A 5,000-year-old skeleton recently discovered at the Ust-Tartas site in the Novosibirsk area of Siberia has an unusual ornament: a headdress consisting of 30 to 50 bird skulls and beaks that are likely to belong to large shore species such as cranes and herons.
As described in a video interview with the Siberian Times by Lidia Kobeleva, a researcher at the Novosibirsk Insтιтute of Archeology and Ethnography in Siberia, the remains of the avian creatures were “laid as if they were meant to cover the neck like a collar.”
Although the unusual accessory does not exactly qualify as armour, Kobeleva says it probably served a similarly protective ritual purpose.
The Siberian Times reports that the team believes that the deceased was a priest or shaman, nicknamed “the Birdman of Siberia.” Kobeleva notes in a separate video posted by the Siberian Times that it remains unclear how the components of the headdress were connected to each other or to a piece of fabric.
“Some of the beaks are packed separately from skulls, without a trace of head bones,” the archaeologist says. Kobeleva further points out that none of the bird beaks or skulls appear to bear the mounting holes one would need to easily weave them together.
The mysterious Birdman was a member of the Odinov culture, which dominated western Siberia during the early Bronze Age. Hunters who lived on an island surrounded by forest steppes, according to the Daily Mail’s Will Stewart and Ian Randall, the Odinov people derived their name from the Odino settlement in the basin of the nearby Ishim River and emerged out of the Eneolithic forest-steppe tradition prevalent in what is now modern-day Russia.
Prior to the Birdman’s discovery, archaeologists had excavated more than 30 burials at the Ust-Tartas site. But as Kobeleva tells the Siberian Times, none yielded finds as “impressive” as this latest one, which was unearthed alongside a second grave containing the remains of three individuals.
According to the Siberian Times, researchers identified two children aged 5 and 10 buried in the top layer of the grave. The skeleton of a man laid to rest with a “treasure trove of artifacts” was found beneath a wooden overlay supporting the youthful pair.
The most intriguing item in the hoard resembles a pair of spectacles. Made up of two bronze hemispheres and a connecting bridge, the mask-like object features what Live Science’s Mindy Weisberger describes as “circular eyeholes.” Experts believe it’s possible the gear served as part of a burial mask or head covering.
In addition to the potential glᴀsses, researchers found five crescent-shaped polished stone pendants perhaps used for ceremonial purposes.
“Both men must have carried special roles in the society,” Kobeleva concludes. “I say so because we have been working on this site for a while and unearthed more than 30 burials.
They all had interesting finds, but nothing … was as impressive as discoveries in these two graves. We suppose both men were some kind of priests.”