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2,500-year-old Siberian princess ‘died from breast cancer’ reveals MRI scan

Ian Harvey
Photo credit: Alexander Tyryshkin Anokhin Museum
Photo credit: Alexander Tyryshkin Anokhin Museum

In 1993, the oldest known victim of breast cancer was discovered in a kurgan of the Pazyryk culture in Republic of Altai, a Russian region bordering Mongolia, China, and Kazakhstan.

Found preserved in the permafrost in the mountains and dating from the 5th century BC, she is known as the Siberian Ice Maiden and as the Princess of Ukok.

Her second title, the Princess of Ukok, is derived from the location of her burial: in an icy tomb on the Ukok Plateau, located 8,200 feet above sea level.

Archaeologists found six horses, clothing, headdresses, a makeup bag, a meal of sheep and horse meat, and a stash of cannabis buried with the woman. The six horses buried with her were saddled and bridled; they were likely to meant to serve as her spiritual escorts into the spirit realm.

Archaeologists also found felt, wood, bronze, and gold remnants that they believe were once personal ornaments.

Researchers believe that the cause of death was not the breast cancer she suffered from, but an injury from falling a great height. The woman was not in good health— cancer had left her thin and weak. She was just 25 years old.

The style of the Princess’s burial was similar, but not the same, as the burials that royalty received during that time. This indicates that she was highly respected by her people.

Furthermore, there is evidence that her people, instead of hastening her death or abandoning her, took care of the woman during her sickness.

Why would her people make an exception for one woman? One of the theories is that the pouch full of cannabis was used by the Siberian Ice Maiden as a way to gain an altered state of mind.

It could be that she served as a shaman for the Pazyryk people. Of course, the cannabis would have also helped ease the pain caused by her cancer.

Photo credit: Alexander Tyryshkin Anokhin Museum

Photo credit: Alexander Tyryshkin Anokhin Museum

The cancer was found during routine scans of her remains that were conducted by Russian scientists Andrey Letyagin and Andrey Savelov. They found that she had a primary tumor in her right breast and her right axial lymph nodes.

With or without cancer, the princess herself was a stunning woman—she had elaborate tattoos all over her body. They look incredibly modern and were obviously done by someone with great technical skill and experience. In fact, they have won acclaim from around the world. At the time of her burial, she had a shaved head and wore a horse-hair wig.

These beautiful tattoos have also caused unrest. Initially, authorities said that the mummy would not be put on display, but that decision has since been reversed, much to the dismay of local ethnic groups.

They fear that if the Princess were to go on display at the Museum of Gorno-Altaisk and not returned to her proper resting place, her tattoos would unleash evil spirits.

“The dead cannot be disturbed, and especially they cannot be held on public display and carried around the world,” he told The Siberian Times.

“After she was dug out, we immediately saw earthquakes, floods, and hail which were not known previously.”

Kine referred to the princess as “The White Lady” and said she was a high priestess responsible for protecting “the umbilical cord of the Earth”.

As one of the local campaigners, Akai Khan, explained. “The dead cannot be disturbed, and especially they cannot be held on public display and carried around the world.”

He said, “After she was dug out, we immediately saw earthquakes, floods, and hail which were not known previously.”

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In a bid to calm protesters, authorities have developed a specially designed wood and glass sarcophagus for the Princess, who will be partially covered by a “fur coat-style blanket” to preserve her modesty.