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Rare loans from Hermitage Museum—including ancient lumps of cheese—to feature in British Museum's Scythian show

September exhibition will feature antiquities that have never left St Petersburg before

by Martin Bailey  |  30 May 2017
Rare loans from Hermitage Museum—including ancient lumps of cheese—to feature in British Museum's Scythian show
A gold belt plaque of a Scythian funerary scene (fourth-third century BC) is being loaned by the State Hermitage Museum (Image: © The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, 2017, Photo: V Terebenin)
Speaking at the launch of a forthcoming British Museum exhibition on the Scythians, the Russian ambassador in London, Alexander Yakovenko, said that some objects would be leaving the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg for the first time.

Part of human skin with a tattoo (late fourth-early third century BC) (Image: © The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, 2017. Photo: V Terebenin)
Part of human skin with a tattoo (late fourth-early third century BC) (Image: © The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, 2017. Photo: V Terebenin)
Loans from the Hermitage are mainly from excavated tombs. They include gold treasures, fragments of tattooed human skin (fourth-third century BC) found at Pazyryk (south of Novosibirsk) and a recently-discovered battle axe (seventh century BC) excavated at Arzhan (just north of the Mongolian border). Two lumps of cheese (fourth-third century BC) were preserved by permafrost at Pazyryk. The British Museum curator, St John Simpson, says that further research could determine whether the cheese is made from goats, sheep or yaks milk.

The Scythians were nomadic warriors who occupied a huge area of Siberia between 900 and 200 BC. The Hermitage will be lending 200 items, an arrangement facilitated by the loan of the Parthenon Marble Ilissos (about 438-432 BC) to St Petersburg three years ago. A further 20 loans are coming from both the National Museum of Kazakhstan and Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, which will be shown alongside 10 items from the British Museum. No Scythian antiquities are coming from Ukraine, thereby avoiding political complications. This will be the 13th British Museum exhibition sponsored by BP in the past two decades.

• Scythians: Warriors of ancient Siberia, British Museum, London, 14 September-14 January 2018

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