An ancient and undisturbed tomb recently discovered in southern Siberia may contain treasure, priceless artifacts, and the 3,000-year-old remains of a royal ice mummy.
Gino Caspari, a Swiss archeologist with Bern University, was analyzing high-resolution imagery of the region, located in the Russian republic of Tuva, when he came across what appeared to be a kurgan burial mound. These circular structures, consisting of a stone packing with a circular arrangement of chambers, are royal tombs belonging to the Scyths, an ancient group of Eurasian nomads.
This summer, in collaboration with researchers from the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Hermitage Museum, a trial dig at the site not only confirmed Caspari's aerial hunch, but declared the site the largest and oldest of its kind ever discovered in what's increasingly known as the "Siberian Valley of the Kings."
The Scythian tomb, the largest of its kind discovered in southern Siberia, measures nearly 500 feet in diameter. (Photo: Snapshot from video, Frozen Corpses, Golden Treasures)
While any discovery dating back to a period between the Iron and Bronze ages is exciting, it's the nature of this site that has archeologists eager to begin carefully peeling back the layers of rock and soil. For one, the tomb appears to have never been disturbed, owing to its location in a Siberian swamp more than five arduous hours over rough terrain from the nearest settlement. The second, and most important, is its possible resting spot under a thick layer of permafrost.
"There's permafrost in the area," Caspari says in the video below. "There's really only a handful of permafrost tombs and very few that are not robbed, where there have been preserved ice mummies and the whole inventory of the tomb is still intact."
While not as large, other kurgans discovered in the region have produced fantastical treasures and artifacts, including thousands of gold objects, adorned weapons, and other perfectly preserved links to the past. By studying these rare time capsules, researchers hope to gain a better understanding of the Scythian people, widely regarded among the earliest cultures ever to master mounted warfare.
"Anything organic like wood carvings, felt items, clothing just to name a few," Caspari told Newsweek. "This would result in a much more vibrant look into the past than is usually possible."
With rapidly rising temperatures transforming previously cold-locked regions like Siberia, Caspari says his team is in a race against time to to uncover the tomb and retrieve its secrets.
"We now have to act fast," he says in the video, "because with the rising temperatures, the permafrost could melt and destroy all the organics preserved in that tomb. And these are things that are over 3,000 years old, that look like new, like they were basically put into the freezer yesterday."