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The Amazons

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Isis
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« on: February 18, 2007, 05:03:37 am »

The Archaeology of the Amazons


Archaeological research into the existence of the Amazons is only a recent phenomena. For years the Amazons were thought of as a purely mythological phenomena with little backing in scientific evidence. It was not until quite recently (within the mid-90's) that excavations in the Altai mountain range of Mongolia, that actual hard evidence surfaced which could possible relate to the Amazons (the research is continually on-going, please visit the Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads for more information and current excavations). In 1993, Natalia Polosmak set out for the Ukok Plateau, precariously located where four countries, China, Russia, Kazikstan, and Mongolia, meet. Polosmak and her team of archaeologists set out to unearth a kurgan, a burial structure of an ancient peoples known as the Pazyryk. When the excavation of the kurgan concluded, Polosomak and her team had found the remains of an ancient Pazyryk woman. The unearthed Pazyryk woman was tall, 5'7", deliberately mummified, had elaborate tattoo's on her amazingly well preserved skin, was surrounded by numerous burial goods including an extremely long feathered head piece, and was buried in a coffin carved from an entire larch tree. The find was dated to around the 5th century BC, around the time of Herodotus.


 
(Migration map of the Scythians from the Altai Mountain region)
Polosomak's find is commonly referred to as the 'Siberian ice maiden', and is only one find of many which has added to a continuum of information about the Eurasian nomads since the time of ancient Greece. Following Polosomak's discovery, other unearthed kurgans have had similar finds, mummified bodies with elaborate tattoos, some buried with horses, and in some instances, women and men buried with weapons, which obviously were not for ornamental purposes. Some of the mummified bodies show signs of being bow-legged, indicative of a life led on horseback. Other bodies show wear from battle wounds or similar disputes. Such finds indicate several things, that life within the Eurasian steppes during the 5th century was difficult, and that the tribe to which the ice-maiden belonged was nomadic, traveled a great deal, and held the status of women greatly.

Although further evidence remains to be found, theories have circulated that the ice maiden and her tribe were in fact a part of a nomadic tribe known as the Scythians. The Scythians settled into the northern part of modern day Turkey and the Black Sea region during the 7th century BC and continued their occupation of that territory well into the 5th century BC. The Scythians had an extensive artistic tradition, and a knowledge of the equestrian arts. Similarities do exist between the artistic style and lifestyles of the ice maiden, and the Scythian peoples. According to numerous sources, the Scythians originally came from the Altai mountain region of Eurasia.

According to Herodotus the Scythians incorporated the Amazons into their tribe. According to Greek myth the Amazons existed as a completely autonomous tribe. The obvious questions thus follow: were the Amazons actually Scythian women who fought alongside the men, were they a branch off the original Scythian tribe who chose to live by the tenets ascribed to them by classical Greek myth, or did they just exist as an extended myth influenced by the high status the Scythians attributed to women? These questions cannot be entirely ascertained from present archaeological evidence. Certainly the Scythians held the status of women to a high degree, and burials have been found where women show actual signs of being in battle or of leading a tough life, but were these women the actual Amazons of Greek mythology?

 The evidence at present about the Amazons suggests several things. First, the Amazons were a mythological phenomena. The myths examined within these pages have shown the functional light at which the myths of the Amazons can be taken. As a purely mythological phenomena, the archetype of a strong warrior or Amazon, presents a typical reverse role or alien other myth. Such alien other or reverse role myths, are found through out many cultures and serve to reinforce a societies social norms. Second, there is archaeological evidence to suggest that the Amazons did exist in a limited context physically within the past. This archaeological evidence suggests a relation to the nomadic Scythian tribe of Eurasia, where women obviously had high status and did fight in battle (though more research into this area obviously needs to be done). Third, more research into the topic of the Amazons needs to be done. Though archaeological evidence continues to be unearthed there are many questions left unanswered about the Amazons. It is unknown whether the Amazons were an autonomous tribe who were incorporated into the Scythians, or whether the Amazons were already an aspect of the Scythians to begin with. The sources on many points of Amazon research are conflicting and questionable. Did the Amazons of Ancient Greece exist? Most likely so. The possibility of their existence whether in myth or reality leaves many doors open to research. In addition for many the popular archetype of a strong female warrior woman holds very strongly in the minds of many women, and has inspired many playwrights and poets through out history. For this reason the myths of the Amazons are important, and shall continue to be important.
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