High levels of ancient extreme Siberian Nomadic violence discovered

Top image: Ancient Siberian nomadic violence was extreme and interpersonal, which suggests violence was a part of life with or without war.

A Swiss-Russian team of archeologists, anthropologists and forensic experts have discovered evidence of extreme Siberian nomadic violence within communities of ancient Siberians. The team’s research findings of Siberian nomadic violence provide new insights into social life in Siberian nomadic peoples that is both surprising and detailed.

The steppe nomads were horse-riding, bow-wielding warriors who dominated the Eurasian steppe 1700-years-ago. They were an active force from classical antiquity ( Scythians) all the way through to the early modern era ( Dzungars). Historians of old wrote of the nomads obsessive acts of warfare and plundering, however, until now, hard archaeological or anthropological evidence of this historic violence was thin. This new study by the Swiss-Russian research team of almost 100 ancient skeletons recovered from a “royal” tomb has finally provided insights not only into warfare in ancient Siberia , but also into the practice of ritual sacrifice .

Approx. 1700-year-old skeletons of South Siberian steppe nomads at the archaeological site “Tunnug1”.Approx. 1700-year-old skeletons of South Siberian steppe nomads at the archaeological site “Tunnug1”.

Siberian Nomads Were Brutal And “Exceptionally Violent”

The new study was undertaken by an international team of archaeologists, anthropologists and forensic specialists from the University of Bern and the Russian Academy of Sciences . A paper covering the results of their investigations has been published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology .

Dr. Marco Milella, from the Department of Physical Anthropology, Institute of Forensic Medicine ( IRM), at the University of Bern, led the study which looked at the traumatic wound sites discovered on the skeletal remains of ancient Siberians who had lived between the 2nd-4th centuries AD. What they found was shocking!

Yurts are still used by nomadic central Asian peoples and it was in ancient communities like these that extreme Siberian nomadic violence was found.Yurts are still used by nomadic central Asian peoples and it was in ancient communities like these that extreme Siberian nomadic violence was found.

The remote Russian republic of Tuva, in southern Siberia, is still populated by the descendants of traditionally nomadic, yurt-dwelling tribes. The entire region is a relatively unexplored archaeological wonderland containing evidence of human occupation dating as far back as the Paleolithic period (roughly 2.5 million years ago to about 10,000 BC).

The “Tunnug1” archaeological site is one of the earliest royal Scythian tombs from the Bronze-Iron Age and, according to the new paper, “87 skeletons representing both sexes and different age classes dating from the 2nd to 4th centuries AD” were recovered within this ancient burial chamber.” Many of the recovered bones “presented exceptional traces of violence,” and not exclusively related to warfare, but possibly also due to sacrificial rituals.

Nomadic Interpersonal Violence Rates Were Very High

If you’ve ever doubted that we live in the safest period of history, you really need to read this new study. The study’s conclusions include this stunning fact: “25% of the individuals died as a consequence of interpersonal violence , mostly related to hand-to-hand combat, often represented by traces of decapitation.” And this violence wasn’t restricted to men, for the bones of women and children were also found with horrific wounds including “traces of throat-slitting and scalping.”

Northern Chinese political turmoil created huge stress for Siberian nomadic cultures.Northern Chinese political turmoil created huge stress for Siberian nomadic cultures.

The discovery of such high levels of violence might be expected on an ancient battlefield. According to Dr Marco Milella, first author of the study, finding horrific wounds in a social context suggests that violence was not only related to raids and battles, “but probably also due to specific, still mysterious, rituals involving the killing of humans and the collection of war trophies.”

Did Chinese Unrest Cause Bronze Age Siberian Nomad Violence?

Attempting to rationalize the high amount of evidence pertaining to social violence, Dr Marco Milella says that during the early AD centuries the whole area of southern Siberia went through a period of political instability. The new study demonstrates how political changes affected, in the past and today, the life and death of people.

The unrest he describes is specifically related to the political turmoil in northern China that caused huge changes in southern Siberia, greatly affecting the nomads who inhabited what is today the Republic of Tuva. Dr Marco added that during the “first centuries after Christ,” after the collapse of the Xiongnu steppe kingdom, this great political change had “a strong impact on the lives of the people,” and they seemed to turn to violence in response to the political upheaval.

Aiming to support the harrowing findings presented in the new study, scientists at the Institute of Forensic Medicine are currently completing an analysis of the ancient DNA samples gathered from the bones recovered in the Tunnug1 royal tomb. It is expected that their findings will enable future scientists to build accurate reconstructions of the diets and lifestyles, the mobility, and the genetic affiliation of peoples that practiced these forms of ancient Siberian nomadic violence.


By Ashley Cowie / Historian and Documentarian

Ashley is a Scottish historian, author and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems, in accessible and exciting ways. His books, articles and television shows explore lost cultures and kingdoms, ancient crafts and artefacts, symbols and architecture, myths and legends telling thought-provoking stories which together offer insights into our shared social history.In his 20's Ashley was based in Caithness on the north east coast of Scotland and walked thousands of miles across ancient Neolithic landscapes collecting flint artefacts, which led to the discovery of significant Neolithic settlements. Having delivered a series of highly acclaimed lectures on the international Science Festival Circuit about his discoveries, he has since written four bestselling non-fiction books. Elected as a member of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, incorporated by Royal Charter in 1783, Ashley has been involved in a wide range of historical and scientific research projects which are detailed on this website – www.ashleycowie.com.In 2009 Ashley became resident Historian on STV’s The Hour Show and has since featured as an expert Historian on several documentaries. Ashley’s own documentaries have been watched by an estimated 200 million people and currently air in over 40 countries. NBC’s Universal’s hit-adventure show ‘Legend Quest’ follows Ashley’s global hunt for lost artefacts and is watched by over 5 million viewers in Australia, Asia and Europe every week. In North America, PBS’s ‘Great Estates’ was in Amazon’s top-ten “most downloaded documentaries 2016” and has been watched by an estimated 150 million people.

(Source: ancient-origins.net; September 20, 2020; https://tinyurl.com/yy73eg4r)
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