The bronze anthropomorphic mask was discovered during the excavation of tumulus No. 39 on Timiryazevskiy-I burial site. There are two oblique incisions on each cheek of the mask, which are interpreted as a certain type of face painting or tattooing technique. The prominent, disproportionately long neck is showing a picture of a lifeline. The head is probably displaying a military helmet.
The mask was found in the north-eastern sector of the earthen burial mound at a shallow depth, closer to the edge of the tumulus. It was documented together with an iron bladelet under an intact small ceramic vessel. The vessel had not been used in everyday life; it had been manufactured specifically for the funeral rite. The grave itself was located much deeper, at the level of 0.6 m in the south-western part of the mound, aside from the abovementioned discoveries. The grave contained a skull of a 25–30-year-old female, a ceramic vessel, a bronze plaque, and two unidentifiable iron objects.
Why was the mask manufactured and how was it used in medieval rites? Examples of using such bronze masks in Siberian cults indicate that the mask was a part of a small doll. Other parts were probably made of leather, wood and fabric, which haven’t survived. The bronze mask was attached to the doll by means of the long neck and the notches on the opposite edges. Researchers determined that the doll had been intentionally buried at a shallow depth in the mound when the woman’s grave had already been there. It should be noted that the doll was buried with “personal belongings”: an iron bladelet and a small clay vessel.
Siberian ritual practices have multiple examples of manufacturing a small doll with a metal mask as a face when someone died. Such dolls impersonated deceased relatives or household guardian spirits. Indigenous people would treat the doll as a living human being, feeding it, getting it into bed, and dressing it in special clothes. Some years later, when the dead person’s soul passed into a newborn of the same family, the doll could be buried in a cemetery. Quite likely, Tomsk archaeologists discovered the traces of a similar rite performed in Timiryazevo pine forest about 1,500 years ago.
The explored mask is part of the “Timiryazevo group” of anthropomorphic diffused in the basin of the river Tom in the 5th–8th centuries AD.
This object was scanned by The Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Research in Archaeology "Artefact" of the National Research Tomsk State University