Do you find yourself getting irritable as the weather gets colder? Angry as the snow begins to pile up? Violent as the icicles reach from the roof to the ground? You may want to check your DNA and see if you might be descended from Siberian steppe nomads. A new study of 1700-year-old skeletons found that many of these men, women and children died violently at the hands of steppe nomads and the wounds were not typical of warfare. Who would win in a battle between these Siberian steppe nomads and the Vikings? How much would the tickets cost?
“The study demonstrates that 25% of the individuals died as a consequence of interpersonal violence, mostly related to hand-to-hand combat, often represented by traces of decapitation. Even though violence affected mostly men, also women and children were found among the victims. Some of the individuals from Tunnug1 show traces of throat-slitting and scalping.”
Warning: it get worse. Researchers from the University of Bern, led by Dr. Marco Milella of the departments of Physical Anthropology and Forensic Medicine, analyzed the skeletal remains of 87 individuals found in a cemetery on the periphery of the Tunnug1 archaeological site in what is now the Republic of Tuva in Southern Siberia. The site contains the earliest known royal tombs of the Scythians, a group of ancient tribes of nomadic warriors who once controlled the steppes.
“This suggests that violence was not only related to raids and battles, but probably also due to specific, still mysterious, rituals involving the killing of humans and the collection of war trophies.”
Little is known of the Scythians or other Siberian nomadic tribes of this period from the second to fourth centuries CE, but one thing is becoming clear with this new analysis, published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
“Our data show that the individuals buried at Tunnug1 experienced high levels of violence. During the early centuries CE the whole area of Southern Siberia went through a period of political instability. Our study demonstrates how political changes affected, in the past like nowadays, the life and death of people.”
Political violence – not the thing you want to hear in these politically violent times. Marco thinks it was related to political turmoil in northern China after the collapse of its Xiongnu steppe kingdom and spilled into southern Siberia, where the tribes met violence with more and worse violence. Let’s hope this kind of violence doesn’t repeat itself.
“A total of 130 perimortem traumas, including chop marks, slice marks, penetrating lesions, and blunt traumas were identified on 22 individuals. Chop marks were mostly at the level of the skull and vertebrae and were likely caused by bladed weapons. Slice marks were found on the cervical vertebrae and cranium and may be the result of throat slitting and scalping by means of smaller bladed implements. Traumas were more frequent in males, and their presence is not correlated with age.”
Ancient Origins points out that Tuva is still populated by the descendants of these violent nomadic tribes. Fortunately, they don’t seem to have inherited their ancestors’ worst traits, proving that people can and do live in extreme cold conditions without chopping each other’s heads off.
On the other hand, we’re still dealing with political violence around the world today. Sadly, it seems some things really don’t change.