The BP exhibition Scythians: Warriors of ancient Siberia

Scythian rider

The Scythian’s were a collection of different nomadic tribes based primarily in Siberia over two and a half thousand years ago. Not much has been known about them bar some descriptions by Greek historian Herodotus. In the 1700’s, a lot of Scythian objects were discovered and Tsar Nicholas I protected these discoveries with the majority ending up in the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. The State Hermitage and the British Museum have united with BP to put on this fascinating exhibition.

Before walking in I really didn’t know anything about the Scythian’s. What’s great about this exhibition is that it not only explains and shows what the archaeological world know about the Scythian’s, but the Russian history around the initial discovery too, and the post-Scythian world. Prior to getting in to the exhibition itself, I am a huge fan of how the British Museum have presented the descriptions of each piece, with the larger pieces, which will attract more attention, having the same sign twice at opposite ends of the piece so no more crowding around one point. So sensible!

The exhibition begins with the history of the discovery of the artifacts which goes from the early 1700’s to today. There’s a lot of Russian historical artifacts from that period to show the atmosphere and the culture that existed at the time of the artifacts’ discovery and collection.

Two things struck me most about the Scythian exhibits, first was how incredible their condition is, the very low temperatures have meant that we have so much more from this period in time than you could get pretty much anywhere else in the world, which for a group of people with no written language and very little amount of history from other sources, makes every artifact found essential. The second thing was what amazing craftspeople they were. The level of detail, the ingenuity with which they worked gold, bronze, leather and wood (collapsible tables even!) is remarkable for a group that existed so long ago (all pre-AD). The objects at either end of this page show some examples of not just the incredible craftwork but the staggeringly good condition they are in. I was quite shocked that in the exhibition, they also had some 2300 year old cheese that had been preserved!

As well as objects from all of Scythian life that have been discovered and are presented, there are also some Scythian’s too, a decapitated head, mummies, and explanations around them. It is, for me, useful to be able to see them, just to get that idea of what they looked like, which brings everything else in this exhibition to life just that little bit more clearly.

The post-Scythian period is also explored and explained, the British Museum bringing in their Oxus Treasure. It’s fascinating the detail and how they manage to not just explain, but show the evolution of culture from the Scythian to the Tashtyk.

The BP exhibition Scythians: Warriors of ancient Siberia is an exciting, informative and pretty mind-blowing exhibition which blows a lot of preconceptions about that period of history apart. It’s definitely the sort of exhibition that you will go to once, spend a few days thinking about it, and want to go back again asap, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Horse head gear


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