A mass grave, thought to have been left behind by an ancient skull cult, has been discovered in Russia.
The macabre 5,000-year-old burial site in Siberia was the work of the Odinov culture, archaeologists believe.
One plot at the Ust-Tartas-2 site in Novosibirsk region contained three adults and two teenagers, said Professor Vyacheslav Molodin.
Their heads are believed to have been severed after death – then kept for worship.
“Odinov people definitely had a head or skull cult,” said Professor Molodin.
“It is a characteristic feature of this culture that they had graves with cut-off heads.
“They were perhaps put into a sanctuary, or buried separately in a different way."
In another grave on the same site, a remarkable sculpture was found perched on the shoulder of an ancient Odinov woman who was placed in the grave with her head on the stomach of a man – who the researchers suspect was her husband or lover.
The skeletons of the ancient lovers have remained cocooned together under a birch bark blanket for five millennia – but in this case their heads were not severed.
The man lay on his back, she on her front, facing him in a timeless embrace.
Perched on the female’s shoulder was a palm-sized clay figurine with a tattooed face.
The tiny figure seems to be wearing a mask made of bone taken from the spine of a horse and decorated with image of an animal’s muzzle, possibly a bear, say scientists.
Dr Molodin said the discovery was unique.
“The woman must have been an unusual person to have such a figurine ‘escorting’ her to the afterlife,” he said.
He called the Bronze Age figurine discovery the “most astonishing find” of the summer archaeological season.
While the Odinov cattle-breeding people were not Caucasion, the face of the figurine “has obviously Caucasian features” with “big eyes and a snub nose”, he said.
This was a tiered grave with two more people buried beneath the loving couple.
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