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Reindeer Antler Armor Found at Ancient Bear Cult Ritual Site

The Siberian Times reports that a team of archaeologists working in remote northwestern Siberia has unearthed a rare and mysterious find: a collection of reindeer antler armor plates worn by members of an ancient bear cult. The expedition was led by Andrey Gusev of the Scientific Research Center of the Arctic and took place at the Ust-Polui archaeological site. This part of Siberia was once inhabited by a little-understood ancient polar civilization between the 1st century BC and the 3rd century AD. Previous finds have shown that these people had close social relationships with dogs and worshiped bear gods, but little is still known about them.

A collection of the plates.

A collection of the plates.

Nearly thirty plates of various types of reindeer antler armor were found at the site varying in length from 12-25 centimeters. The plates have been dated to be around 2,000 years old and according to expedition leader Andrey Gusev, likely show evidence of a well-established ancient armor making tradition:

In the taiga zone of Western Siberia, finds of real iron helmets were extremely rare, but in the middle of the first millennium AD, bronze images appeared of people wearing headdresses clearly resembling helmets. A likely explanation may be a long tradition of making antler helmets.

Most of the plates are engraved with ornamental designs which imply that each plate was worn by a different individual; for that reason, researchers believe that this was the site of some type of communal ritual in which each member of a group left behind a piece of their own armor. Archaeologists believe this was likely a sacrifice to the bear god worshiped by the tribes in this area at the time.

Some of the plates are adorned with ornate engravings.

Some of the plates are adorned with ornate engravings.

Little is known about the ancient culture that created these antler armors, but it is believed that they could be ancestors of the modern-day indigenous Khanty people of western Siberia. These autonomous minority tribes retain their shamanistic beliefs and conduct week-long bear ceremonies after successful bear hunts complete with hundreds of songs and chants. Sure sounds like the descendants of an ancient bear cult to me.

The plates vary in size and shape, implying that they were worn by different individuals.

The plates vary in size and shape, implying that they were worn by different individuals.