Did a horse fall 2500 years ago play a part in woman’s death?



The mummified remains of the high-status woman found on the Ukok Plateau. Photo:  Kobsev/Wikipedia
The mummified remains of the high-status woman found on the Ukok Plateau. Photo: Kobsev/Wikipedia

Researchers have painted a remarkable picture of the demise of a high-status woman in Siberia some 2500 years ago, revealing not only that she died from breast cancer, but that she possibly suffered a serious horse fall in the months before her death.

Her remains were found in an elaborate burial mound, along with the remains of three horses, in the Altai Mountains in 1993, but ongoing research into her remarkably well-preserved body, including MRI scans, continue to yield important insights into the life of the woman and those with whom she lived.

Findings disclosed in the latest issue the Siberian academic journal Science First Hand have revealed not only that the woman died in her mid-20s from breast cancer – she had a primary tumor in her right breast and there was evidence it had spread elsewhere, including to the spine – and that she used cannabis, probably to dull the pain of her cancer.

Researchers surmise that she had probably suffered from breast cancer for about five years and was gravely ill from the disease at the time of her death.

However, her serious injuries may also have played a part in her death, they have revealed.

The injuries of the heavily tattooed woman included joint dislocations and skull fractures which the scientists surmise were consistent with a fall from a horse.

The woman, dubbed the “Ice Princess”, was suffering from fourth stage breast cancer when she arrived at the winter camp on the Ukok Plateau in October, in the months before her death, reported Professor Natalya Polosmak, who found her remains in 1993.

Polosmak has formulated an intriguing account of the woman’s final months, based on the evidence uncovered in the latest research.

She believes the seriously ill woman was probably a shaman – a spiritual guide and healer- of the Pazyryk culture, and was afforded high status by her kinsman.

She believes she mounted a horse to make the journey to the winter camp – a journey still made by nomadic Altai herdsmen of the region to this day to take advantage of winter grazing on the high plateau.

Given her high status, her kinsmen did not want to leave her behind.

At some stage she fell on her right side, striking her right temple, right shoulder and right hip. Her right hand escaped injury possibly because it was pressed to her body – it was probably already rendered inactive because of the advanced state of her cancer.

The woman unquestionably survived the fall because evidence of the aftermath, including fluid retention, was apparent on her remains.

She was taken to the Ukok camp where she was placed in a bed. Polosmak believes she never left her bed again because of the extent of her injuries and her illness.

She arrived at the camp around October, with the evidence suggesting she spent three to five months in bed before her death, dying around January to March the following year.

Her body was stored for several months before her elaborate burial around June, which scientists were able to establish by examining the last food in the stomachs of the three horses buried with her to help her journey into the afterlife.

Her body was mummified before burial, which, along with permafrost in the region, allowed her elaborate tattoos to survive more than two millennia.

She was buried with elaborate clothes and jewellery, as well as a make-up bag and a container of cannabis.

The MRI scans, carried out in Novosibirsk by Russian scientists Andrey Letyagin and Andrey Savelov, showed the woman had suffered as a child or adolescent from an infection of the bone or bone marrow. The scans also revealed evidence of the breast cancer and its spread to other parts of her body.

Letyagin said he was quite sure in the diagnosis of breast cancer, which he believed had significantly contributed to her emaciated state at the time of her death.


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One thought on “Did a horse fall 2500 years ago play a part in woman’s death?

  • October 19, 2014 at 5:49 am



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