While Egypt dominated the mummy world for decades, the land of the pharaohs has a new challenger for the title of world’s hottest mummy hotbed: Siberia. Make that coldest mummy hotbed. Coldbed. Anyway, the arctic tundras of Russia’s far north have become the target of mummy excavations in recent years as climate change is causing the once-frozen grounds to thaw and reveal their ancient secrets. This year has been a particularly active one for ancient Siberian archaeology, with several finds implying the existence of unknown ancient Siberian civilizations which might have been more advanced than we once thought. Just recently, a strange set of mummies were found in a mass grave, two of which were mysteriously bound in copper bands. Now, further excavations of that site has revealed the startling find of a 12th-century female mummy which has researchers baffled and questioning how much we actually know about these ancient Siberian cultures.
The Siberian Times reported the find of the unique mummy archaeologists have dubbed the “polar princess.” The 12th-century mummy is actually just a near-perfectly preserved head which researchers believe belonged to a 35-year old woman. The head was found in a mass grave alongside dozens of male remains and is the only female to be found at the site. Impressively, the woman’s head still sports long, lush eyelashes, a whole set of teeth, and a full head of hair.
Archaeologist Alexander Gusev from Russia’s Arctic Research Center is one of the researchers analyzing the groundbreaking find. Gusev told The Siberian Times that the head represents the first known woman found at the site, forcing his team to revisit their conceptions of the site:
There are some badly preserved bones, which do not allow us to determine the gender, but we clearly see from the face that she was a woman. This radically changes our concept about this graveyard. Previously we thought that there were only adult men and children, but now we have a woman. It’s amazing.
Some of the researchers believe the woman might have been socially important somehow, given that she’s the only female found at the site. Furthermore, most of the male remains had their skulls smashed after death; the fact that the woman’s head was left intact might imply she was buried with a level reverence not given to the male inhabitants of the gravesite.
Samples of the polar princess’ brain tissue are being sent off for DNA analysis in an attempt to pin down her ancient ethnic heritage.