Armed sisters displayed ancient girlpower


New evidence that parts of ancient eastern Europe were patrolled by posses of heavily armed women akin to the Amazon women warriors of ancient legend has been uncovered by Russian scientists.

A team of archaeologists investigating 2,400-year-old burial mounds built by the Scythian people on the upper reaches of the river Don has found that five of 21 graves contained the bodies of young women, accompanied by their weapons.

"Usually such women are found in large kurgans, buried with the same rituals as for men," said Dr Valery Gulyayev, of the Russian Institute of Archaeology. "They are buried with womanly things - mirrors of silver and bronze, necklaces of gold, glass or clay, earrings. But alongside these they are buried with weapons - a quiver, bow and arrows, and, often, two throwing spears."

At roughly the same time the Scythian women were being buried, the Greek historian Herodotus described how a mythical race of women warriors, the Amazons, had left their homeland on the south shores of the Black Sea, travelled north, taken husbands among the local males and founded a new co-sexual society with spear-tipped girl power very much to the fore.

Herodotus's tales of Amazons on the steppes of present-day Ukraine and south Russia were dismissed in the past as fantasy, but a growing body of evidence suggests they had basis in fact.

The Voronezh discoveries, the first of their kind on the forested steppe at the northern edge of Scythian settlement, add to older finds to suggest a broad band of sister cultures, stretching from Hungary to the rim of China, which shared a love of gold and horses and a relationship between men and women which differed sharply from the male-dominated society of their "civilised" contemporaries and neighbours, the ancient Greeks.

"We have a fixed idea that European civilisation was built on Greco-Roman foundations," said Dr Gulyayev. "In a sense, this is fair, but if we ignore the fact that in the west and in the east two large, so-called barbarian cultures, the Celts and the Scythians, made an enormous contribution to ancient Europe, we fail to see the whole picture."

Working with meagre resources Dr Gulyayev and his team are racing against time to excavate as many kurgans as possible in the region before intensive farming and building destroy them.