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электронный журнал "Новые исследования Тувы"

Locals from Mezhegei (Tandy, Tuva) found an ancient burial

Locals from Mezhegei (Tandy, Tuva) found an ancient burialA notice about a find of an ancient burial came to the editorial office of "Plus Inform". Because the information arrived through three or four different hands, it was not clear at first who and how discovered the burial. It was something like: somebody dug and uncovered some bones by chance. In reality, it was something quite different. But it was very strange anyway.
A skull in the clearing
A team of workers from the Service for protection of objects of cultural heritage went to Mezhegei, where the announcement originated. And young people from the village took us to examine the "autopsied" kurgan. It was quite a long trip through the steppe. Suspicions began creeping up: but just what could they have been digging "by chance" in the steppe?
They stopped. Not far from the road, we could see a white flat round area, with a little bit of grey. Maybe there was a salt lake here, which had dried out?
In that area, there was a human skeleton. An incomplete skeleton - some of the bones were crushed. But the skull was quite well preserved. Some teeth were missing, they probably fell out or were dragged off by small animals. But the remaining teeth were astonishingly strong, straight, without any traces of caries. 
Here, on the surface, there were several arrowheads, along with some other metal objects. Some of them have lost their shape because of rust, but the others were clearly buckles and belt decorations. One of the buckles was very well preserved; it was ingeniously crafted and could bend.
Bones creaked underfoot
But soon an unpleasant detail became clear - this was no salt lake. Those white fragments, which completely covered the clearing, were not salt - they were bone. It was obvious that this was a large burial, several of the skeletons crumbled totally.
There were three such meadows in the surveyed area - three white circles. Only one of them had bones on the surface.
So these ancient soldiers - and that they were soldiers was obvious from the objects found with them - were buried in sand kurgans.
Well, there was no such thing in Tuva. Every burial, as a rule, was surrounded by stones, or covered with stones, or else the dead were laid in a sort of complete stone tomb, made up of large flagstones. But here - not a single stone, not a large one, not even a tiny pebble.
Could it be that these were poor people, and were simply covered with sand? That could not be either - especially judging from the objects; it was possible to determine that the burial was from early iron age, when iron was valuable. Again, the thing next to the soldier inspire respect. These were not poor people. The burial took up a large area, and it was obvious that the number of the dead was not small.
Simply grazing cows
It was explained how the kurgan was found. Well, the former kurgan, most likely there was a sand embankment to begin with after all. And it was big enough, since it did not disappear completely in hundreds and thousands of years. Winds and rains, of course, washed off and blew away most of it. But one skeleton turned up on the surface only relatively recently, since it was so well preserved. And maybe there is more under the layer of the sands…
Several years ago, when Nachynchap Oorzhak was grazing his cows, several cows wandered off somewhere, and the kid went to look for them. And he happened upon this place. Back then he did not tell anybody about it. When he came home from the army he came back to look, and everything was just like before.
He told his friends, and they told their friends. And one of them called the newspaper office. It may seem strange that none of the young people felt any temptation to dig around a bit themselves, to look around - something interesting might turn up.
In reality, it is not strange at all, it would be strange if anything else happened. From childhood, Tuvans are brought up to consider bothering old burials as forbidden. It is not done, and that's all. This also explains that so few Tuvan students are in the volunteer camp in Eerbek. Member of the Ministry of Youth Affairs Ertine Kongar, when holding an action in electing the "King and Queen" in the Valley of Tsars, brought girls from the dance ensemble "Eclipse" there. On the way back, I asked the girls if they liked it here. It turned out that they liked it very much. But they could not answer my next question at all. Even though it was a very simple one. The girls were already accepted into one of the colleges in Sankt-Peterburg. And I asked them: would they like to come here as volunteers, as college students? There was an awkward silence; Ertine saved the situation by saying that first they have to finish the first year. Later I realized how tactless my question was. Of course they would not! They very much would not want to come, because they do not find it possible to bother the dust of their ancestors.
As a matter of fact, these clearings "strewn with dead bones" are in Khadyn, near the most visited Tuvan lake of the same name, which practically became one of the city beaches.
It is very likely that someone else had already seen them before. And he decided to leave everything alone as well.
What was, and what will be
To make an embankment from sand alone is strange. How could it have happened? Of course, nobody can say for sure. Something happened a very long time ago, and it is not so far possible to determine with confidence if it is a Scythian burial, or a later one. There are objects made of iron, others are of bronze. Some very small pottery fragments.
It is possible to suppose that this place was an arena of a great battle, and there were so many dead that it was complicated to transport them elsewhere. So they buried them right next to the battlefield. And since there are no mountains in the vicinity, they raised an embankment of earth and sand. We will probably never solve the secret of the ancient tragedy.
But it is possible to predict approximately what will happen in the future. Since the burial has been found already, it has to be put on the list, for protection. But since it is disintegrating right in front of your eyes, measures have to be taken quickly, and excavations have to be performed. Again, to perform the excavations, it has to be taken off the list. Is it worth it to list it in the first place? 
On the other hand, even though extraordinary rescue is necessary, it is a long process to get permits for the excavations. First a permit for research is needed, and if it is passed, and the research is performed, another permit is needed, and then yet another one. Much paperwork, and serious demands on the archeologists.
And whose money is going to pay for it? Who will finance the work? One kurgan, at the very least, depending on how complicated it is, demands about 200-500 thousand rubles. Here, there are three kurgans. It is necessary to find about a million and a half. The municipal administration - owner of the land - will hardly be able to find this kind of money. Federal government is not likely to finance this project. So this leaves only the republican budget.
So here we have an equation with two unknowns: who will do the excavations, and on whose money. We have a mystery of a large ancient sand burial. But in reality - a skeleton of a warrior on a round white clearing.
Spearheads, several metal objects and pottery were collected by specialists of the Service for protection of objects of cultural heritage (monuments of history and culture) of Tuva for studies.
The bones remained, bleaching in the sun. The rain will continue to pour on them, snow will cover them in winter.
I have no pretensions to being right, I do not insist on my opinion. But maybe it is possible to solve the problem faster, maybe just to re-bury the soldier, or maybe even other ancient soldiers, whose remains may be under this layer of sand?
Somehow it does not seem right for bones to lie like this under open sky…

Irina Kachan, Plus Inform newspaper, translated by Heda Jindrak
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