An 5.3-magnitude earthquake struck the Altai Mountains early on Tuesday, prompting fresh calls for the reburial of a 25-century-old mummy dug up there exactly 19 years ago. The indigenous Altai people have long associated the constant tremors they experience in the region with the 1993 removal of the mummy, popularly known as the “Altai Princess."
The latest earthquake occurred at 5:30 a.m. local time (10:30 p.m. GMT Monday) in the Altai Republic.The epicenter of the quake was 28 kilometers from the village of Aktash in the Ulagansky region, but residents reported feeling the tremors across the whole region. Residents of the neighboring Republic of Khakassia also said they felt a mild tremor on Tuesday morning. No damage has been reported in the region, but emergency situation officials and firefighters have begun a thorough examination of all settlements in the region.
The 25-century-old "Altai Princess" was discovered in 1993 on the Ukok plateau, in the South Siberian republic of Altai near the border with Mongolia. The mummy has since been sent to the Archaeological and Ethnographic Institute of Novosibirsk, where it is currently being studied by researchers. Local authorities hope to transport it back to the region in August after the Republican National Museum is completed and will place the mummy on display.
"The fact that the earthquake occurred today, July 31, is a kind of sign from the 'Princess' ahead of her return because she was discovered on July 31,” said Akai Kynyev, the head of the movement for cultural revival of the Altai's “White Faith.”
“The pilot [who flew the Princess out] told me then that when she was dug up there was an earthquake, but no one believed [him]. They thought it was a tale. Now we have received further confirmation that the 'Princess' certainly wants to return to us in Altai. If she doesn't, there might be other signs."
Kynyev added there is a certain symbolism in the fact that the "Altai Princess" has been showing persistent signs ahead of her return. “This is so people see and understand,” he said.
As if to lend credence to the local belief, regional Minister of Culture Vladimir Konchev had a minor road accident on Tuesday on his way to Novosibirsk, where he was headed to negotiate the return of the mummy. While the minister sustained no injuries, local media interpreted the mishap as another sign from the mummy. The Siberian Altai earthquake on September 27, 2003, the largest to have struck the Altai mountains in more than 70 years, was also associated by the indigenous people with the removal of the mummy. The quake had a magnitude of 7.2 and was closely followed by two 6.2 and 6.6 aftershocks. Unlike the latest quake, however, it caused extensive damage throughout the republic and completely wiped out the village of Beltir.