Altai Closes Digs, Mourns Its Lost Mummies

Authorities in a remote Siberian region famous for Scythian burial sites have banned all archaeological excavations for fear of losing control of the finds, an official said Tuesday.

The Altai Republic's legislature passed the law last month, several weeks after the most recent major find -- a mummified warrior -- was taken to Moscow for preservation, said the republic's Moscow representative, Alexander Manzyrov.

"It is our national treasure. Why should it be taken away and treated like this?" he said.

The warrior, also dubbed "the Horseman," was the second mummy found in excellent condition in the permafrost on the Ukok Plateau, on the border with Mongolia. The other, a woman known as the Princess, was discovered two years ago.

More that 2,500 years old, the mummies are believed to have belonged to the mysterious Scythian culture, ancient nomadic tribes that roamed the steppes from the Black Sea to Mongolia. The two were buried with various personal belongings.

After treatment at the Moscow Biological Structures Institute -- the people responsible for preserving Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin's mummy -- the Princess was taken with an archaeological show to South Korea.

Now she is in the Archaeological Institute of Russia's Academy of Sciences in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk.

"No one is stealing anything from anyone," said Anatoly Kurbatov, the institute's deputy director.

"Once the mummies were found, they had to be taken to Moscow to be saved from decomposition. We are willing to return them to the Altai Republic, if they can guarantee their preservation," Kurbatov said.

"It is regrettable that some people there are trying to build their political careers on this sort of campaign," he said.