'Sleeping Beauty' Mummy Buried with Riches and Snacks for the Afterlife

Sleeping Beauty mummy
The 2,000-year-old mummy, dubbed Sleeping Beauty, was buried in silk clothes and a beaded belt with a jet buckle. (Image credit: Marina Kilunovskaya/The Siberian Times)

About 2,000 years ago, during the time Jesus supposedly walked the Earth, people buried a young woman wearing a silk skirt in a stone grave. They surrounded her body with meals for the afterlife, even placing a bag of pine nuts on her chest.

Now, archaeologists have found the mummified body of that woman, whom they nicknamed Sleeping Beauty given the length of time she's been buried and the riches found with her. These include a beaded belt with a buckle made of jet (a precursor to coal), a Hun-style vase and a round birch container holding a Chinese mirror, according to The Siberian Times. The grave also contained ceramic utensils, which were typically placed in Hun burials, the archaeologists added.

"The mummy was in quite a good condition, with soft tissues, skin, clothing and belongings intact," an archaeologist who helped discover the Sleeping Beauty told The Siberian Times. [Photos: The Amazing Mummies of Peru and Egypt]

Archaeologists, from St Petersburg's Institute for the History of Material Culture, found the mummy on the shore of the Yenisei River, just upstream of the giant Sayano-Shushenskaya dam in south-central Russia's Republic of Khakassia. A drop in water level in May exposed the Sleeping Beauty's rectangular grave, which had previously sat underwater, the archaeologists said.

"The lower part of the body was especially well-preserved," Marina Kilunovskaya, an archaeologist at the Institute for the History of Material Culture, told The Siberian Times. "This is not a classic mummy — in this case, the burial was tightly closed with a stone lid, enabling a process of natural mummification."

The woman was buried with funeral meals and a bag of pine nuts, likely to tide her over in the afterlife. (Image credit: Marina Kilunovskaya/The Siberian Times)

It's remarkable that the grave lay undisturbed, especially since the nearby dam began operating between 1978 and 1985, the archaeologists said. An excavation of the grave goods revealed that the mummified person was likely a noblewoman during her lifetime. For instance, the grave goods were ornate, the round makeup container was covered with birch bark and the Chinese mirror within it was housed in a felt case, the archaeologists said.

Going forward, the archaeologists are working to preserve the Sleeping Beauty's remains and study the artifacts within her grave, the researchers said.

Original article on Live Science.

Laura Geggel

Laura is the archaeology and Life's Little Mysteries editor at Live Science. She also reports on general science, including paleontology. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Scholastic, Popular Science and Spectrum, a site on autism research. She has won multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association for her reporting at a weekly newspaper near Seattle. Laura holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and a master's degree in science writing from NYU.