A mysterious 2,400 year old Ust-Taseyevsky stone idol with distinctly European features underwent extraordinary ‘plastic surgery’ in the early Middle Ages to make it more Asian looking, archaeologists have discovered.
The next puzzle for scientists to solve: how come he had Caucasian features almost two millennia before the Russian conquest of Siberia? The main stone sculpture visible today shows a man with widely spaced almond-shaped eyes and ocher-coloured pupils.
He has a massive nose with flared nostrils, wide open mouth, a bushy moustache and a beard. And yet all is not quite as it seems, for this sculpture, the most northerly of this genre in Asia, underwent an historic version of plastic surgery perhaps 1,500 years ago to give him a less Caucasian and more Asian appearance, according to experts.
Archeologist Yuri Grevtsov said: ‘Analysis of the sculpture’s micro-relief showed that the original image went through some improvements. The first ‘edition’ was made by knocking, charring and the polishing the lines. Most likely it was all made by one person who seemed to have a very strong hand and a good taste.’
‘Finds of ancient tools, weapons and bronze mirrors in grottos surrounding the sculpture suggest this and other more weathered and fallen idols were hewn out of the sandstone as a place of worship between the second and fourth century BC.
‘But in the early Middle Ages a ‘less experienced sculptor’ got to work on the idol and ‘sharply delineated and narrowed the sculpture’s asymmetric eyes. The nose bridge was flattered with several strikes. The nose contour was altered to form ‘two deep diagonally converging grooves.
‘The moustache and the beard were partially ‘shaved’.
He suggest the original European look of the idol was changed to a more Asian countenance as incoming ethnic groups preferred the idol to be more akin to their own looks.
Another change – a conical hole 1.5 cm in diameter was drilled in the sculpture’s mouth – must have happened with the arrival of Russian people, introducing the locals to tobacco and pipes. The Russian conquest of Siberia reached this region – in modern day Krasnoyarsk – in the 17th century.
Mr Grevtsov claims the stone idol is the only one of its kind in the taiga so far north: the closest analogues would be 500 kilometres to the south in Khakassia.
Why, though, would the original face have distinctly European features – seen by some as Slavic – when modern-day native Siberian groups have a more Asian appearance?
However experts say the idol was a creation of the Scythian peoples – a large group of Iranian Eurasian nomads who held sway in many Siberian regions at this time – and they had a European look.
Reconstructions of faces from permafrost burials, for example in the Altai Mountains, shows this to be the case.
Archaeological finds at the site of the idol show it was a place of ritual sacrifices in the past. The lower jaws were ripped off bears and elks in ceremonies president over by shamans, the archaeologists believe.