THE DAILY MAIL
(WILL STEWART): Treasure trove of warrior jewellery unearthed in Russia: Ancient grave belongs to woman who worshipped fire 2,000 years ago
- The woman was a Sarmatian from the first century AD in southern Russia
- More than 100 arrowheads and a horse harness confirm she was a warrior
- A gem with an ancient inscription in Aramaic was found buried with her
- A hiding place in the grave contained a collection of knives and a sword
A stunning trove of ancient jewellery has been found in the grave of a noble warrior woman dating back to the first century AD.
The female fighter was a Sarmatian - a group of people who worshipped fire and whose prominent role in warfare was seen as an inspiration for the Amazons of Greek mythology.
And the discovery of the intact burial mound in Russia has been described as 'priceless' by archaeologists.
The Sarmatians were nomadic people who migrating from central Asia to the Ural mountains between the 6th and 4th century BC.
Next to her skull, gold earrings with pendant chains were found, while a bronze mirror was close to her shoulder.
'The collar of her dress was decorated with stamped buckles of gold leaf in the form of a stylised ram's head,' he said.
'Her sleeves were embroidered with colourful beads combined with gold triangular and hemispherical plaques.
'On each hand - a gold bracelet. On her breasts were various beads, among which was a gem with a single-line Phoenician or early Aramaic inscription. At her pelvis lay a gold vial.'
Below is the photo of the seal. The caption reads "The female fighter was a Sarmatian, a people who worshipped fire and whose prominent role in warfare was seen as an inspiration for the Amazons of Greek mythology. A gem with a single-line Phoenician or early Aramaic inscription was found buried with her (pictured), placed on her chest."
This is a stone seal written in the Paleo-Hebrew script. As far as I know, this type of seal was only made between the eighth and fifth centuries BCE. (But my knowledge of the subject is not particularly up to date.) It is in one of the Northwest Semitic languages, but I don't know enough about the paleography of this period to identify whether it is Hebrew, Phoenician, Aramaic, Ammonite, Edomite, or Moabite. Someone who knows the scripts better than I do could probably discern the national origin of this one and its date to within a century or so.
The letters are inscribed backwards on the seal so that the mirror-image imprint it leaves will read in the right direction. This is normal for such objects. The first letter of the inscription was inscribed last and it looks squashed, probably because the stonemason miscalculated and didn't leave enough room for it. The seal reads לאלישב (l’lyšb), "belonging to Elyashiv." Elyashiv (Eliashib) is attested as a man's name in the Hebrew Bible in Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, and on at least a couple of 7th-century BCE Hebrew seals. I can't find it in any of the other languages, but I haven't looked comprehensively and some of them may well have used it too.
The big question is, what was this turn-of-the-era Sarmatian woman in Russia doing with a Northwest Semitic seal from four to eight centuries before her time? The report is that it was scientifically excavated, so forgery or salting seem exceedingly unlikely. I guess it could have been a family heirloom. It certainly raises other questions about trade between Eastern Europe and the Middle East from the late Iron Age to the Hellenistic period. Assuming this report is accurate in its particulars, this is an extraordinary discovery and I think we shall be hearing more about it.
UPDATE (19 August): More here.
UPDATE (22 August): Still more here and here.