This autumn the British Museum organises an intriguing new exhibition in collaboration with the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. The exhibition is dedicated to an ancient culture that was buried in the Siberian permafrost for thousands of years and bears the title Scythians: Warriors of Ancient Siberia. It will trace and reveal the history of these powerful nomadic tribes who thrived in a vast landscape stretching from southern Russia to China and the northern Black Sea.
This will be the first major exhibition to explore the Scythians in the UK in 40 years. Many of the objects on display date back over 2,500 years. They are exceptionally well preserved as they come from burial mounds in the high Altai mountains of southern Siberia, where the frozen ground prevented them from deteriorating. This exhibition will tell the story of Scythian civilisation through archaeological discoveries and perfectly preserved objects frozen in time. Scientists and archaeologists are continuing to discover more about these warriors and bring their stories back to life.
Over 200 outstanding objects will reveal all aspects of Scythian life, including a major loan in collaboration with the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, and other generous loans from the National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Ashmolean Museum and the Royal Collection. Some are star pieces which are displayed in the permanent galleries and Treasury of the State Hermitage Museum and others have never been loaned to the UK before.
The Scythians were exceptional horsemen and warriors, and feared adversaries and neighbours of the ancient Greeks, Assyrians and Persians between 900 and 200 BC. Their lifestyle and ferocity has echoed through the ages. Other groups from the Huns to the Mongols have followed in the Scythians’ footsteps – and they have even influenced the portrayal of the Dothraki in Game of Thrones. The Scythians’ encounters with the Greeks, Assyrians and Persians were written into history but for centuries all trace of their culture was lost – buried beneath the ice.
Discoveries of ancient tombs have unearthed a wealth of Scythian treasures. Amazingly preserved in the permafrost, clothes and fabrics, food and weapons, spectacular gold jewellery – even mummified warriors and horses – are revealing the truth about these people’s lives. These incredible finds tell the story of a rich civilisation, which eventually stretched from its homeland in Siberia as far as the Black Sea and even the edge of China.
There are stunning pieces of gold jewellery, gold applique to adorn clothes, wooden drinking bowls, and a highly decorated leather bag even containing remarkably well-preserved lumps of cheese that are over 2,000 years old. There was a two-way influence between the culture of the Scythians and their settled ‘civilised’ neighbours. Many objects in this exhibition show evidence of cultural interaction, from Scythian wine-drinking learnt from the ancient Greeks and Persians, through ancient Greek craftsmen who depicted archers in Scythian dress, and the gold objects in the Achaemenid Oxus Treasure in the British Museum’s collection that are influenced by Scythian art.
Haunting painted clay death masks decorated to resemble the tattooed faces of the deceased are shown alongside beautiful clothing and the reconstructed log-cabin tomb chamber in which they were discovered. The growing application of archaeological science is unlocking clues to the past, and new results from collaborative work by the British Museum and the State Hermitage Museum will be included in the exhibition. This exhibition will allow visitors to discover the life and legacy of the Scythians, revealing their history like never before.
Explore their lost world and discover the splendour, the sophistication and the sheer power of the mysterious Scythians.