The ancient female warriors of Siberia's Xiongnu people were fierce not only on the battlefield but in the field of fashion as well.
A coal belt ornament with jade, carnelian, coral, and turquoise [Photo by Marina Kilunovskaya]
The Xiongnu were a confederation of different nomadic tribes that swept across Central Asia at the end of the third century BC. They made a series of attacks on northern China, and was embroiled in a war with China's Han dynasty. Despite this enmity, however, the Xiongnu reportedly adopted Chinese agricultural and domestic techniques.
The Xiongnu were notably fearsome warriors, and a surprising percentage of these warriors were women. Women were particularly assigned to be archers, and received the same treatment as men.
Photo by Marina Kilunovskaya
Eventually, the Southern Xiongnu fell to the Han, while the Northern Xiongnu continued to resist. In 89 AD, however, the Han won a total victory against the Xiongnu.
Now, archaeologists have found the 2,200-year-old remains of Xiongnu warriors in Siberia, which offer deeply interesting insight into the material culture—and fashion—of this famously warlike nation.
A coal buckle with animal engravings [Photo by Marina Kilunovskaya]
Archaeologists found 80 graves in an ancient necropolis in Siberia, with most of the remains belonging to the female warriors of the Xiongnu. Most of the burials were in rectangular stone coffins, though some were boat-shaped or wooden. It's likely that the people in these graves were wealthy people who came from Mongolia or the TransBaikal region of Siberia.
A bronze ornament with animal figures [Photo by Marina Kilunovskaya]
The women's graves revealed decorative coal ornaments worn on belts, encrusted with jade, carnelian, coral, and turquoise. One belt ornament had engravings of two goats pierced by arrows on one side, and an engraving of a horse on the other. Some skeletons, meanwhile, had flame-shaped bronze adornments on their shoulders.
Many of the remains were those of women, though there were some men in the mix. The men were also buried with adornments made of iron, though the archaeologists were most impressed by the coal jewelry, which belonged to the women. “The most interesting and richest finds are in the women's graves,” said Dr Marina Kilunovskaya, who led the expedition.
Bronze flames that adorned the soldiers of the warriors in the graves [Photo by Marina Kilunovskaya]
Unfortunately, the burial ground had had some flooding. The bones in the graves had turned green because of the bronze ornaments buried with the skeletons. Unfortunately, the water damaged the artifacts, though the archaeologists are working hard to restore what they can.
Bronze pieces shaped like cowrie shells [Photo by Marina Kilunovskaya]
The coal ornaments weren't the only remarkable things found in the graves. There were also bronze pieces shaped like cowrie shells, bronze buckles with animal engravings, bronze hexagonal plaques, and even bronze mirrors. Other artifacts include shoe buckles, iron rings, knives, and even lamps that the Xiongnu may have believed would guide them in the next life.
Vessels thought to be lamps placed on top of the graves [Photo by Marina Kilunovskaya]
So did these fierce women warriors go to battle decked out in all this finery? While that would have been a sight to behold, they likely didn't. It's possible that they wore the coal ornaments during special occasions, namely weddings.
Both the female warriors and the male ones in the graves seemed to have been fashion forward in their time—when they weren't trying to conquer China, that is.
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