Copyright 2006 - UNESCO

Space for Heritage

Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China 

Inventory and Preservation of Frozen Tombs in Altai Mountains

Treasure from the Frozen Tombs, Altaï
© University of Ghent
The Frozen Tombs of the remote Altai Mountains are an outstanding cultural discovery of the lost Scythian civilization that flourished in the first millennium BC.
About 700 Frozen Tombs have been identified scattered all over the Altai Mountains across Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China. The Russian part of the mountains (Golden Mountains of Altai) is inscribed on the World Heritage List and the Katunskiy Biosphere Reserve (also in Russia) is classified as a Biosphere Reserve.

Some of these tombs, or "kurgans", are situated in a permafrost zone that enables their contents to be completely frozen and perfectly conserved. These spectacularly preserved tombs include sacrificed horses, artifacts and utensils made of wood, sometimes extremely well preserved beautifully tattooed bodies and leather, cloth, silk, metal and gold.
Disappearing permafrost
© University of Ghent
Due to climate change, the permafrost that allows for the kurgans to be preserved is gradually disappearing, and therefore threatening the loss of the remaining tombs and the precious insights they provide into the ancient nomad Scythian culture.
In a joint project with the University of Ghent, space technologies are being used to assist with the mapping, inventory and conservation of the unique frozen tombs. The project aims to use satellite images to create a geo-referenced archaeological inventory that fuses traditional field work, satellite image interpretation and Global Positioning Systems. The result of the work to be performed will be a unique inventory of this cultural heritage.
Frozen Tombs, Altaï
© University of Ghent
Satellite images are also being used to understand eventual climate change consequences on the permafrost zone of the Altai Mountains by observing, during a reasonable period of time, the status of nearby glaciers. This information will assist the conservation authorities in establishing conservation priorities for each of the tombs.


from the Frozen Tombs, Altaï
© University of Ghent