further West—the legendary warriors known as Scythians.
LAMBERG-KARLOVSKY: They were horsemen and they were exceptionally able horse riders. They were militarists in constant combat, one group with another. They had the extraordinary ability to migrate over very, very vast distances, and they had a very substantial and surprising aspect of material wealth.
NARRATOR: In the 5th Century B.C. the Scythian World stretched eastward from the Black Sea over the vast steps of Europe and Asia, right into the mountains of Siberia. Though they left no written records, their exploits were chronicled by the Greek historical Herodotus. He wrote of warriors so fierce they would drink from the skulls of their victims. Such gruesome tales, told by a foreign observer, were long considered fiction. But archaeologists now see truth in much of his writing.
LAMBERG-KARLOVSKY: Herodotus mentions that when a person died the group would carry the deceased on wagons to sacred burial grounds. He refers to them in some instances of traveling for weeks to that place. It's interesting to note that in the high Altay Mountains there are literally thousands of burials. It looks as if it may have been a sacred burial area precisely at the time that Herodotus was speaking of.
NARRATOR: It was one of these very burials that Natalia Polosmak found in 1993. The sacrificed horses outside of the burial chamber were just the start. Within the chamber itself, the ice harbored other remarkable finds, including vessels still containing food after 24 centuries. Helping the Russian archaeologists defrost the tomb was a young American student.
SMOOT: You're bailing in buckets constantly. It was damp. You know, when you were inside the tomb your feet were wet. There was a kind of a musty smell to it all, because in fact it had been preserved. So you had the organic materials—wool, wet wool—everyone knows what that smells like. And the horses were strong smelling as well, especially as their stomachs had been preserved. And when we opened that to get a sample, that was quite, quite strong.
NARRATOR: What they saw upon reaching the bottom of the chamber was worth every effort. A coffin such as those found in the most elaborate Pazyryk burials.
POLOSMAK: All the important, rich Pazyryks were buried in coffins. The larch tree was considered a sacred tree similar to the tree of life. Many believed that when they placed a body in a coffin it was a return to the source of life, like returning to Mother Earth to be reborn.
NARRATOR: Disturbing this sacred tomb high in the mountains made the archaeologists uneasy.
SMOOT: Many people experienced nightmares—pretty violent ones actually. In my nightmare, I was clawing—like hooking the eyes out of people. And the speculation was, perhaps, that the place was testing our will to be there.
NARRATOR: This anxiety peaked as they prepared to open the coffin. A casket so grand they thought it might contain two people.
POLOSMAK: The coffin was secured with large nails—heavy copper nails. There were four of them, two on each side. The nails held the lid tightly down and helped trap the water that ran into the coffin.
NARRATOR: The water had long ago turned to ice, rock-solid and milky white, concealing the coffin's secrets.
POLOSMAK: As we opened the lid, we were gripped with excitement because of this aura of mystery surrounding the coffin. But after it was open and we discovered the ice was so opaque we couldn't see through it, we calmed down and got on with our work.
SMOOT: The thawing process was undertaken by taking huge drums of water from the nearby lake and heating them up with a blow torch, and then taking cups of heated water and pouring it very carefully and slowly. That process took quite awhile.
NARRATOR: What was hidden in the massive block of ice? As it melted, they caught tantalizing glimpses of precious adornments. Flecks of gold glittered in the sun. Then, finally, a face. It was largely bone. But the rest of the body was covered with flesh. And what of the coffin's grand size? The astounding answer was found at the far end of the casket. It was the distinctive headdress of a Pazyryk woman, since named the Ice Maiden.
POLOSMAK: Nobody guessed it would be a woman. It's impossible to know beforehand. But I was hoping it was a woman because we had already found a few men's burial sites. A woman's burial site would be very special.
NARRATOR: She was buried alone—not a mistress or concubine—but a powerful figure in her own right. The soft contours of her body had changed little since she was laid to rest in the 5th Century B.C.
POLOSMAK: She was lying as if asleep. She was arranged like that intentionally because the Pazyryk believed they never died, but simply passed on to another world.
NARRATOR: The blanket she wore hid another surprise.
SMOOT: We pulled back carefully the clothing, and on her left arm, the right thumb, and then again on her left shoulder are these amazing tattoos. Creatures just in immediate action poses, and they are in fact twisted oddly at 180 degree angles. They have amazing horns that end in flowers, fantastic creatures. At that point, the whole dig stopped and people came down and everyone was looking, not only was this a woman, but one with tattoos and they are quite elegant.
NARRATOR: News of the tattooed woman quickly reached other archaeologists in the region, including Natalia's husband.
MOLODIN: I had two different feelings. First of all, I wish Natalia great success. But, from a professional point of view I was a bit envious because I would have loved to make this kind of discovery. But of course, I wished her great success which she certainly had.
POLOSMAK: You hid your envy very well.
MOLODIN: I kept it inside me, of course.
NARRATOR: But there was little time for celebration. Removed from her frozen cocoon, the Ice Maiden began to decay. Natalia tried to rush the body to safe storage, but the air lift was ill-fated.
POLOSMAK: We took her by helicopter because it's usually faster—a four to six hour flight. But an engine failed. We had to make an emergency landing.
SMOOT: Luckily, nothing happened, no one was hurt and the body was still in tact. But of course that played into some of the myths that had been going about the camp throughout the summer that she didn't like being disturbed.
NARRATOR: Eventually, the Ice Maiden was delivered to Natalia's institute in Novosibirsk. She was lodged in a freezer—an unceremonious home—but one which might stop her decay.
The excavation was over, but the quest to understand this Pazyryk woman had just begun. Who was the Ice Maiden? How had she lived? And how did she die? She was 5 foot 6, extremely tall for her time—as tall as many of the powerful men found in the richest Pazyryk graves. X-rays didn't reveal the exact cause of her death, but they did expose a suspicious 2-inch hole in the back of her skull. To learn more, Natalia turned to a forensic pathologist in Switzerland. Rudolph Hauri does 70 autopsies a year, most for criminal investigations. Now he would face an archaeological mystery. Was the Ice Maiden killed by a blow to her skull? Or was her skull damaged later. Bone turns very brittle after death. When struck, it yields distinctive fracture lines. As he would in a homicide trial, Rudolph demonstrates the effect using a fragile skull from a cadaver.
HAURI: You see the lines of fracture here in this example. That's like fractures of a clay pottery, and the same thing was on the Ice Maiden, so I'm sure it's post-mortem—after death.
NARRATOR: What actually killed her remains a mystery, but the hole in her skull was likely just part of her embalming. The Ice Maiden's brain and other organs, which quickly rot, were removed soon after death. The process echoed haunting tales written long ago by Herodotus.
LAMBERG-KARLOVSKY: When their king dies, they take up the dead man, having coated his body with wax and cut open his belly and cleaned it and filled it with chopped marsh plants and incense and parsley seed and anise, and sewn it together again.
NARRATOR: Was this procedure the same for the Ice Maiden? Biochemist, Werner Schoch, found that, in addition to fur and wool, her body was packed with natural preservatives.
SHOCH: They used peat and bark to put in the body because these two things helped, maybe, preserve the body and the skin because it contains a lot of tannin.
NARRATOR: The embalmers' craft also explained a macabre discovery, the Ice Maiden's eyes had been cut out and her eye sockets stuffed with fur.
HAURI: If you left the eyeballs inside of the orbits they will lose water and they shrink together. That means that the eyelids fall inside the orbit. To prevent this you have to take out the eyeball and put something other inside there.
NARRATOR: Rudolph could also estimate the Ice Maiden's age.
HAURI: You'll see these lines on the skull. These fissures, these are widely open on this skull. That means the skull is young—perhaps between 20 and 30. After 30, there will be closing and if someone is very old—70 or 80—they're nearly closed and invisible. Our examinations of the skull of the Ice Maiden showed that we saw mainly open fissures like here. It was comparable. That means that she was between 20 and about 30—probably about 25.
NARRATOR: For her afterlife, this young woman was beautifully dressed. She wore a 3 foot headdress made of felt, which took up a third of her coffin, and a necklace of wooden camels. Other creatures adorn the headdress. Among them, this mystical griffin. All these carvings were originally coated in gold leaf.
POLOSMAK: It seems to me, the black headdress was a symbol of the tree of life. We have some indirect evidence for this from the pattern of 15 wooden birds which were sewn onto it. And we think the tree of life in mythology is supposed to bring universes together. The higher universe of the gods and the universe of humankind come together with this symbol.
NARRATOR: This gold buckle, retrieved from another tomb, makes the symbolism even clearer. Here, a woman's headdress and branches of the tree of life are intertwined.
POLOSMAK: This headdress is unique. There's no need to imagine how the various details were attached because it was found in tact. It was also an expression of this woman's life. It showed her place in society, her family, and tribe. Anything worn on the head had to be as high and striking as possible, and so the headdress was very large. It was literally a construction.
NARRATOR: Few garments this ancient have been found so well preserved. The Ice Maiden's thigh-high riding boots were still supple and only mildly damaged. Her dress, woven from sheeps wool and camel hair, was held at the waist by a braided cord with tassels. It was banded in three colors—the red dye derived from insects, and delicate maroon edged this priceless sheer blouse. Even after 2400 years in the tomb, the clothing needed remarkably little restoration.
POLOSMAK: This costume is one of the oldest pieces of female clothing ever found from a nomadic society. Nothing has to be reconstructed. We have a complete outfit right down to the belt. It's an amazingly rare find in the history of archaeology.
NARRATOR: Her blouse raised an intriguing puzzle. It was made of silk, which no doubt came from another region.
POLOSMAK: In nomadic cultures, including the Pazyryks, silk was precious. It was an emblem of wealth and prestige, and it's found in the burial mound of only the richest and most notable figures.
NARRATOR: How had a remote Siberian tribe obtain such exotic material? In Switzerland, at an institute known for restoring ancient textiles, researchers examine the Ice Maiden's clothing. They tried to determine where the silk for her blouse originated. There are two types of silk. One from domesticated silk worms, and the other from worms that live in the wild. Domestic silk, when magnified, appears to have round fibers.
SCHORTA: The blouse of the Ice Maiden was certainly not made of domesticated silk, and probably it was really wild silk, tussah silk, because you have here really larger fiber which are much thicker and more ribbon-like and have a surface which is a little bit ribbed. What's interesting is that we know from China at this period only about domesticated silk. So it might point to the fact that the silk of the blouse doesn't come from China, but perhaps from another area, and India actually be a strong candidate.
NARRATOR: A link with India suggests that the Pazyryk trade routes stretched across vast areas of Asia. The most valuable commodity the Pazyryk might have traded were top quality horses. The importance of the horse to their own culture was immeasurable. Caring for the herds probably forced them to lead semi-nomadic lives—like many people of the Altay today. In the summer, these horsemen keep their herds in low-lying areas. But come winter, they move to the cold high plateaus where strong winds sweep the ground of snow and animals can graze. A nomadic way of life is evident in artifacts found in the Ice Maiden's tomb, and recorded in these drawings by Natalia's team. Outside the coffin was a vessel made of yak horn, and a wooden table still bearing mutton.
SMOOT: The objects in the tomb appear to have been everyday goods, not made specially for the burial. And in fact they showed signs of wear and tear, and in fact repair in the horn vessel that was in the tomb. There had been a chip or something and had again been stitched. These were incredibly pragmatic people who reused the goods that they had.
POLOSMAK: A vessel that was hung up when stored didn't need a flat bottom. When used, it was placed on a felt stand. This is very characteristic of vessels used by nomads to this day. Also, these small tables are collapsible. The legs can be removed. The table could easily be put into a bag, hung on a horse, and taken away—just like these here. These objects are a direct link with the past. It's as though you can smell their food. When you touch the wood you feel as though very little time has elapsed, as if they are close to us and we can understand them.
NARRATOR: More mysterious objects hint at spiritual beliefs and rituals. A small stone dish found at the end of the coffin contained seeds. Similar dishes in other tombs held cannabis, also known as marijuana—confirming a practice described by Herodotus.
LAMBERG-KARLOVSKY: The Scythians take the seed of this cannabis and throw the seed onto the stones as they glow with heat. The seeds so cast on the stone gives off smoke and a vapor. No Greek steam bath could be stronger. The Scythians in their delight at the steam bath howl loudly.
NARRATOR: But under close inspection the seeds in the Ice Maiden's tomb turned out not to be cannabis. They were coriander.
POLOSMAK: Coriander is very rich in vaporous oils. They burn these seeds to cover unwanted odors.
NARRATOR: A cherished object had been carefully placed near the crook of the Ice Maiden's knees. Inside a red pouch lay an ornately decorated hand mirror.
POLOSMAK: I don't think it functions like a modern mirror that you pick up and look into. It's linked to some sacred concept because mirrors often have deer depicted on them, and this is an extremely significant image in their culture. All the Pazyryk had mirrors—men, women, and children. The mirrors were made of wood, bronze, or silver. They were always at their side, carried in a bag and hung from the belt. There is even a hole for it here. And when they died it was placed in the grave.
NARRATOR: As in other grand Pazyryk tombs, the Ice Maiden's coffin was carved from the trunk of a single larch tree. The walls and roof of the burial chamber were built from larchwood planks. Samples were sent to yet another lab where radio carbon offered estimates of the age of the wood and the burial itself.
SEIFERT: From the Ice Maiden's tomb we take around 24 samples from the chamber and also from the coffins. And the dating says that the chamber must be built around 450 years before Christ.
NARRATOR: 450 B.C. is only a rough estimate, since the radio carbon test has a 50 year margin of error. It could not discern a possible age difference between the coffin and the outer chamber.
To figure that out, Mathias Seifert had to spend countless hours peering down a microscope measuring tree rings. Each year a tree grows a different amount depending on rainfall and other conditions. The amount of each year's growth marked by a dark band is similar for all trees in a region. Once Mathias found a point where ring patterns from the coffin matched those from the outer chamber he had his answer. The outer chamber wood was cut down 15 years before the tree for the coffin. When the woman died, her people likely felled this tree to make a coffin, but took timbers from an existing cabin to build the burial chamber. Her everyday belongings, the log walls of the cabin, all evoked an impression of home. Even her six horses were waiting outside. The skulls of the horses revealed they were sacrificed—struck down with an ax. And multiple fractures showed that some had not died with the first strike. The horses' teeth, heavily worn, showed that the Pazyryk sacrificed only older animals. The horses also held an unusual clue to the season when the burial took place. Horse flies have been annoying horses for thousands of years. One type of fly lays its eggs on the skin of a horse. The eggs are licked off, swallowed, and soon hatch.
SCHOCH: This is the stomach of a horse of the Ice Maiden's grave.
NARRATOR: When Werner Schoch explored the contents of the stomach, he came across an object that was much larger than the masticated grass.
SCHOCH: This larva is a parasite from the horse and he lives in the horse until second half of June.
NARRATOR: Because the fly larva is only at this stage of growth for two weeks, Werner can tell the precise time of year when the burial occurred.
SCHOCH: We are sure that the horse was killed at the burial place, and the larva was still in the stomach of the horse. So we are sure the burial happened at the second half of June.
NARRATOR: By this time of year, the ground of the high plateau is soft enough for digging. The Ice Maiden may have died some months before, so coriander is needed to mask the smell of death. Her first meal of the afterlife is placed beside her. Six of her horses are felled and lowered into the grave. The coffin is sealed as if for eternity. But water seeps into the chamber. By the first snows the tomb is frozen solid preserving the Ice Maiden for her fateful meeting with a woman of the 20th Century.
Natalia Polosmak would not be the only archaeologist to make a landmark discovery in Southern Siberia. Two years after the Ice Maiden was unearthed, Natalia's husband, Vyacheslav Molodin, found a frozen tomb of his own.
MOLODIN: It is difficult to express it in words, because every archaeologist dreams of finding a burial site like this. I felt absolutely euphoric. It was literally impossible to drag me from that burial site. Even though it was extremely cold and we had to work in icy water up to our knees. An incomparable feeling.
NARRATOR: The mummified body that he unearthed was as remarkable as that of the Ice Maiden. It was a young man who also died at about 25 years of age. On his chest and back, he carried an elaborate tattoo of an elk, a symbol of power in Pazyryk culture. As with the Ice Maiden, his skull and his body were carefully embalmed helping preserve him through the centuries. The icy tomb had saved even his hair—twisted in two long braids which flowed to his waist. Lying next to this astounding 2400 year-old body was a cache of weapons. They named him The Warrior. The fiercest warriors in these tribes, according to Herodotus, weren't always men. Women too charged into battle. He told of women archers who would even cut off a breast in order to draw their bow string better.
LAMBERG-KARLOVSKY: No maiden may marry until she has killed a man of the enemy. Some of them die old women, unmarried, because they cannot fulfill their law.
NARRATOR: Another recently found burial seems to confirm at least part of the legend. It contained the skeletons of a man and a woman each with weapons, arrowheads, and an ax.
POLOSMAK: She was dressed exactly like a man. This shows that certain women, probably young and unmarried, could be warriors, literally Amazons. It didn't offend the principles of nomadic society.
NARRATOR: The Ice Maiden had no weapons with her, so it's doubtful she was a warrior. But her elaborate burial did suggest she was a woman of importance. Now, removed from her grave, her fate lay in Natalia's hands.
POLOSMAK: The fact that I dug her up gives me a heavy responsibility. Although I think the soul is immortal and the body is only a shell, something the Pazyryk believed, it always provokes a feeling of unease, pity, and sadness when you see a once great woman lying there in front of you.
NARRATOR: And her feelings turn to alarm when Natalia found the Ice Maiden's freezer was faulty. Fungus was growing on her body and her tattoos were fading. Another journey was launched. The deteriorating body was rushed to Moscow. Soviet scientists were experts at preserving dead bodies, especially those of revered Communist leaders. Now their techniques would be applied to the Ice Maiden. The Soviet method entails soaking the body in a cocktail of chemicals over several months. This bath is said to preserve a body indefinitely. The treatment halted the Ice Maiden's decline and saved her tattoos.
Natalia suspected that these designs marked the woman's role as a spiritual leader, but she needed evidence from other sources to interpret the meaning of the tattoos. Could other images carved in rock throughout the Altay provide any clues? Esther Jacobson has spent her career deciphering the art of the Pazyryk and related tribes.
JACOBSON: The animal imagery are not simply pictures, they actually tell stories, stories that perhaps everybody knew by heart, a little bit like the story-telling, for example, on European cathedrals. The main carved images are deer, male and female. There are some goats and some felines, or wolves—that is, predators and prey. The antlers you can see here, they are very long and elegant like waves with these great curls over here. What we have here is a desire to exaggerate what was apparently a very important of the animal. It's very interesting to try to put the Ice Maiden's tattoos together with the images that we have in rock carvings. The strange thing is it's very hard, in fact perhaps impossible to find exactly that tattooed motif. However, the kind of elaborated antlers that we see on that beautiful tattoo on the Ice Maiden certainly seems to be related to the exaggerated antler that we have here.
NARRATOR: The deer imagery in Pazyryk tombs suggest the animal had spiritual significance. From time to time, the Pazyryk even used elaborate masks to transform their horses into deer. Perhaps tattoos on the Pazyryk's bodies were intended to transform them as well. Tattooing may have been an important initiation rite. The pigment was made of soot. It was applied with bone needles. The Ice Maiden's largest tattoo—part deer, part horse, and part goat—may represent a supernatural hybrid—a creature that could climb the highest mountain peaks and even ascend to the pastures of heaven.
POLOSMAK: This young woman, buried with such ceremony, with her body covered in tattoos, was no ordinary member of society. She may have held a special position because she was blessed with a talent valued in that society. She could have been a shaman. She may have had the ability to heal people or predict the weather. It is also likely that this woman was a story teller, someone who told stories and memorized the history and myths of her people. This would have been very important for the Pazyryk as it is for all non-literate cultures.
NARRATOR: The storytellers who recount the Altay epics today have a long history in the region. And performers, like this throat singer, are held in high regard. The Ice Maiden may have played a similar part in her community. But regardless of her role, donning her grand costume and beautiful adornment, she was surely an impressive figure.
NARRATOR: Many who live in the Altay today, like historian Rima Eriknova, see the Ice Maiden as their ancestor. They feel she should not have been taken away from her homeland.
ERIKNOVA: While people here were happy that these things had been found in our country, we were also upset that the archaeologists had been working without authorization from the local authorities. They finished excavating and then took the artifacts away with them without telling us, as if it were a matter that didn't concern us, as if this were not our country. Whereas in fact, we live on this land and are the descendants of this culture.
NARRATOR: The people of the Altay who gather at this festival to celebrate their heritage have reason to identify with the ancient Pazyryk. Even into this century, they sacrificed horses when burying their dead. A culture kinship to the Pazyryk is beyond question. What isn't as clear is whether these modern people are biological descendants of the Ice Maiden's tribe.
Russian researchers tried to address the issue using a controversial technique. In this Moscow basement human faces are reconstructed. Tanya Balueva uses the skull as the starting point for each sculpture. She believes the shape of the eye sockets and flatness of face can determine racial type. From the study of living people she estimates the thickness of the skin. This is her image of the Ice Maiden.
BALUEVA: She is a clear-cut representative of the Caucasian race with no typically Mongolian features.
NARRATOR: But at the Altay Regional Museum, Director Rima Eriknova disagrees.
ERIKNOVA: They made the Ice Maiden completely European. But in fact she also has Mongolian features. They said, she does not belong to our culture.
NARRATOR: Many agree this face is too European. Comparing the Ice Maiden's skull to others, pathologist Rudolph Hauri drew another picture.
HAURI: It was not our first goal to determine race, but we saw that the orbits were much more like this. Also the nose. I think she has rather more hints of a Mongolic origin.
LAMBERG-KARLOVSKY: The study of race from skulls is obviously enormously complex and a very volatile issue. Today we have a whole battery of scientific approaches to study biological variation. RNA and DNA is perhaps the most precise. It's a new weapon in our artillery to try to determine degrees of biological variation.
NARRATOR: DNA is now being used to study the Pazyryk. At this lab, genes from ancient tissue are compared with genes from modern day groups. Research with tissue from a number of burials suggests that the Pazyryk were ethnically diverse. Within even one tribe, some individuals were more European, others more Mongolian. Regardless of the genetics, the people of the Altay identify themselves with the ancient Pazyryk. They are bound together by a homeland and a common culture. They will always see the Ice Maiden as their ancestor. And with political changes in this part of the world they now have the power to determine her fate.
ERIKNOVA: She has to return to the Altay—to her motherland. She belongs to our culture.
NARRATOR: The Ice Maiden's new home will be this museum. But here in the Altay, some shudder at the thought of putting her on display.
ERIKNOVA: Many Altay people couldn't look at her. It's not our custom to mix with the dead. Once you have been buried no one should disturb you. Yet, as Director of the museum, I am obliged to keep her here, to display her. But nonetheless, I believe she should be reburied, returned to where she came from.
NARRATOR: The high plateau that was her resting place is now off limits to Russian archaeologists.
POLOSMAK: Since our arrival, the Ukok returned to life and started revealing its secrets. We have begun to tell its story. So we were really upset when they introduced this ban. It meant curtailing this historic step forward. That is a shame.
NARRATOR: For Natalia, the Ukok is an ideal place to explore the past. But to others it remains a sacred burial ground, as spiritual today as it was 2400 years ago when with great ceremony a young woman was laid to rest.
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NOVA: We can tell the story by looking at the way the earliest Christians thought about Jesus.
NARRATOR: On the edge of the millennium, Front Line takes on one of the epochal events of Western civilization.
The story of how the death of one man changed the world. Watch "From Jesus to Christ" on Frontline.
Siberian Ice Maiden
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