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The ancient Greeks dismissed their neighbors to the west as “mare milkers” and drunks, and the Scythians’ nomadic lifestyle must have seemed strange and threatening in contrast to their own settled urban one.

And the Greeks weren’t the only ancient power the steppe nomads encountered—and sometimes clashed with.

But the site excavated by Belinski, dubbed Sengileevskoe-2, is the first such golden treasure to be uncovered in the Caucasus.

“This is one of the most outstanding archaeological discoveries of Scythian artifacts in recent years,” says Parzinger.

If the artifacts had emerged from the black market, they would certainly have been dismissed as modern forgeries.” Adds Gass, “This sort of thing comes along once every 50 years.

The quality of these objects, their craftsmanship, is nearly unique.” Though undeniably authentic, the discovery still raises other questions about the objects and what they can tell archaeologists about the warrior-nomads who left them behind.

“They were all nomads, they were heavily socially stratified, they had monumental burial structures and rich grave goods,” says Hermann Parzinger, head of Berlin’s Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and former head of the German Archaeological Institute.

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He uncovered a stone box, a foot or so deep, containing a few finger and rib bones from a teenager. Nested one inside the other in the box were two gold vessels of unsurpassed workmanship.

Beneath these lay three gold armbands, a heavy ring, and three smaller bell-shaped gold cups. “Somehow, the people who plundered the rest didn’t locate these artifacts.” As he continued to excavate the area surrounding the kurgan, he spotted postholes near the stone box, as though tree trunks had once been sunk in the earth to support a pavilion or roof.

Belinski and Anton Gass of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in Berlin, whom Belinski had invited to participate in the excavation, realized that they had found something far beyond a simple burial mound.

In fact, over the last few decades, Parzinger and others have uncovered Scythian tombs in the Altai Mountains, where Russia, China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan meet today, preserved by permafrost and ice.

The bodies and grave goods in these burials have added to what was already known about Scythian culture from earlier excavations in western Russia and Ukraine, some of which yielded fantastic gold artifacts.

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