TSU archaeologists found ancient mines in Gorny Altai from space image

11 November 2020

The staff of the Artefact interdisciplinary archaeological laboratory, with the support of the Russian Science Foundation, are studying ancient technologies of iron mining in southern Siberia. In particular, they are researching Gorny Altai, where iron metallurgy was already developed in the middle of the 1st millennium AD. While analyzing space images of the Kosh-Agach Region of the Altai Republic, archaeologists saw strange objects similar to mines. When they went there, scientists discovered the largest ancient iron mines in Siberia.

- In the ancient history of Gorny Altai, one of the most interesting phenomena is the extremely developed metallurgy of iron in the middle of the 1st millennium AD. The dimensions of the ancient iron-smelting furnaces that have survived from ancient times have no analogs in Eurasia, - says Olga Zaitseva, head of the Department of Anthropology and Ethnology and a staff member of Artefact. One furnace produced so much iron that it would be enough to make more than 10,000 arrowheads. Such technologies could exist in Altai only if there had been successful development of local iron ores.

The laboratory staff focused on the search for mines - those places where ore was taken for iron smelting in ancient times. At the same time, the scientists were faced with the problem of how to search. Such places can be located in high-mountain and hard-to-reach areas at an altitude of more than two kilometers. Space archeology came to the aid of the researchers.

To search for mines, a team of archaeologists scanned hundreds of satellite images of the Kosh-Agach region of the Altai Republic, where most of the iron-smelting furnaces are concentrated. In some of the photographs, the attention of archaeologists was drawn by strange objects that could be pitmines, where ancient smelters took ore. To test this hypothesis, archaeologists went to the site and discovered more than a thousand ancient workings.

- Thanks to space archeology, we found the largest ancient iron mines in Siberia without leaving the laboratory, - explains Evgeny Vodyasov, the head of Artefact. - Their scale is amazing. More than 1,000 tons of ore was mined here in ancient times. This means that we still have to find and explore a huge variety of iron-smelting furnaces in which this ore was melted.

Archaeologists carried out aerial photography at all mines, created 3D relief models, and took ore and slag samples for geochemical studies. Analyzing the samples will help them pinpoint when these deposits were developed.