April 15, 2024


In Greek legends, the Amazons were feared and formidable female warriors who lived on the edge of the known world. Hercules had to obtain the magic belt from the Amazon queen Hippolyte in one of his 12 labors, and Achilles killed another queen, Penthesilea, only to fall in love with her when her beautiful face appeared from her helmet.

These horse-riding, bow-wielding nomads, who fought and hunted just like men, have long been shrouded in myth, but archaeologists are discovering increasing evidence that they actually existed.

Excavations of tombs within a Bronze Age necropolis in Nakhchivan Azerbaijan reveals that women were buried with weapons such as razor-sharp arrowheads, a bronze dagger and a mace, as well as jewellery.

Archaeologists concluded that they could be Amazonian women who lived 4,000 years ago. These fearsome women were known for their male-free society and their prowess on the battlefield, especially with a bow and arrow.

Historian Bettany Hughes tell the Observer: “It shows that there is truth behind the myths and legends of ancient Greece.”

She said this evidence is all the more significant when linked to earlier finds. In 2019, the remains of four female warriors buried with arrowheads and spears were found in Russia and in 2017, Armenian archaeologists unearthed the remains of a woman who appeared to have died of battle injuries, as an arrowhead was buried in her leg. In the early 1990s, the remains of a woman buried with a dagger were found near the Kazakhstan border.

Hughes said: “A civilization does not consist of a single grave. If we’re talking about a culture crossing the Caucasus and the Steppes, which is what all the ancients said, you obviously need other remains.”

Some of the skeletons reveal that the women used a lot of bows and arrows, Hughes noted: “Their fingers are crooked because they use arrows so much. Changes to the finger joints would not only happen from hunting. This is some sustained, great practice. What is very exciting is that much of the bone evidence also shows clear evidence of sustained time in the saddle. Women’s pelvises are basically opened because they ride horses. [Their] bones are only shaped by their lifestyle.”

Penthesilea, an Amazon queen, and Achilles fight to the death. Photo: Ivy Close Images/Alamy

She noted that the jewelry includes cornelian necklaces: “Cornelian is a semi-precious stone. You often see this when people are high priestesses or goddesses. So it’s a sign of women with status – so are foil heads.”

The findings will be revealed in a new Channel 4 series in April, Bettany Hughes’s Treasures of the World – Azerbaijan: Silk Roads and the Caucasus.

In the documentary she says about the Amazon findings: “Slowly you get these brilliant pieces of evidence coming out of the earth. That’s often the way, with the really best stories.”

She visits the mountain village of Khanalig the Greater Caucasus, the highest inhabited place in Europe. It is so remote that it “feels like it is lost in time”, she says, noting that the local language is not spoken anywhere else.

There has been a settlement since the Bronze Age, and some of its 2,000 residents tell her that in ancient times their women disguised themselves as men with scarves – stories passed down through their generations.

She raised ancient Amazon stories with them: “They said: ‘all our grandmothers fought. The men were all gone with the herds. The women always covered their faces to fight’, that’s exactly what the ancient sources said, so people didn’t know if they were women or men.”



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