One of the most remarkable mummies in the world is the Ukok Princess, a woman who lived in Siberia at least five centuries BCE. She was discovered in 1993, buried alongside a bag of weed and adorned in ornate tattoos still preserved all over her body. She was probably a woman of high status, as she was buried with several elaborately harnessed horses and many decorative accessories.

Technology has advanced since the early ’90s, and researchers have since conducted deeper dives into analyzing the Ukok Princess. In 2010, MRI scans revealed she was probably in her mid-twenties and may have died of breast cancer. Was the drug she carried a pain relief method? There is much to be unpacked from this exciting discovery.

  • Her Intricate Tattoos Include Mythical Creatures

    The 2,500-year-old princess of Ukok bears stunning tattoos most hipsters would be proud to call their own. The princess’s left shoulder shows a deer-like creature with goat horns and an eagle’s beak. An argali — mountain sheep — also appears with a bird’s beak. You can also find a snow leopard with wings. The tattoos may depict a battle between birds and hoofed animals — a battle between predators and herbivores. 

    Scholars state the Pazyryk culture, to which the mummy belonged, valued tattoos; the more one had, the higher one’s status. “Compared to tattoos found by archaeologists around the world, those on the mummies of the Pazyryk people are the most complicated, and the most beautiful,” said Dr. Natalia Polosmak, the scientist who discovered the mummy. She added:

    Tattoos were used as a mean of personal identification — like a passport now, if you like. The Pazyryks also believed the tattoos would be helpful in another life, making it easy for the people of the same family and culture to find each other after death.

  • She Probably Died Of Breast Cancer When She Was In Her Mid-Twenties

    When the mummy was first uncovered, it was difficult for researchers to ascertain her cause of death because all internal organs had been removed prior to mummification. However, MRI scans of the Ukok Princess’s body taken in 2010 revealed that she probably died from breast cancer. Was that disease the immediate cause of her death? Probably, given that she was in the last stage of cancer by the time her death. 

    The princess’s skeleton also bore little to no evidence of physical trauma, ruling out a more violent demise. According to Andrei Letyagin, chairman of the MRI Center of the Siberian department of the Russian Academy of Sciences, “Her skull is fully preserved, and so are the bones. DNA obtained from her remains is intriguing.”

    She Was Buried With Six Saddled And Bridled Horses

    Six horses were buried with the Princess of Ukok and outfitted with intricate harnesses and colorful felt saddles, perhaps to indicate that they were meant to accompany her in the afterlife. They also served as status symbols, since horses were considered such valuable resources in ancient cultures. For a community to kill six horses and dedicate them to the gods via one person’s grave, the honored individual was certainly worth time and expense.

    • A Taxidermist Constructed A Model Of What She May Have Looked Like Before Mummification

      Video: YouTube

      In 2014, a Swiss taxidermist rebuilt the face of the Princess of Ukok at the behest of a German museum. Using a 3D model of the mummy’s skull, Marcel Nyffenegger spent months reconstructing the mummy’s facial tissues, using a plastic mold with silicon and a rubber-resin combo.

      To replicate the horse-hair wig which the princess was wearing when she was unearthed, the Nyffenegger spent two weeks parsing together 100,000 individual strands of real hair. “That two weeks took me to the brink of insanity. I didn’t spend more than two or three hours a day on that part because it was very boring and neck pain literally forced me to do something else,” he said. 

      Nyffenegger also painstakingly recreated the mummy’s tattoos on his elaborate model for what is reportedly a stunning, life-like representation.

    • She Was Buried With Jewelry And Chinese Silk

      When the princess was found, she was found with upscale accessories such as jewelry and a mirror, and attired in a Chinese silk gown and felt boots which were adorned with intricate and gorgeous patterns. The silk, in particular, was unusual, and only further proved her place as royalty or in higher social status. According to one researcher, “Chinese silk before was only found in ‘royal’ burials of the Pazyryk people — it was more expensive than gold, and was a sign of a true wealth.”

      Her Celibate Burial Indicated That She May Have Been A Shaman

      Photo: Sergei Ivanovich Borisov / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

      The Princess of Ukok might have been a celibate healer, in part because she was buried by herself and so elaborately. Archaeologist Vyacheslav Molodin told The Siberian Times:

      It was quite unusual to have a single Pazyryk burial. Usually men from this culture were buried with women. In this case, her separate burial might signify her celibacy, which was typical for cult servants or shamans, and meant her independence and exceptionality.

      The presence of high-status horses in her burial area indicated she herself was of high status, and researchers say this indicates a a healer.

      She had no weapons buried with her, or on her, which means that she certainly was not one of the noble Pazyryk women-warriors. Most likely, she possessed some special knowledge and was a healer, or folk tale narrator. From the inside the mummy was filled with herbs and roots.

      Her Head Was Shaved And She Wore A Horsehair Wig

      The Princess of Ukok was dressed well for the afterlife and had a mirror and cosmetics with her, including an early version of eyeliner. Her shaved head was crowned in a horsehair wig, said archaeologist Natalya Polosmak:

      The base of the wig was a felt “hat,” with two layers of women’s hair sewn into it. Between the layers was a black flexible substance, which helped to fix and hold the shape and the volume of the wig….A mop of hair on top was tightly wrapped around with a woollen cord, which helped this mop to stand upright… On top of this mop was worn a red “nakosnik” (a braided decoration made from threads), and atop of this structure was a bronze pin with a deer, standing on a sphere. The deer was made from wood, and was covered in golden foil.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here