The Saka Priestess of Urdzhar
22 October 2019

Image credit via

In 2013, Kazakh archeologists discovered an ancient grave of a young woman in a 1.7-meter-deep barrow in Urdzhar district in Eastern Kazakhstan during road repairs. The woman’s remains were inferred in an elaborate and tightly closed stone sarcophagus, which helped preserve them undamaged. The Urdzhar woman lived in 4th -3rd centuries BC and was 40-45 years old as evidenced from her well preserved teeth.

She was clearly a prominent figure, judging by the treasures buried with her, most notably her gold ornamented conical headdress topped with arrowheads. It was richly embellished with plant patterns and zoomorphic ornaments and is similar to the one worn by Kazakhstan’s most famous archeological find, the Issyk Golden Warrior, a Saka prince or princess interred wearing some 4,000 separate gold pieces. It is believed that this type of headwear was part of a ceremonial dress of Sakas.

The royal woman’s head was shaven and there was a wig by her side. She lay on a layer of grass and flowers holding a twig of maidenhair fern in her hands.

The grave also contained ceramics, the bones of a sacrificed argali, and a stone sacrificial altar – an indispensable apanage for communication with gods in those ancient times – by her side. The burial mound did not contain any arms or objects symbolizing power. But archeologists found crockery for grinding herbs. Scientists believe the woman not only was of a high social status in the Saka society but also might have been a keeper of ancient knowledge in medicine and herbology. Using latest technologies, researchers were able to reconstruct the priestess’ dress and headwear which they believe were made of red silk.

The Urdzhar find finally provides an unequivocal supporting evidence that a large share of gold buried in Saka barrows belonged to women testifying to women’s high social status in the ancient societies of the Iron Age on the territory of Kazakhstan.

Altogether, there have been seven “golden people” discovered in Kazakhstan since the Golden Warrior was found in the Issyk Barrow in 1969.