Dargavs, Russia – The City of the Dead


With all the paranoia seeping into American society over Russia, thanks to the Trump administration, the gringa would like to take a moment to share some good and interesting stuff about Russia. You see, it’s so easy to generalize and say, “Russia bad” and forget all about the human element. Just because Trump and Putin and their respective governing bodies may be ruthless, greedy megalomaniacs, the Russian people are generally just like people everywhere. Some good. Some bad. And the nation of Russia is filled with rich history just like every other place on earth.

The gringa feels a bit guilty of all the complaining and criticizing I’ve been doing lately. It’s about time to focus on some good stuff. And the Russian good stuff I plan to focus on is all dead. In fact, an entire city of the dead.

Believe it or not, a city of dead Russians gets 4 out of 5 stars from travel experts as a must-see place to visit for guests to Russia. So, if you are planning your own tour, put the city of Dargavs on your bucket list. Also, pack your best Sherlock Holmes gear because this little gem is filled with mystery. Maybe you can crack the case and take your place in history as well.

When you arrive you will not be greeted with an eerie sight of Russian zombies and fog-filled ancient cobbled streets. You will discover a hillside burial ground set against the rugged backdrop of the Greater Caucasus mountain range.

Dargavs is found in North Ossetia. Stone structures, most with steep tiled roofs, house the resting places of ancient citizens called the great Alans who were a sub-set of the Sarmatian tribes. Although they are well-known as a nomadic, pastoral people speaking an ancient Eastern Iranian dialect, who lived around the first millennium of our current era.

The surviving ancestors of the great Alans buried belongings with their loved ones when they were entombed. Among the relics concealed in the crypts of this mysterious necropolis are:

  • Open, boat-like vessels to hold the corpse rather than a traditional coffin (curious since there are no rivers nearby)
  • Oars
  • Coins
  • Clothing

Despite some UFOlogists convinced the great Alans were really extra-terrestrials, the gringa thinks they were just regular humans. It seems they had beliefs and lifestyle practices that link them to every other group of humans trying to eke out an existence with primitive means in a harsh climate. Consider the stuff that researchers and archaeologists can all agree on that is very “humanizing”:

  • The crypts house the remains of entire families throughout multiple chambers and sometimes multiple levels.
  • Criminals were entombed in “exile”, their tombs constructed outside the collection of crypts for the Alan clan in general.

5.9.2b

  • Each tomb features a well at the entrance to the crypt that contains coins. So, the great Alans were sophisticated and human enough to understand economics, earnings and wealth.
  • They practiced some sort of religion or superstitions that had a belief in the afterlife hence the construction of a symbolic watchtower to guard the tombs and is, perhaps, the explanation for entombment with boats despite not being a river-faring people.

5.9.2c

There are many theories to explain some of the mysterious features that are, indeed curious, as well as to try to understand what the story was for the great Alans.

Religion: It is presumed that the boats and wells with coins are possibly related to the great Alans’ religious beliefs. The ancient Ossetians are believes to be pagans. However, a pagan is not an atheist. They do have religious beliefs, or superstitions, if you will.

Many religions feature boats and rivers as the means of travel to the world of the afterlife.  The river Styx of Greek mythology is, perhaps, the most well-known.  However, Acheron was also a river the dead navigated to the underworld on a ferry with Charon at the helm who served the king of Hades. It was known as the river of pain and at times, in legends and myth, is interchangeable with the River Styx.

An interesting note is that ferryman Charon also required a fee of a single coin. Non-payment meant a soul was left to wander aimlessly the banks of the River Acheron, presumably in great pain and anguish. However, if you are entombed with your own boat, why would you expect to need the services of another boatman? Perhaps the rivers Styx/Acheron were not the ultimate destination for the great Alans.

Ancient rivers of the underworld are also:

  • Lethe, also known as the river of forgetfulness and oblivion of sleep (no fee required).
  • Phlegethon was written about by Plato who believed it led to the deepest parts of Tartarus. Dante also penned a bit about this river in his legendary “Inferno”, it existing in the Seventh Circle of Hell, a boiling river where souls were tormented in cages by Centaurs tasked with dipping them in to the river’s scalding depths. Probably not the intended afterlife river for a people who hoped to arrive with their own boats.
  • Cocytus, the River of Wailing, joins with Acheron, ultimately leading to a frozen lake. It is the destination of traitors and all who commit sins against humanity. This may have been the destination of the criminals entombed in the outer circle, the Cocytus being a river that encircles the underworld.
  • Oceanus, another afterlife river that encircles the entire underworld, this freshwater stream was where the edge of the world met the cosmos. Although some think this would have been a gloomy, lonely afterlife existence, the gringa thinks this may have actually been the most coveted locale of the dead because they would be the ones nearest the realm of the gods. This may have been where the great Alans hoped their souls would be headed after death and they would need their own boats to navigate the waters of Oceanus. So, then, what was the coin for?

History of the Wishing Well: Wishing wells are common all over the world. Toss in a coin for good luck. We all do it. Anthropologists date the practice as far back as ancient Egypt and the Mesoamerican cultures. It was common practice to placate the gods with gifts. Want your natural water resources to remain sweet and pure? Toss in a valuable coin as a gift and hope for the best. This lends credence to the local legend that loved ones of dead great Alans would toss a coin in the well for good luck with regard to the afterlife situation of a family member who had passed.

Of interesting note is the local legend that the entire clan was wiped out by a plague. This is to explain the small, rectangular open entries into the tombs rather than be sealed crypts. It is said that once a person’s entire family died, having no one left to bury them, once becoming sick, the remaining survivor would climb into the tomb and await death. The gringa wonders if they tossed a coin into the well for themselves since they knew no one else was left alive to wish them well on the other side?

If you plan to visit, expect quite a trek to get there and plan to be your own guide. The place is remote and rarely visited. Even the locals avoid it on pain of death. It’s about a 3 hour drive from the nearest thing that can be called civilization. And the road has a reputation for danger. But, from the looks of things, if you like adventure, history and mystery, this will be a very satisfying jaunt!

Sources:

Encylclopedia of Sacred Places, Volume 1 by Norbert Brookman

RT

Theoi

University of California Irvine Anthropology

Dante’s “Inferno

English Russia

Image Credits: Atlas Obscura

Video Credit: Sam Conney

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Fashion, Big Headed Aliens & P.T. Barnum


In the first of the three posts regarding the extra-terrestrial connection with ancient Egypt, the gringa felt pretty confident that the singular event of one particular pharaoh presenting with a suspiciously bulbous head and large limbed body could be attributed to a congenital abnormality rather than extra-terrestrial hybridization. However, in Peru, there is more than one elongated skull to consider. And the multiple elongated skulls in Peru are not accompanied with the usual gigantism to consider the condition to be a classic and common birth defect. So, then, were there big headed aliens living in South America? Is that why the gringa’s caveman has such a big head?

South of Lima, in the same vicinity the Nazca lines can be found, is the Paracas Peninsula, home to the ancient Paracas civilization. Existing from 800-100BC, the Paracas were the precursors to the Nazca civilization. Eking out a life in the coastal desert of southern Peru, the Paracas became adepts at irrigation in order to manage their cotton crops.

As cotton producers, it is only natural that the culture would be textile driven. They were known to be master weavers who created complex and intricate textile patterns. Elaborately patterned clothing was how they denoted status and rank. This focus on clothing for the purpose of social identity may have been the result of being a culture with no written language.

Paracas history is defined by two eras: Cavernas (500-300BC) and Necropolis (300-100BC). The earlier period is noted as the time the culture wrapped their dead in simple fabrics then entombed them in underground caverns with pottery brightly decorated with animal motifs. The later Necropolis period shifted to more elaborate mass burials within prepared chambers featuring horizontal shelving carved into cavern walls. Mummies wore more decorative textiles and were placed in a fetal position. They would be buried with elaborate jewelry, sacred objects and staple foods such as maize. Many of these mummies presented with elongated skulls.

Why did Paracas people have big heads?  Were they aliens? Evidence indicates that they were wholly human and had purposely manipulated their skulls into these extraordinary conditions. The elongated skull mummies were usually found to be entombed with more valuable textiles and jewelry. Skull elongation could very well have been a fashion statement of the rich and famous. Perhaps my big-headed caveman is the descendant of Paracas nobility. That’s all the gringa needs; a caveman who thinks he’s the king.

How the heck could a primitive culture perform “cosmetic surgery” and change the shape of skulls? Well, the gringa discovers the Paracas were not as primitive as one might think. They were, perhaps, the originators of “trepanning”. That’s the old fashioned method of brain surgery where a doctor drills a hole in your skull to treat your psychiatric disorder by letting the evil spirits out or to relieve you of chronic headaches. These holes would then be patched with gold plates. Sweet.  So, it may very well have been within their medical skill to reshape a human skull. After all, over three hundred of these skulls were found in 1928 in an archaeological funerary dig in Paracas by Peruvian archaeologist Julio Tello.

Most historians have explained that the procedure to deform a skull in this fashion would begin in infancy. By cradle boarding and binding of the head, the skull would gradually be trained to an elongated shape. However, recent findings using modern methods and technology has revealed there may be more to the Paracas story than simply squeezing baby heads.

Recently it was widely reported that an assistant director for a Peruvian museum announced that DNA analysis of a Paracas skull revealed that the DNA is a mutation unknown to “any human, primate, or animal known” to our world. The inference being that perhaps there were other-worldly origins to the elongated Paracas skulls. So who is this Brien Foerster and what kind of place is this Paracas History Museum he works for?

The museum is actually not a museum at all. It is really just a private collection owned by a fellow named Juan Navarro. First of all, any search for a website is fruitless. I mean, really, what legitimate business doesn’t have a website or even a Facebook page? And, although a Facebook page listing pops up, um, there is nothing there!

But, aha! Brien Foerster has a Facebook page. His page reveals a passion for the paranormal and extra-terrestrial. Although the gringa does not doubt his sincerity and commitment to marching to the beat of his own drum, I do question his methods. True science follows a method that is inscrutable and allows its findings to be questioned and the reporters of data to have their credibility tested. Although he claims to have DNA evidence to support his extra-terrestrial Paracas theory, he has not published the source of such evidence in order for his claim to be verified. Although Mr. Foerster may use the title of “scientist”, the gringa believes he is misspelling the title. It should go something like this… Mr. Brien Foerster, pseudo-scientist.

The gringa’s only other option to determine the legitimacy of this museum, short of visiting it in person, is to look at reviews from visitors. One fella stopped by twice in the same day, during business hours, but it was closed. He tried again the next day and got the same results. However, by camping out on the front steps he did make contact with a neighbor who let him into the building and he viewed the skulls. Not the kind of security I would expect if your museum housed the only biological specimen that proved extra-terrestrial life on planet Earth.

Another museum goer informs the public that the museum’s entire collection can be viewed in about ten minutes.  Although another review claims this “not-a-museum”  museum can actually be toured in 5 minutes. A couple of reviews find the space alien connection “amusing”. And, if you give ol’ Juan (the museum’s owner who doubles as the guide) a sizable tip, he will let you see a secret skull that looks “vaguely human”. And for an extra five bucks you can take a photo of the exhibits.  Mm hmm.  I understand now why some reviews state “rip-off alert” in their descriptions of the place.

So, the best the gringa can determine as far as “facts” go is that:

  • A personal collection of old Paracas trinkets are exhibited in a tiny storefront and marketed as a “museum” by the owner/tour guide who has no background in history or archaeology.
  • The “museum’s” assistant director is reported to have a Bachelor of Science degree from a university in Canada but his personal Facebook page states that he only studied biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics at the University of Victoria, no degree indicated. So, nothing qualifies him as a geneticist, archaeologist or historian other than a personal obsession turned hobby turned business venture. You see, Mr. Foerster owns a tour guide company whose bread and butter is made from promoting the extra-terrestrial/Paracas skulls exhibited at the “Paracas History Museum” owned by his friend, good ol’ Juan.
  • When attempts by experts to validate the DNA claims have been made, Mr. Foerster has refused to reveal the details of the DNA research claiming that the analyst wishes to remain anonymous.

I see. It seems the Paracas elongated skull story of alien connections has the smell of P.T. Barnum all over it. So, did the Paracas elite have extraordinarily long, bulbous skulls? Yes. Were they extra-terrestrials? No, just very vain people.  It seems there is nothing new under the sun.

 

Sources & Image Credit:

www.ancient-origins.net

www.boundless.com

www.discover-peru.org

www.britannica.com

www.infowars.com

http://www.quora.com

doubtfulnews.com

www.tripadvisor.com

http://www.missiongalacticfreedom.wordpress.com

http://www.latinamericanstudies.org