How to get High Like a Scythian

 Iszi and St John Simpson in his cluttered office just after recording.

Iszi and St John Simpson in his cluttered office just after recording.

Scythians. Admit it, you thought they were a two episode species in a season of Star Trek Voyager. Probably one that everyone but Neelix didn't take too seriously until it was too late. But no! The Scythians were the mysterious nomadic people that lived in that surprisingly lush area of forest and grassland that runs between Siberia and the Black Sea. 

They make you think of the Mongols. Horse breeding, arrow firing, tribal, nomads armed to the teeth with cool weapons... but they were alive over a thousand years before Genghis Kahn ever stepped on the steppe. 

Alas they had no written language so we only have records of the people who fought them and from Herodotus who quite understandably, prefers a good yarn over solid evidence. The only evidence we have of them is what they left behind. Their graves are time capsules, their afterlife now preserved in icy frozen tombs. Even better, like those fish fingers you are never going to eat, their bodies have been preserved.  

From this evidence, St John Simpson argues, we know Herodotus never saw a naked Scythian. If he had, he would have waxed lyrical about their body art. Tattoos are back in fashion. Bow hunting is also making a huge resurgence. The practice of smoking copious amounts of marijuana in tents isn't exactly an alien concept to modern man/students. A Scythian wandering around shirtless in Glastonbury today would be indistinguishable from your everyday hipster. Only possibly with more battle scars.

 Scythian bling. Check out the rack on that. Skilled craftsmen, dead rich and obsessed with the natural world. Designs like this are stitched onto clothing and tattooed on their bodies. 

Scythian bling. Check out the rack on that. Skilled craftsmen, dead rich and obsessed with the natural world. Designs like this are stitched onto clothing and tattooed on their bodies. 

If you want to find out more - listen to the latest episode of The British Museum Membercast. I talk to the curator of the Scythian exhibition St John Simpson. A brilliant man who looks distractingly like an older, wiser Daniel Kitson. He also has an office even my old Geography teacher would call cluttered. And I'm glad to report chairs being used as filing cabinets will never go out of fashion. And nor will some elements of Scythian culture.

One element of Scythian culture that has died away is the elaborate burial. It seems monotheistic religion has really put a dampener on making awesome tombs for future generations to unearth. A gravestone is nothing compared to several freshly slaughtered horses, a presumably freshly slaughtered concubine, gold, fabrics, furs... all collected and left under a large mound resembling the 'house' in teletubbyland. 

However there are ways for you to go down in History. You can be remembered. It might be as simple as sending a postcard to The British Museum... they record and preserve postcards in their files... which one presumes they must chisel into clay tablets.  So send a postcard, and if you are really interested in being celebrated: there is one specific spot in particular where no one has sent one from before. Where? Well, you'll have to listen to find out!