In a cemetery in Devitsa, a village in western Russia, a tomb was found with skeletons of four women from three different generations who lived in the second half of the fourth century BC. In addition to being Scythians – nomadic people who inhabited vast tracts of land in the Southern Russia, Ukraine and Central Asia from the 9th century BC to the 4th century AD – the team of scientists who found them considers that they were Amazons, warrior women who will have lived in this region during this period of time. Buried together with one of these women, a head covering was discovered. According to the team, it is the first adornment of its kind found on an Amazonian grave by archaeologists and on the middle section of the Don River, in Russia.
The discovery was made by a team from the Archeology Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences as part of the Don Archaeological Expedition (one of the largest rivers in Russia). Since 2010, scientists from this team have been studying the Devitsa cemetery, which consists of 19 practically imperceptible hills in an area dominated by agriculture and close to the Don River.
In one of these hills, the group found traces of a tomb where four women were buried: one aged 20 to 29; another 25 to 35 years old; another still 45 to 50 years old; and a teenager aged 12 to 13 years. According to a statement from the Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the burials took place at the same time, during the autumn.
In the south and west part of the tomb, there were skeletons of two women in wooden and herb “beds”. One of them was positioned “like a knight”. For anthropologists, the woman was positioned like this because the tendons in her legs had been cut. Beneath his left shoulder was a bronze mirror and two spears beside it. In his left hand he already had a bracelet with glass beads. Near the legs there was a vase and a pitcher from the second quarter of the 4th century BC.
In another part, the woman was 45 to 50 years old. “For the time of the Scythians, this woman was of considerable age. Average life expectancy was between 30 and 35 years old ”, the statement said. It was then near this woman that a head covering, that is, an ornate plate, was discovered. This cover is an alloy that has between 65 to 70% gold. It also had copper, silver and a small percentage of iron. As for the amount of gold found in this piece, it is above the average for the Scythian pieces, it is said in the statement. Usually, they were made of electro (an alloy of gold with silver) and the percentage of gold was around 30%.
Who were the Amazons?
“It is a unique finding: it is the first headdress from the Scythian era found in the middle part of the Don River course and, moreover, it was discovered in a skull,” says Valery Gulyaev, expedition leader and researcher at the Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences. “Of course, other headdresses have been discovered in tombs of rich Scythians, but few by archaeologists. These ornaments were almost always found by peasants, who took them to the police and, in this way, ended up passing through several hands until they reached the specialists. In this case, we can be sure that they have been found to be well preserved. ”
Valery Gulyaev also considers that this adornment belonged to an Amazon, that is, an armed woman. “During this expedition, in the Don’s intermediary course alone, 11 graves of these armed women were discovered in the last decade”, says the archaeologist.
But who were the Amazons really? There are many stories, legends and speculations about these figures. “For a long time, it was believed that the true Amazons were purely imaginary,” historian Adrienne Mayor told National Geographic magazine. As for The New Yorker magazine, the author of the book The Amazons explained that most people assumed that the Amazons depicted in Greek vases were only symbolic and that they represented women who were not married, for example. But more recent archaeological discoveries have shown that women who wore weapons, rode horses and lived in Ancient Greece did exist. “However, it is not possible to know, in a concrete way, what the life of the Amazons was like”, he highlights.
“Probably, the Amazons were nomadic Scots who traveled north of the Black Sea – more or less between the Balkans and the Caucasus”, considers Adrienne Mayor. Greek historian Herodotus (485-420 B.C.) also wrote about the encounter and relations between Scythians and Amazons.