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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Skin Secret? This Lady'll Never Tell

Elizabeth Arden, Chanel and Estee Lauder have long known that people will pay exorbitant sums if the promised return is younger looking skin. Take vanity one step further, and you'll find people paying to have the outer layer of their epidermis removed by acid to reveal the baby fresh layer beneath. The real risk takers, and very rich, are those who have their live bodies dipped in nitrogen baths so they can wait, suspended in freezers, until geniuses in the future discover a cure for what ails them.


Now comes "The Lady," preserved for 2,400 years in that low-tech, cheap and plentiful product -- Siberian ice. A female member of a tribe of nomads called the Pazyryks, she was buried in the vast Altai mountain range with six horses and a guard. Probably a princess, maybe a shaman, she still looks pretty good today at the Moscow's Oriental Art Museum, where she is on view for the first time in the capital.


Lenin's tomb? Snore. This woman dates back to 400 B.C. She is shrivelled and taut like a Parma ham. Her carefully clasped hands and long, slender feet are whole. And her upper arms etched with bluish rings are a warning to cool youngsters curious about body art: Tattoos can be eternal.


Discovered in 1993 by a team from the Institute of Archeology and Ethnology, The Lady's journey to Moscow was a long one. First there were the archaeologists who used hot water to free her from her icy tomb, thus blackening her entire body. Then came a hair-raising emergency landing for the helicopter that was carrying her from the mountains to Novosibirsk.


That left a bit of work for the biologists at Moscow's Center for Biological Structures, the same team that has kept Lenin's body in near-perfect shape years after the life left it. The biologists didn't have much to work with -- The Lady's head was dismembered and her tattoos weren't visible, for example. But what a job they did.


Looking at The Lady in the small, dimly lit museum room where she lies surrounded by the valuables she was buried with, one is struck first by her age and then by her humanity, something brought home by her long delicate hands frozen in an almost girlish gesture. It's a bit unsettling because one feels intrusive, something accentuated by the presence of her most precious belongings, like earrings, hairpins and statues.


Where her body has rotted and bone shows through, frilly tulle is wrapped around bone like a ballerina's cover. Buried with her and also on view are a collection of leather and wood bits that once ornamented horses. Tigran Mkrtychev, an archaeologist and the director of the museum's Central Asian department, said such discoveries may now be limited because the Altai regional government has put a moratorium on excavations in the region.


"They want their local archaeologists to excavate in these places," said Mkrtychev.


That's not to say that there isn't a lot of illegal digging and selling of archaeological treasures going on. Boris Khavkin, a Moscow-based businessman, said such moratoriums are useless. In fact, for a price, Khavkin says he can obtain a trinket, tusk or entire mastodon -- the wooly prehistoric elephant.


"I was dating a girl from Yakutsk. And her father had some friends who have this mastodon," said Khavkin, 28, referring to the frozen animal he has been trying to sell to a North Dakota museum. "This one has the meat, hair, eyes, everything. It can be cooked and eaten. It's the next best thing to a live one."





Art of Altai and the Treasures of the Pazyryk Burial Grounds are on view through June 2 at the Oriental Art Museum, 12 Nikitsky Bulvar. Nearest metro: Arbatskaya. Open daily 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., closed Mondays. 202-4555.