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1983. Первые итоги работ на КАТЭКе // Древние культуры евразийских степей: 47-56. Ленинград: Наука.
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SIBERIAN BURIAL MASKS
(tentative results and prospects of studies) ^
More than 100 years ago, clay and plaster funerary masks were first found in ancient burials excavated in the Yenisey and Chulym basins, Southern Siberia. Today these masks belong to the least studied aspects of ancient art and religion. They are sculptured representations of the human face and differ in terms of chronology, technology, and semantics. While some covered the dead person’s head or that of a dummy, others were sculptured on skulls of humans and animals; most often they were attached to specially sewn leather dummies stuffed with grass. Many were inserted in pedestals and look like busts. The traditional term «mask», then, is conventional. Masks were used during two periods: Tagar-Tashtyk (AD 0-400) and Tashtyk (400 — early 600s). The Tagar-Tashtyk oneswere found either in Tes (Late Tagar) mounds or in ground burials representing Tashtyk and other cultures. Tashtyk burials fall in two types, known as small vaults and large vaults (Вадецкая 1997: 20-28). The present
article is the first attempt at classifying masks from various cultural associations based on archival data and drawings of specimens owned by a number of museums and laboratories.
Masks from Late Tagar (Tes) mounds.
The average size of burial chambers is 30-50 sq m in the steppe areas of the Yenisey Basin and 16-30 sq m in the forest-steppe areas. The chambers normally contain the remains of 50-100 persons who died at a different time but were buried simultaneously and then burnt together with the chambers. The bodies were mummified to prevent them from decomposition prior to the burial. The first known evidence of mummification was provided by artificial postmortem openings in skulls, suggesting that the heads of the deceased had been trephined in order to extract the brain. More recently, pieces of clay, sometimes covered with plaster, were found on some crania with or without trephination (Tes: I.R. Aspelin 1888-89; Uybat: D.A. Klements 1889-90; Kyzyl-Kul: A.V. Adrianov 1895, 1897). The Tes burial also contained a human mandible covered with clay and fragments of at least five plaster masks (now at Helsinki Museum); in the Uybat burial there were fragments of clay models of human necks with beads stuck in them, and fragments of one or two plaster masks (State Historical Museum, Moscow, henceforth GIM). The Kyzyl-Kul mound contained many skeletons and skulls with masks. However, only few of them were preserved by the excavators, specifically two skulls covered with clay and plaster, the face of another specimen with clay on it, and about ten skulls in which only the nasal cavities and orbits or the orbits alone were stuffed with clay (Горощенко 1900: 38; now at the Martyanov Museum, Minusinsk, hereafter MM). Seven fragments of a clay mask from this mound were transferred to GIM.
In the 1960s — 1980s, over 20 Tes mounds were excavated. In many of them, remains of masks were found, and some provided evidence concerning mummification techniques. In Barsuchikha I, left bank of the Yenisey (Pshenitsyna, 1970-71), remains of clay were found on 11 out of 39 crania. Five skeletons were discovered in anatomical order, the skulls had been stuffed with organic substance, and some light hair was preserved on the occiput of one of the individuals. Four masks were made of clay, covered with a thin layer of plaster with traces of red and black pigment on it (Пшеницына 1975: 45-46). Also, there were two mandibles covered with clay, and the lower part of a clay mask, ca. 4,5 cm thick. It has sculptured lips, a chin, part of the neck and the left cheek; the mouth is shown by a slit cut through the clay down to the teeth (State Hermitage, hereafter GE, coll. 2622 №36; fig. 1: 1).
Most of the skeletons with clay masks found at Tepsey XVI, right bank of the Yenisey, Pshenitsyna 1976-77), lay in anatomical order. The crania had been stuffed with organic substance. Most masks had necks and «breasts» (Пшеницына 1992: tab. 92: 2). One mask, extracted together with the skull, has been drawn. One half of the frontal part of the skull and the lower part of the occiput are covered with clay, as are the neck and part of the breast. Orbits are stuffed with clay on which there are slits denoting eyes (fig. 1: 2).
More than 80 individuals whose remains were found in a mound excavated at Novye Mochagi, left bank of the Yenisey (N.Yu. Kuzmin, 1982-83), had masks. The crania had been trephined and stuffed with grass. Grass was also found in the abdominal region; arms and legs, too, had been wrapped in grass. Most skulls had been covered with clay and a thin layer of plaster. Orbits had been stuffed with clay and sometimes a blueish glass bead imitating the eye had been inserted. More than ten skulls with masks were extracted from the chamber, and the plaster layer with paint was taken from more than 50 masks. The collection has not yet been studied, but the preliminary analysis suggests that types of masks were diverse. Some skulls are only covered with clay, except for the parietal region which is trephined. The mouth is half open, revealing the teeth, and the anterior part of the neck is covered with clay (fig. 1: 3). Most skulls have sculptured details, the clay layer is 1-1,5 cm thick, and the plaster layer 2-4 mm thick. The painting is red (fig. 1: 4). The plaster was applied not all at once, as evidenced by several specimens which had been first modelled with clay, then painted, and finally covered with plaster against which new painting had been applied (fig. 1: 5). Plaster parts of clay masks have not yet been drawn. Their thickness is up to 4 mm, and the designs are variable. On the inside, imprints of clay orbits and teeth are seen. Similar masks were found in a mound at Sabinka, left bank of the Yenisey (P.G. Pavlov, 1984). Some of them have recently been brought to IIMK and will be studied.
The most detailed evidence concerning mummification techniques was provided by finds from the mound at Beresh on a small tributary of the Uryup which flows into the Chulym (Вадецкая 1981). Sixty remains of mummies with clay masks were discovered there. Skulls and chests of the deceased had been stuffed with grass, and the extremities had been wrapped in grass. The necks had been covered with clay and wrapped with leather stripes. Finally the entire body including legs, arms, and trunk had been sewn round with leather. It has become clear why clay was stuffed under the lower jaw. The clue was provided by twigs which had been placed on both sides of the spine. Their upper ends, situated 5-6 cm above the upper cervical vertebrae, had been stuck into the clay. The head of the mummy had been crudely modelled in clay and then sewn round with leather in which slits for the eyes had been cut. The leather face had been covered with a thin layer of plaster and painted red. A leather nose had been attached separately. A coiffure had been made on the mummy’s head (Вадецкая 1996 : 106-108) (fig. 2: 3).
In the Tas-Khyl maound, left bank of the Yenisey (N.Yu. Kuzmin, 1989), clay masks covered with a thin layer of plaster, as well as those made of plaster were found. The latter are 7-8 mm thick, their outer surface had been smoothed with a sharp tool. The masks are white, and on some of them remains of paint have been preserved. Deep slits denote the eyes. On the inside, opposite the eyes, there are plaster lumps, and opposite the mouth, drops of plaster and imprints of leather or cloth. Apparently the eyes were covered with plaster and the mouth with cloth (fig. 2: 1-2).
Preserving the corpse until the burial was not the only purpose of the masks. Sometimes they imitated the head of the deceased, which had not been preserved. An example is provided by a mask found in one of the mounds at Shestakovo, right bank of the Kiya, the tributary of the Chulym (A.I. Martynov, 1968). The clay head was evidedently modelled on the skull of some animal since its size, as estimated by radiography, is much smaller than that of a human cranium. The head has a narrow neck on whose inside there are well preserved imprints of twigs and cords with which the head was attached to the trunk of the dummy. There are remains of painted design on the face, and on the crown there are small openings to which the coiffure was attached, and imprints of plaits (Мартынов et al. 1971: 165-172; fig. 2: 4).
Masks from Tashtyk ground burials.
These cemeteries consist of small deep graves on whose bottom low wooden frames densely covered with logs and birchbark were placed. Most graves contain remains (bodies, bones, and ashes) of 2-4 persons, buried at the same time. Ashes were placed in pouches which were inserted into the trunks or heads of the dummies. The latter were sewn of leather, natural-size, and stuffed with grass.
The masks were rare in the 1st and early 2nd centuries AD but are present on nearly all adult skeletons dating to late 2nd and 3rd centuries. They were made of a thin layer of plaster covering three quarters of the skull and cannot be removed. The mask was modelled on the face which was covered with silk (in some instances only the eyes and the mouth were covered). The masks are mostly crushed, and it was possible to restore only few of them. Three specimens were excavated from a cemetery in Oglakhty Mountains, north of Abakan, left bank of the Yenisey (A.V. Adrianov, 1903, L.R. Kyzlasov, 1969). One is owned by GIM (fig. 3: 1), and two, together with the skulls, by GE (fig. 3: 2-3). Masks differ in terms of colour: those of a male and a juvenile are painted red with black stripes, and that of a female is white with a red design. A white mask from Abakan (A.N. Lipsky) is owned by the Abakan Museum (fig. 3: 4). It was possible to restore a mask partly detached from a female skull found in a grave at Tersky on the bank of Saragashensky creek (E.B. Vadetskaya 1989). Judging by the imprints on the inside, the mask was modelled on a half-decomposed face. The mouth and eyes were covered with patches of cloth on which a piece of leather covering the entire face was placed (fig. 3: 5). Although the plaster of which the masks are made contains no artificial tempering, natural admixtures are abundant (Кулькова 1975: 50-52).
Straw dummies sewn round with leather have been preserved only at Oglakhty. Their faces were covered either with silk (fig. 3: 6) or with plaster masks. A leather head of a dummy with leather eyebrows and nose sewn on it is owned by GIM. Its face is covered with thin red silk on which black stripes are drawn. Eyes are embroided with polychromous silk threads. The back of the head is sewn round with thick polychromous silk (Вадецкая 1986a: 36-37). What usually remains of the masks are tiny fragments, mostly red. Only one intact mask was removed directly from the head of the dummy. According to Adrianov, it was cruder than those on the corpses. Another mask, now at the Abakan Museum, was also detached from the dummy (burial near the Abakan oil depot, V.P. Levasheva, 1938). It is red, with crude asymmetrical features, eyes and mouth being shown by slits. On the inside there are imprints of leather and a seam from the nose sewn onto the face (fig. 3: 7).
Masks from ground burials of other cultures.
These burial grounds have no universally accepted name. With the exception of certain late ones, they are very different from those of the Tashtyk Culture and have nothing in common with Tes mounds. Masks are quite rare and apparently mark those persons who had assimilated the Tashtyk Culture, as evidenced by Tashtyk vessels which are always present in burials with masks. A Tashtyk-type mask, made of plaster and painted red, was found on one of the individuals buried near Mokhov Ulus, left bank of the Yenisey (V.P. Levasheva, 1938). Ten persons in masks were buried at Kamenka, righ bank of the Yenisey (Ya.A. Sher, 1965-67). In four cases only tiny fragments of plaster masks were preserved, other skulls were covered with clay and a thin layer of plaster. Two skulls with masks, resembling one of the types of masks excavated from a mound at Novye Mochagi were extracted. One mask has been restored. It is covered with two layers of plaster above clay. A red zigzag with trefoils and dots is painted across the face. The root of the nose and the chin are also painted (GE coll. 2621 №9; fig. 1: 6). The paste had not been artificially tempered (Кулькова 1975: 50-52).
Masks from Tashtyk vaults.
While large chambers, 36-60 sq m in surface area, are very similar to those in the late Tagar (Tes) mounds, small ones, 9-16 sq m in size, resemble the largest Tashtyk graves. Most burials have mixed Tagar-Tashtyk features and contain remains of dozens (sometimes more than 100) individuals, mostly represented by ashes placed in dummies or busts. After the funeral the chamber with all its contents was set on fire. The number of masks in vaults is considerably larger than in Tes mounds or Tashtyk graves. All are crushed and very few attempts at restoring them have been made.
The first masks were found by A.V. Adrianov in a vault on Tagarsky Ostrov, an island near Minusinsk. They were diverse in terms of appearance and location: while some were on skulls, other lay or stood near the ashes. Later, the largest number of masks was collected in vaults at Saragash, the left bank of the Yenisey (S.A. Teploukhov, 1923), Ust-Tes and Krivinskoye, the right bank (S.V. Kiselev, 1928), Uybat Chaatas (S.V. Kiselev, 1936, 1938), Syr Chaatas (the Malye Syry, L.R. Kyzlasov, 1950), Tepsey Mountain, the right bank of the Yenisey (M.P. Gryaznov, 1967-69), Arban Chaatas, the Teya (D.G. Savinov, 1988), Tasheba Chaatas near the Abakan heating plant (Pauls, 1990), and Bely Yar, right bank of the Abakan (Poselyanin, 1991).
The first attempts at reconstructing masks from vaults suggest that the most common ones were bust whose major feature are pedestals in which plaster heads were inserted (or to which these heads were attached). Pedestals are round, oval, rectangular or polygonal (fig. 4: 1-4, 6), and
are made of plaster, clay, wood or ceramics (fig. 4: 1). The second feature of the busts are necks which are either wide or long or widen toward the bottom (fig. 4: 5; fig. 5: 3, 5). The heads of the busts are larger than those of humans or dummies, and some of them are subrectangular and have a flat base (fig. 5: 1, 2, 4).
The dummies were normally buried in small chambers which were completely burnt out. Part of a mask from a dummy in vault 3 at Tepsey has been restored. It is white, loose, painted blue in the region of chin and neck, and red on ear and cheek. The neck is narrow, and has imprints of soft leather folds on the inside. Opposite to the chin there are imprints of coarse cloth which was either sewn round the face or placed on it (fig. 6: 1; GE coll. 2616 №249). Similar imprints of silk and leather are present on several other fragments of masks detached from dummies found at Tepsey vault 3 and Tagarsky Ostrov. Imprints on the inside of a mask from vault 4 at Tersky (E.B. Vadetskaya, 1989) make it possible to reconstruct the face of the dummy. It had a straight stick instead of nose and a stripe of leather denoting the mouth and covered with a piece of silk. The mask is thin and has no neck (fig. 6: 3). Based on the same features, several more masks may be attributed to dummies, including those from a vault at Ust-Tes (fig. 6: 5).
The custom of modelling a mask on the face of the corpse before cremation was still practiced at that time. Skeletons with masks are rare and occur mostly on the right bank of the Yenisey. The custom was still alive, however, as evidenced by masks with certain individual features such an aquiline nose, sharply curved lips, etc. (fig. 6: 4). To represent such faces in leather, masks modelled on real faces were required. The present author is aware of only one mask removed from the face of a juvenile (Tagarsky Ostrov, A.V. Adrianov, 1883). It is painted red, and there are lumps of clay on the inside opposite the eyes and lips, and imprints of several teeth (fig. 6: 2, MM coll. 9744).
Masks were modelled either on the heads of the dummies or on very similar blocks sewn of small pieces of skins, inside out, and stuffed with grass. Some dummies are quite worn and have darns and patches. The insides of the masks often bear imprints not only of leather and seams but of false noses and lips (fig. 5: 1, 3, 5). Masks were made of plaster or, less often, clay with natural admixtures. They always cover three quarters of the head, whereas the crown and the back of the head were left open and covered with coiffure and headdress. During the excavations of a burial vault at Bely Yar in 1991 (A.I. Poselyanin), it was finally proven that ashes were placed in busts. In one instance the grass in which the pouch with the ashes had been wrapped was preserved. Initially all the masks were painted all over, apparently either white or red. Over the red paint, black stripes were drawn. White specimens are either decorated with red designs all over or their facial parts (forehead, temples, nose, cheeks, and lips) are covered with red designs while the edges (rims, lower parts of cheeks, regions behind the ears, and neck) are painted dark blue (fig. 4: 2, 4, 5; fig. 5: 5; fig. 6: 1).
As new masks are restored and studied, more and more information concerning these unique artistic and ritual objects is being gained.