Locals fear curse of Baikal mummy over tomb robbery

A mummy known as the Baikal Princess is at the centre of a scandal in Siberia. Local shamans are unhappy that the sacred symbol has been moved to a museum and are worried about invoking the wrath of the gods.

The mummy used to dwell deep in the heart of Siberia, in a cave in the Republic of Buryatia.

Eight years ago it vanished, only to reappear last year in a museum in Irkutsk. Today those who used to idolize her demand the mummy to be returned.

“The people that used to worship her have been devastated from within. The place where she used to dwell was looted. It’s empty now,” laments shaman Igor Olsoev.

Local citizens of Irkutsk believe the mummy should be returned because “If shamans are saying she has to be returned, they’d better return her. They are saying it for a reason.”

All the same, the head of the museum disagrees that the mummy should be brought back to caves.

“Such mummies are not uncommon, there is nothing special about it,” assured Vladimir Tikhonov, the museum’s director. “I believe the assumption that a mummy can allegedly bring unhappiness and so on is untrue. I’m a person of the 21st century, and for me such things sound really weird.”

The man who took the mummy eight years ago was painter Vladimir Nesinov. He says he used her as his muse.

“Shamanism is a culture that can connect things which are not connected. So I’m not surprised at the shamans’ attitude,” said Nesinov. “I think the princess herself has nothing to do with it.”

It is not the first time ancient remains have caused controversy in Siberia. An old legend tells of a mummy in Altai, which when moved from her burial site, is thought to have invoked her wrath.

People are worried the same thing may happen again if the Baikal Princess isn’t returned to her original burial site. If all this sounds like a modern day ghost story, in Irkutsk the problems couldn’t be more real.

“I was working as a forester when the mummy was stolen. A huge fire broke out,” remembered local woman Ludmila Sigaeva from village Bolshoi Goloustnoe. “I believe it was connected with the theft and the fact that she is no longer protecting the Baikal Valley.'"

Some dismiss the story as myth claiming the mummy is not that old and there is little evidence that she was of noble blood.

Artur Kharinsky, dean and professor at the department of Sociology and Mass Media of Irkutsk University, said that “I don’t think it is more than 100 or 200 years old, and I don’t think we should be calling her princess. There are no grounds for that. The Buryats have a specific attitude towards the dead. Most of them are afraid of the dead. They try avoiding places where people have been buried. They are afraid of evil spirits.”

Whether fact or fiction, for many of the Buryat people the Baikal Princess holds a special place in their hearts that has been left empty in her absence.