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Natalia Polosmak

Natalia Polosmak

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Natalia Victorovna Polosmak is a Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n archaeologist specialising in the Eurasia
Eurasia
Eurasia is a continent or supercontinent comprising the traditional continents of Europe and Asia ; covering about 52,990,000 km2 or about 10.6% of the Earth's surface located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres...

n nomad
Nomad
Nomadic people , commonly known as itinerants in modern-day contexts, are communities of people who move from one place to another, rather than settling permanently in one location. There are an estimated 30-40 million nomads in the world. Many cultures have traditionally been nomadic, but...

s, especially those known as the Pazyryk
Pazyryk
The Pazyryk burials are a number of Iron Age tombs found in the Pazyryk Valley of the Ukok plateau in the Altai Mountains, Siberia, south of the modern city of Novosibirsk, Russia; the site is close to the borders with China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.The tombs are Scythian kurgans, that is...

, an ancient people who lived in the Altay Mountains
Altay Mountains
The Altai Mountains are a mountain range in East-Central Asia, where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan come together, and where the rivers Irtysh and Ob have their sources. The Altai Mountains are known as the original locus of the speakers of Turkic as well as other members of the proposed...

 in Siberia
Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

n Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

. She is best known for her finding of the Ice Maiden mummy
Mummy
A mummy is a body, human or animal, whose skin and organs have been preserved by either intentional or incidental exposure to chemicals, extreme coldness , very low humidity, or lack of air when bodies are submerged in bogs, so that the recovered body will not decay further if kept in cool and dry...

  which now is at the center of an ethnic
Ethnic group
An ethnic group is a group of people whose members identify with each other, through a common heritage, often consisting of a common language, a common culture and/or an ideology that stresses common ancestry or endogamy...

 political
Politics
Politics is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions. The term is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs, including behavior within civil governments, but also applies to institutions, fields, and special interest groups such as the...

 debate between Russian scientists and the local Altay people.

Work



In 1993, Polosmak was searching over the barren land of the Ukok Plateau
Ukok Plateau
Ukok Plateau is a remote and pristine grasslands area located in the heart of southwestern Siberia, the Altai Mountains region of Russia near the borders with China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia...

 when she discovered a spectacular archaeological find, a mummy
Mummy
A mummy is a body, human or animal, whose skin and organs have been preserved by either intentional or incidental exposure to chemicals, extreme coldness , very low humidity, or lack of air when bodies are submerged in bogs, so that the recovered body will not decay further if kept in cool and dry...

 frozen in the plateau's permafrost
Permafrost
In geology, permafrost, cryotic soil or permafrost soil is soil at or below the freezing point of water for two or more years. Ice is not always present, as may be in the case of nonporous bedrock, but it frequently occurs and it may be in amounts exceeding the potential hydraulic saturation of...

 which she associated with the Pazyryk
Pazyryk
The Pazyryk burials are a number of Iron Age tombs found in the Pazyryk Valley of the Ukok plateau in the Altai Mountains, Siberia, south of the modern city of Novosibirsk, Russia; the site is close to the borders with China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.The tombs are Scythian kurgans, that is...

 on the basis of intact clothing remaining on the mummy. The Pazyryk were an ancient people who lived in the Altay Mountains
Altay Mountains
The Altai Mountains are a mountain range in East-Central Asia, where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan come together, and where the rivers Irtysh and Ob have their sources. The Altai Mountains are known as the original locus of the speakers of Turkic as well as other members of the proposed...

 on the Ukok Plateau. Many ancient Bronze Age
Bronze Age
The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...

  tomb mounds have been found in the area and have been associated with the Pazyryk culture
Pazyryk culture
The Pazyryk culture is an Iron Age archaeological culture identified by excavated artifacts and mummified humans found in the Siberian permafrost in the Altay Mountains. The mummies are buried in long barrows similar to the tomb mounds of western Scythian culture in modern Ukraine...

, a culture that closely resembled that of the legendary Scythia
Scythia
In antiquity, Scythian or Scyths were terms used by the Greeks to refer to certain Iranian groups of horse-riding nomadic pastoralists who dwelt on the Pontic-Caspian steppe...

n people to the west. The term kurgan
Kurgan
Kurgan is the Turkic term for a tumulus; mound of earth and stones raised over a grave or graves, originating with its use in Soviet archaeology, now widely used for tumuli in the context of Eastern European and Central Asian archaeology....

is in general usage to describe the barrow
Tumulus
A tumulus is a mound of earth and stones raised over a grave or graves. Tumuli are also known as barrows, burial mounds, Hügelgrab or kurgans, and can be found throughout much of the world. A tumulus composed largely or entirely of stones is usually referred to as a cairn...

 burial
Burial
Burial is the act of placing a person or object into the ground. This is accomplished by excavating a pit or trench, placing an object in it, and covering it over.-History:...

s found in the area. Excavations of this site yielded fascinating archaeological artifacts
Artifact (archaeology)
An artifact or artefact is "something made or given shape by man, such as a tool or a work of art, esp an object of archaeological interest"...

.

This famous finding by Polosmak is known as the Ice Maiden. She discovered the mummy in an ancient, and previously undisturbed, burial mound
Mound
A mound is a general term for an artificial heaped pile of earth, gravel, sand, rocks, or debris. The most common use is in reference to natural earthen formation such as hills and mountains, particularly if they appear artificial. The term may also be applied to any rounded area of topographically...

. The mummy was unusual in that it was a woman buried with full ceremonial honors, a rare honor for a Pazyryk woman at that time. The mummy was intricately tattoo
Tattoo
A tattoo is made by inserting indelible ink into the dermis layer of the skin to change the pigment. Tattoos on humans are a type of body modification, and tattoos on other animals are most commonly used for identification purposes...

ed and estimated to date back to 5th century BCE. She was beautifully dressed with a black felt headdress which was found intact and decorated with figures that showed her social status. She wore a necklace of wooden camels and high boots of leather. Her dress was of woven camel hair and sheep's wool with braided tassels and colored red with insect dye. More tattooed mummies (c. 300 BC) were also extracted from the permafrost at the site.

While Polosmak and her team were excavating the site and defrost
Defrost
Defrosting is a procedure, performed periodically on refrigerators and freezers to maintain their operating efficiency. Over time, as the door is opened and closed, letting in new air, water vapour from the air condenses on the cooling elements within the cabinet...

ing the artifacts with water from a nearby lake heated with blow torches, rumor
Rumor
A rumor or rumour is often viewed as "an unverified account or explanation of events circulating from person to person and pertaining to an object, event, or issue in public concern" However, a review of the research on rumor conducted by Pendleton in 1998 found that research across sociology,...

s circulated among the local people that disturbing the dead would cause bad things to happen. The engine of the helicopter
Helicopter
A helicopter is a type of rotorcraft in which lift and thrust are supplied by one or more engine-driven rotors. This allows the helicopter to take off and land vertically, to hover, and to fly forwards, backwards, and laterally...

 that Polosmak used to fly the remains of the maiden to Russia failed, resulting in an emergency landing
Emergency landing
An emergency landing is a landing made by an aircraft in response to a crisis which either interferes with the operation of the aircraft or involves sudden medical emergencies necessitating diversion to the nearest airport.-Types of emergency landings:...

 and some deterioration to the Ice Maiden for lack of refrigeration
Refrigeration
Refrigeration is a process in which work is done to move heat from one location to another. This work is traditionally done by mechanical work, but can also be done by magnetism, laser or other means...

. This was taken as another sign that the maiden did not like to be disturbed. An earthquake
Earthquake
An earthquake is the result of a sudden release of energy in the Earth's crust that creates seismic waves. The seismicity, seismism or seismic activity of an area refers to the frequency, type and size of earthquakes experienced over a period of time...

 in September 2003 in Altay was also seen as bad fortune linked to the disturbing of the dead.

Politics


From the beginning, there was controversy over the ownership of the Ice Maiden and other archaeological finds which were found just within a disputed strip of land between Russia and China and were removed by Polosmak and Russian officials to Novosibirsk
Novosibirsk
Novosibirsk is the third-largest city in Russia, after Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and the largest city of Siberia, with a population of 1,473,737 . It is the administrative center of Novosibirsk Oblast as well as of the Siberian Federal District...

 and Moscow
Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

 for research. Modern forensics by the Moscow Police and the KGB
KGB
The KGB was the commonly used acronym for the . It was the national security agency of the Soviet Union from 1954 until 1991, and was the premier internal security, intelligence, and secret police organization during that time.The State Security Agency of the Republic of Belarus currently uses the...

 determined that the Ice Maiden is "a clear-cut representative of the Caucasian race
Caucasian race
The term Caucasian race has been used to denote the general physical type of some or all of the populations of Europe, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, Western Asia , Central Asia and South Asia...

 with no typically Mongolian
Mongols
Mongols ) are a Central-East Asian ethnic group that lives mainly in the countries of Mongolia, China, and Russia. In China, ethnic Mongols can be found mainly in the central north region of China such as Inner Mongolia...

 features". The residents of this area, known as the Altay Republic
Altai Republic
Altai Republic is a federal subject of Russia . Its capital is the town of Gorno-Altaysk. The area of the republic is . Population: -Geography:...

, demanded the return of the burial artifacts from their Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n locations, claiming the ancient remains should never have been disturbed and that they belong at the site where they were found.

Rima Eriknova, a native Altayan and director of the Altay Regional Museum in Gorno-Altaysk
Gorno-Altaysk
Gorno-Altaysk is the capital town of the Altai Republic, Russia, situated east of Moscow. Population: This only town of the republic lies in a narrow Mayma Valley in the foothills of the Altay Mountains...

, a leader of the group that called for the return of the artifacts said she was offended that the area was excavated and the valuable artifacts removed without the knowledge of or permission from the local people in the villages. She believes that the Ice Maiden belongs to the people of Altay and that Russian forensic findings are suspect and an attempt to erase the local heritage. She has been quoted as saying "...they made the Ice Maiden completely European. But in fact she has also Mongolian features. They said, she does not belong to our culture."

The issue results from conflicting elements. The scientific evidence provided by genetics
Genetics
Genetics , a discipline of biology, is the science of genes, heredity, and variation in living organisms....

 regarding the Ice Maiden's genotype
Genotype
The genotype is the genetic makeup of a cell, an organism, or an individual usually with reference to a specific character under consideration...

 or phenotype
Phenotype
A phenotype is an organism's observable characteristics or traits: such as its morphology, development, biochemical or physiological properties, behavior, and products of behavior...

 that suggest she was not an ancestor
Ancestor
An ancestor is a parent or the parent of an ancestor ....

 of the people now living there, and the claim of the Altayans that the mummy is Altayan because she was found in Altay and is part of their heritage
Cultural heritage
Cultural heritage is the legacy of physical artifacts and intangible attributes of a group or society that are inherited from past generations, maintained in the present and bestowed for the benefit of future generations...

, scientific findings having no bearing on the matter from their point of view.

The artifacts have not been returned but a ban has been put in place specifically excluding Russian archaeologists from the excavated gravesites on the Ukok Plateau. It is now off limits to Polosmak. Polosmak has expressed her hurt regarding this ban. In the years since the discovery of the "Ice Maiden" she had made the area and her findings there her life's work.

Articles by Polosmak


External links