My first encounter with the ‘Adidas Mummy’ was a Facebook post. It linked to an article from the Siberian Times, and I was excited because Mongolian archaeology features so rarely in the news, let alone on my newsfeed.
So-called because of the three distinctive stripes on her boots reminiscent of the Adidas logo, this medieval mummy was discovered in the Altai Mountains in Western Mongolia in 2016. Local herders discovered her burial site at Uzuur Gyalan, where excavations promptly began (although, allegedly, not before livestock ate some of its contents).
The first image to come out of the excavation
The buzz of interest the news generated internationally was less about the person – who she was, how she lived and died – and more about her clothing. The question of gender quickly arose – “now we are carefully unwrapping the body and the specialists could say more precisely about the gender”, said an unnamed researcher to the Siberian Times – but beyond that all the media, and online comments, focused on other elements of the burial assemblage.
When the analysis reports came out a year later, the Daily Mail Online, in keeping with their idea of what a woman likes, had the following to say: “The woman was buried alongside a number of her possessions - including a handbag and four changes of clothes. A comb and a mirror from her beauty kit were also found, along with a knife.” The ‘handbag’ was actually a sewing kit, but they just couldn’t resist the stereotyping.
It’s armed with this frankly patchy information that I went to see the “Rock Tomb Custom” exhibition at the National Museum of Mongolia in the summer of 2017.
The exhibition focused on two burial sites from the area. The textiles attracted a great deal of attention, and indeed took pride of place in the exhibition – the boots that had made the story go viral, but also three deel (traditional Mongolian clothing), a hat, the sewing kit, a saddle, some horse skin trousers
These displays were fascinating, and I was in for a surprise.