In 2020, scientists at the Laboratory of Historical Genetics of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology found out that the male teenager, whose remains had been found in the late 1980s in one of the Scythian graves on the banks of the Yenisei, was actually a girl. Genotype examination of remains allows to trace how peoples changed, how migration took place in different historical periods, and even get an idea of the life and events preceding the burial.


The Saryg-Bulun burial site was discovered in 1988 during archaeological excavations off the right bank of the upper Yenisei, in the present-day Tuva Republic of Russia. In one of the graves, in a coffin hollowed from a single piece of wood, the body of a child (presumably 12-14-year-old boy) was found. This Scythian child was buried with a full combat gear: an axe, a one-meter bow made of birch and a quiver with ten arrows some 70 centimeters in length with bone and bronze tips. A patchwork fur coat made of jerboa fur and a leather cap have preserved, but shirt and trousers have not. Archaeologists have long believed that this was a boy who was being trained to become a warrior. As there were no beads, or mirrors, or other

Only 32 years later, the results of genome-wide sequencing showed that a 13-year-old girl was buried in Tuva.

The favorable isolated environment resulted in the preservation of the organic material in the mummy of the assumed Scythian boy. New natural science approaches that have emerged in recent years allow archaeologists to supplement historical research with genetic ones. Historical Genetics Lab at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) is among the few laboratories worldwide capable of performing an ancient DNA analysis of such complexity.

“We were invited to investigate the paternal ancestry of the young warrior. And I have to say, we gave it our best. If only you’d seen how anxious it made us when at first things didn’t work out. When we examined the DNA fragments, we saw both short and long loci, but no loci associated with the Y chromosome. This led us to hypothesize that it might not be a male but rather a young woman buried in such a peculiar way. After a series of meticulous and detailed analyses that we performed using other techniques, we were able to establish that the remains indeed belonged to a young girl, apparently brought up as a warrior.” said Dr. Kharis Mustafin, the head of the MIPT Historical Genetics Lab.

The Scythians were an ancient nomadic people whose individual tribes from the VII century B.C. to the III century A.D. roamed the steppes from the lower Don and Danube to present-day Kazakhstan. Since the time of Herodotus, historians believed that the ancestors of the Scythians were among the first peoples who managed to tame horses. Paleogeneticists recently confirmed this after analyzing DNA fragments of ancient horses from Proto-Scythian kurgans in the vicinity of the Kazakh village of Botai.

Thanks to the historians of antiquity, many myths and legends grew up about the Scythians, some of which were later unconfirmed. One of them was considered to be the stories of Herodotus that among the Scythian warriors there were “Amazons” – women who fought on a par with men.

According to the release received by the Nat-Geo.ru Editorial Office, three teeth and a skin fragment were made available to the researchers for genetic analysis. Following purification, the samples were ground into bone powder to extract DNA from. To determine the buried person’s sex, the team performed a quantitative and qualitative DNA assay and analyzed an amelogenin gene via a molecular biology method known as polymerase chain reaction, which amplifies the initially low concentration of certain DNA fragments in the sample. The results of the work allow to take a fresh look at the culture and life of the Scythian tribes.

The Historical Genetics, Radiocarbon Analysis and Applied Physics Lab is part of the Phystech School of Biological and Medical Physics at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. The laboratory develops unique methods for genome studies of archaeological samples.

By examining the genotype of ancient remains, researchers gain a glimpse into the evolution of ethnic communities, the migration of peoples throughout history, and even certain events and ways of life contemporary with the burial.

According to the scientists, the results of their work will allow to take a fresh look at the culture and life of the Scythian tribes and learn more about the history of man.