Scythians: warriors of ancient Siberia at The British Museum

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Scythians: warriors of ancient Siberia will run at the British Museum in London until January 2018. The exhibition explores the art, craft, habits and lifestyle of nomadic tribes who thrived in an area stretching from southern Russia to China and the northern Black Sea. The Scythians were exceptional artists, horsemen and warriors, and feared adversaries and neighbours of the ancient Greeks, Assyrians and Persians between 900 and 200 BC.

Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum, said: ‘We are delighted to be collaborating with the State Hermitage Museum on such a generous loan of Scythian objects and look forward to welcoming these important loans, and objects from other lenders, to London, to bring the extraordinary history of the Scythians to life.’

Many of the objects on display in this fantastic exhibition date back over 2,500 years. Over 200 outstanding objects 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 of these remarkable items come from burial mounds in the high Altai mountains of southern Siberia, where the frozen ground prevented them from deteriorating.

Highlights include multi-coloured textiles, fur-lined garments and accessories, unique horse headgear and tattooed human remains. Tattooing was common among the Scythians and incredible examples were preserved in the frozen tombs. Stunning pieces of gold jewellery, gold applique to adorn clothes, and a highly decorated leather bag even containing remarkably well-preserved lumps of cheese that are over 2,000 years old are included in the show.

The fifth century BC Greek historian Herodotus described how Scythians ‘howled with pleasure’ when they inhaled the smoke and how it was employed in cleansing rituals and for pain relief. A reconstruction in the exhibition shows an ancient brazier together with the hemp seeds and the felt hood which was put over the top like a miniature tent.