Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Saka "Golden Woman" Reconstructions

Two years ago, a new, undisturbed find of a wealthy Saka woman from the 4th to 5th centuries BC in western Kazakhstan made the news. Finding an unlooted kurgan is always great news. So many of them were looted in both distant and recent history (in modern cases, many looters melt the gold down, which means all cultural information is lost). A week ago, images of many of the artifacts in her grave, along with reconstructions of some things (like her clothes and her comb) were published here. Take a look through them! It's pretty awesome.
  The claim that her symbols represent a belief in Zoroastrianism confused me. Maybe something was lost in translation, but worshiping a sky/sun god is kind of an ancestral Indo-European thing (discussed in The Horse, The Wheel, and Language), so it should by no means be indicative of Zoroastrianism over other religions in that category.
  Side note 1: The tall hat would have been made of felt over a wooden frame. I don't know more details than that; it's something that was briefly noted in Warrior Women by Davis-Kimball.
  Side note 2: The "Golden Man" is also a woman. But because the archeologists in charge of reporting her operated in a highly patriarchal paradigm, they failed to report it, even though some of them suspected it. It ruffled their feathers that she was buried with a warrior's accoutrements. Davis-Kimball also recounts how she independently figured it out and the reception of her findings in her book.
  One thing I should note before anyone rushes off to recreate her outfit: just because someone is buried in something, doesn't mean they would have worn it in life. It could be funerary clothing. Someone noted on this facebook page that a hat like that is impractical, so why would someone living on the steppes wear it? Couldn't it get blown away by the wind? All I have to offer to counter that is that there are depictions of steppe women wearing tall hats while alive in their goldwork. See this post for one example. However, it's still possible that they were specifically for ceremonial purposes, rather than for everyday use.

Anthony, D.W., 2007, The Horse, The Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, Princeton University Press, pp. 553.
Davis-Kimball, J., and Behan, M., 2002, Warrior Women: An Archaeologist's Search for History's Hidden Heroines, Warner Books, pp. 268. 


  1. I've read somewhere that I don't now recall (sorry!) that the tall hats were held on by the woman's hair being woven up into the light wooden frame, and that helped secure them to the head.

    Also, your second link ("See this post for one example.") does not appear to go to a specific post?

    I too found the assurance of Zoroastrianism confusing, especially considering Herodotus, who came later, relates the supreme deity of the Scythians -- amongst several others -- as being a goddess of primal fire and the hearth: Tabiti. Didn't Tomyris kill Cyrus the Great -- a Persian -- around then too? Why would they want to take on the religion of their invaders?

    1. Woven? 0_o As in she spent a lot of time prepping that morning, or as in permanently woven in like that Indonesian tribe where the men make ever-growing hats out of their hair? I hope it's the former!
      Thanks for catching the bad link. Changing it now.
      Hm... just found this link. http://en.tengrinews.kz/science/Kazakhstan-archaeologists-discover-Saka-princess-tomb-19862/
      They say Tomyris came later, but the date they give for the kurgan is actually later than both the final date for it (I assume it was an estimate before they dated it) and later than Tomyris. Well I'm thoroughly confused...
      That being said, it looks like Tomyris and the Golden Woman were from different tribes, so it doesn't absolutely rule it out, though it does cast more doubt on it. Good point!

  2. I really don't know if the hats were woven on permanently or not, but I would guess not, considering gers or yurts are pretty low-ceilinged, and the current general assumption is that they tended to belong to the women?

    Re the kurgan dates... yeah, argh. The only suggestion I have there is that kurgans were often used by an entire clan over a long period of time. Perhaps the *earliest* burial was significantly before the latest burial occurred, and they (mis?)quoted one or more of those dates?

    1. That makes sense. Can you imagine how unwieldy a permanent tall hat would be?

      That's possible. The way numbers morph in science journalism astounds me. I went on a fossi dig in August for animals about 20-25K years old max and some places are reporting a 100K date now. *shakes head*