The warriors of the steppes: osteological evidence of warfare and violence from Pazyryk tumuli in the Mongolian Altai

Xavier Jordana, Ignasi Galtés, Tsagaan Turbat, D. Batsukh, Carlos García, Albert Isidro, Pierre Henri Giscard, Assumpció Malgosa

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Skeletal remains of Pazyryk warriors unearthed in a recent archaeological excavation in the Mongolian Altai offer a unique opportunity for verifying ancient histories of warfare and violence given by Herodotus in the fifth century BC. The Pazyryks were Iron Age nomadic groups associated with the eastern Scythians and known from burial site discoveries on the high steppes of the Altai (Central Asia). The aim of this paper is to analyze the evidence for bone trauma provided by the skeletal remains of these Pazyryk warriors with a particular focus on violence-related injuries. The sample consists of 10 individuals, comprising seven adult males, one adult female and two children. Seven individuals exhibited a total of 14 traumatic injuries. Six of these injuries (43%) showed evidence of bone remodelling and eight injuries (57%) were morphologically compatible with a perimortem origin. Twelve injuries (86%) were related to interpersonal violence, most likely caused by weapons similar to those found in Pazyryk tombs (battle-axes, daggers and arrowheads). Five individuals, including the female and one child, exhibited evidence of violent death. Furthermore, one individual also exhibited evidence of scalping. Despite the small number of Pazyryk skeletons analyzed, the pattern of traumatic injuries observed appears to be in agreement with that documented in conflicts related to raids or surprise attacks, and not a result of routinized or ritualized violence. These findings contribute new data to osteological evidence from Scythian burial sites. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1319-1327
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009


  • Bioarchaeology
  • Forensic anthropology
  • Perimortem
  • Scalping
  • Scythians
  • Sharp force
  • Trauma


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