research and restoration project

About the project

The project Burial Costume of a Sarmatian Priestess is a comprehensive study and restoration of rare objects in the decoration of a female burial costume - two strips of polychrome patterned embroidery. They were found in a side burial discovered in the "royal" burial mound 1 of the world-famous Filippovka 1 necropolis in the Orenburg region in the Southern Urals. The necropolis dates back to the 4th century B.C. It belonged to one of the large nomadic groups that were part of numerous nomadic kinship groups, whose descendants are known to the international community under the ethnonym "THE SARMATIANS".

The conservation and restoration work was performed by an art conservator Natalia Sinitsina in 2021-2023. In archaic society, women's costume was one of the most important elements of material culture and had social, sacred, aesthetic and practical functions. Clothes were a definite marker of cultural and social identity for the ancient people.


Elizaveta Lihacheva

The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts,

Aleksandr Ushakov

Orenburg Gubernatorial
Museum Museum of Local History
and Lore, Director

Asya Engovatova

Institute of Archaeology, Russian Academy of Sciences,
Deputy Director for research

Карта места open Map


The Sarmatians are the collective name for the ancient nomadic tribes of the Indo-Iranian language group that inhabited the steppe areas of the Volga region, the Southern Urals and Western Kazakhstan in the second half of the first millennium B.C. After the collapse of Scythia, in the 3rd-1st centuries BC Sarmatian tribes settled in the vast expanses of the Lower Don steppes and the Northern Black Sea area, vanishing from the historical chronicles by the 4th century AD. Leading a mobile, nomadic lifestyle, they did not have a written language and did not leave any settlements. Therefore information about their social structure, organisation of their nomadic communities, cultural and economic relations and religious beliefs is obtained from excavations of their burials.

A small southern part of the Orenburg region and the northwest territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan belong to the same geographical space of the northern part of the Caspian Depression. For many centuries, the Ural-Caspian region was a gateway for great migrations. Abundant pastures, a comfortable climate, natural resources and the relief of the Ural-Caspian region were extremely attractive, which contributed to the formation of habitat for nomadic tribes with their distinctive cultures here in the middle of the 1st millennium BC. Certain nomadic groups stood out among numerous tribal associations, which differed from their neighbours in the tradition of building huge and complex grave mounds, accompanying the burial process with certain rituals, and leaving rich burial goods, demonstrating affiliation of the deceased to the tribal aristocracy. A number of characteristic features in the funeral traditions of the burial mounds of Filippovka I, Taksai I and others clearly illustrate both social differentiation in the society of early nomads and cultural succession among the large tribal groups within a single geographical area.


This monument was first investigated in 1986 and in 1988 by the Ufa archaeological expedition led by A. H. Pshenichnyuk. Excavations of the central burial mound and the hidden compartments close to the central burial chamber revealed a large number of precious metal objects, including the famous gold deer. In 2013, the study of this burial mound was completed by the Ural Expedition of the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, led by L.T. Yablonsky, who saved the mound with his excavations. It was he who, while excavating the rest of the mound, was lucky enough to find the unique burial of a female priestess.

Under the unearthed eastern hollow of the mound, a woman's grave, untouched by robbers, was found containing an exceptionally rich and diverse funerary inventory, including over 1200 items, among them 850 items of precious metals, 650 items of artistic toreutics, Scythian and Siberian animal style, ornamental art and jewellery. The collection of artefacts from Mound 2 testifies to the exceptionally high social status of the buried woman. The social role of women among the Sarmatians was so high that the Greeks called them womankind. It was women who performed the role of family and tribal "priestesses", performing magical functions in rituals associated with pagan cults.

The spectacular and luxurious Achaemenid fashion was adopted by the nobility of the influential nomadic tribes that inhabited the vast steppe expanses of Eurasia and manifested itself in costume, unique jewellery and everyday objects. Clothing fragments found as a result of archaeological excavations demonstrate mutual influence and interpenetration of cultures of Iranian-speaking nomadic peoples of Eurasian steppes. Uniquely preserved female burials from the middle of the 1st millennium BC. in the Southern Urals and Kazakhstan tell us about the specific costume of nomads with high social status. Female costumes from the burials of the nomadic nobility of Filippovka 1 and mound 6 of the Taksai I necropolis featured imported goods, which are combined with local steppe traditions of costume decorations in the animal style.

The nomadic world of Eurasia had many similarities in development but retained ethnographic regional differences. Being very mobile, the nomadic world was open for the exchange of cultural traditions while at the same time forming common cultural canons. That is why we see many common details in Sarmatian archaeological cultures in the vast steppe territories from the Urals to the lower reaches of the Danube, among others. Among these are the tradition of beading around the edges of female clothes, wide use of detailed zoomorphic gold patches with thorough, an abundance of gold tube-like beads, and so on.

Active taphonomic processes in the burials entail various types of damage to the body of the deceased as well as to the burial goods and vestments. These circumstances give rise to variability in the reconstruction of the costume. The maximum plausibility of the reconstruction can be reached at the condition of very careful field preservation of the location of its surviving elements.