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British Museum exhibition to look back at Scythian tattoos

A gold plaque depicting a Scythian rider with a spear in his right hand. From the second half of the fourth century BC; Kul’ Oba. © The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, 2017. Photo: V Terebenin.

A gold plaque depicting a Scythian rider. From the second half of the fourth century BC; Kul’ Oba. © The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, 2017. Photo: V Terebenin

A new exhibition at the British Museum, Scythians: warriors of ancient Siberia, will feature real tattooed human skin that dates back over 2,500 years.

Scythians were exceptional warriors and horsemen who formed powerful tribes. They thrived in a vast landscape that stretched from southern Russia to China and the northern Black Sea.

The exhibition will feature many objects from 900 -200 BC and it will be the first major exhibit to explore the Scythians in the UK in 40 years.

A map of Eurasia showing the extent of the Achaemenid empire (in red) and the Eurasian steppe and mixed woodland largely occupied by the Scythians (in Green). Map produced by Paul Goodhead.

A map of Eurasia showing the extent of the Achaemenid empire (in red) and the Eurasian steppe and mixed woodland largely occupied by the Scythians (in Green). Map produced by Paul Goodhead

Tattoo line drawings. Photo: British Museum Blog.

Tattoo line drawings. Photo: British Museum Blog.

Tattooing was undoubtedly common amongst this ancient civilisation. All of the frozen Scythian bodies that have been examined by experts so far, often from different sites, have been heavily tattooed. The designs cover the arms, legs and upper torsos and the imagery includes mythical animals in combat, rows of birds and simple dot-work.

Painted clay death masks are also on display as part of the exhibition – these were decorated to represent the tattooed faces of the deceased.

Part of human skin with a tattoo. From the left side of the breast and back of a man; Pazyryk 2, Late 4th - early 3rd century BC. © The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, 2017. Photo: V Terebenin.

Part of human skin with a tattoo. From the left side of the breast and back of a man; Pazyryk 2, late 4th – early 3rd century BC. © The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, 2017. Photo: V Terebenin

Visit London’s British Museum between 14 September 2017 and 14 January 2018 to discover, not just one of the most ancient forms of tattooing, but the influence of one of the earliest civilisations in the world.

Tickets are £16.50, children under 16 go free, and concessions and group rates available.

Find out more about the exhibition at britishmuseum.org


Call-out for artists:

I’m looking for tattooists with a knowledge of, or interest in, Scythian tattoos to collaborate with me and the British Museum on a project for this exhibition. Interested? Email: beccy@inkluded.co.uk

Southern Siberia landscapes with burial mounds © V. Terebenin.

Southern Siberia landscapes with burial mounds © V. Terebenin

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