Browsing satellite photos of the Uyuk River valley, Swiss archaeologist Gino Caspari first spotted the circular structure deep in the Siberian permafrost on his computer screen. This summer, he led a team to investigate the find, which was isolated in a swamp and frozen in permafrost. The preliminary dig suggests the structure is the relatively undisturbed kurgan—a tomb of a Scythian prince.
According to Kastalia Medrano at Newsweek, findings from initial excavations of the newly discovered tomb are promising. The tomb, named Tunnug 1 (or Arzhan 0), could be the oldest and largest kurgan yet found in southern Siberia. The circular structure is larger than a football field, stretching 460 feet in diameter. It's also located only six miles northeast of Arzhan 1, a site that previously held the title of oldest kurgan, the Swiss National Science Foundation that funded the researcher, wrote in a statement.
"No other frozen kurgans of this size are known in Eurasia," Caspari and his colleagues wrote in a paper published in Archaeological Research Asia.
As Megan Gannon reports for Live Science, Scythians, a nomadic people, once roamed the Eurasian steppes on horseback around the time of the 9th century B.C. through the 1st century B.C. The nomadic culture earned widespread reputations as fierce warriors, and they left behind structures in the form of huge burial mounds filled with grave goods. Previously discovered kurgans have been known to be filled with gold, jewelry, weapons, and even decorated cups with traces of drugs like opium. Archaeologists have even previously discovered Scythian ice mummies in them, which have been preserved by the permafrost.
The Uyuk River Valley, where Tunnug 1 (or Arzhan 0) was found, is a region so rich in kurgans that it has earned the nickname the "Siberian Valley of the Kings" for its archaeological and historical promise. But, as Caspari and his colleagues point out in their paper, the valley itself is under threat. "[W]ith the global rise in temperature these treasures are in immediate risk of being lost," they write. "Large excavation campaigns need to be carried out throughout the next years to excavate the complete object and preserve the knowledge we can gain from it.”
They plan to continue investigations once the site becomes more accessible after the winter snowmelt.