Scythians: Warriors of Ancient Siberia – spellbinding treasures lost beneath the ice, until now

 by Lillith Vanian-George, Fraud & Investigation (F&I), Assurance, EY UK&I

Siberia is known for wide open spaces and harsh climates, not the sort of place where art and creativity flourish, but this is exactly what the Scythians achieved during their reign from around 900 BC to around 200 BC. Their culture and history has been lost beneath the ice, until now.

Deer-shaped gold plaque. Second half of the 7th century BC. © The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, 2017. Photo:
V Terebenin.
Gold hat

The British Museum is currently holding an exhibit on the Scythians, the first of its kind for 40 years, showcasing the raw passionate style of the Scythians. The Scythians were some of the first people to develop horse breeding and riding, but to them the animals were more than that, they were companions and doted upon with elaborate costumes turning their horses into fantastic creatures. I was lucky enough to attend the corproate partner reception and view all the magnificent pieces in person.

The Scythians were ancient nomadic tribes which lived and explored the area between China and the northern Black Sea. A creative, warrior tribe of people, their culture valued items which were light and small and easily carried across the incredible landscape of southern Siberia. They may have been responsible for the world’s oldest cheese and with no written language curators and historians have pieced together their history through excavations of burial mounds in Siberia.

The exhibit was one of the most fascinating opportunities I have ever been to at the British Museum. The craftsmanship and intricacy of their ornamental objects is astounding. A lot of their jewellery and adornments are made from gold, and feature animals, both real and mythological. A warrior tribe, a lot of their artwork and culture surrounds hunting and battling. The deep seated horse culture meant that they thrived in agile, fast placed battles with keen bowmen and light but deadly swords.

bm 2
Gold hat fitting in the form of a lion-griffin. 5th– 4th century BC. © 2017 Trustees of the British Museum.

The style is unlike anything I have seen, it resembles pieces from Ancient Rome & the Far East but with its own unique style. The rituals surrounding the care of their animals and their artistic depictions of horses reminds me of the Native American people, very much connected to the world around them and the inhabitants – both man and beast.

What really stands out is the amazing craftsmanship, the Scythians worked with gold, bronze and iron with various techniques such as casting, forging and inlaying. They utilised the rich natural resources in Siberia to create spellbinding pieces such as the Gold torc.

But the Scythians were not just warriors and skilled craftsmen. Like much of humanity, they drank to excess after a hard battle or a long ride. They drank out of intricate animal themed drinking horns, made from gold and used to enjoy the pain relieving effects of marijuana. They also enjoyed tattooing, displaying their culture (literally) on their sleeves but also showing a more pleasurable life which valued creativity as much as survivability.

I would recommend anyone to dive deeper into the Scythians history and take the chance to view their remarkable works. Whether you want to see a bit of bling, imagine being swordsman on horseback, or discover macabre death masks and mummified remains, there is a wealth of culture and history to be found at the exhibit, and it’s amazing to have a day in the life of a Scythian.

Scythians: Warriors of Ancient Siberia is on at the British Museum until 14 January. Access is free for EY people as part of EY’s corporate membership with the museum.