Archeological excavation of ancient kurgan burials, King's valley, Tuva, Russia.

© Kirill Skorobogatko/Shutterstock

Valley of the Kings


This broad grassy vale begins a few kilometres beyond a turning off the M54 highway north of Turan. It’s famous in archaeological circles for its pancake-shaped Scythian kurgany (burial mounds) named after the village of Arzhaan at the end of the paved road. These have produced the most significant archaeological finds ever made in Tuva, now displayed in Kyzyl’s National Museum.

The first roadside kurgan is Arzhaan II, which lies opposite shimmering Ak Khol (White Lake). During excavations in 2001 archaeologists unearthed some magnificent artefacts in several graves dating from the 7th century BC. Less well maintained Arzhaan I, a little further along the road, is the largest kurgan in Tuva. A dig in the early 1970s turned up thousands of gold and silver artefacts plus the graves of two Scythian VIPs, 16 servants and 160 horses, but today only a large disc of clacking stones remains. The valley holds an amazing 700 burial sites and eight large kurgany await the archaeologist’s trowel. However, digs are unpopular with local villagers and shamans who believe the spirits should be left undisturbed.