Weaving photos and narrative, Gleb Raygorodetsky introduces us to the sacred landscape of the Ukok Plateau, its changing climate, and the quest of local kam (shaman) Maria Amanchina for the return of one of their ancestors who was buried on the sacred mountain plateau to ensure the peace and well-being of her people.

Maria and the Ukok Princess: Climate change and the fate of the Altai” takes us to the Ukok Plateau, now a region of the Russian Altai that borders China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan, which is included in the UNESCO Golden Mountains of Altai World Heritage Site. Here, some 24 centuries ago, a noblewoman of the nomadic Pazyryk tribe was buried in a large ancient burial tomb, or kurgan. Local people know her as Ukok Princess Kadyn.

Two decades ago Princess Kadyn was unearthed by researchers and taken to the Novosibirsk Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Since then, Maria and local people have seen many signs that the Princess’ continued absence is upsetting the natural order of things in the region.

In 2009, we invited Maria to visit our partners The Mupo Foundation and the communities they work with in the Venda region, South Africa. Along with Altaian enironmentalist and founder of Uch Enmek Park, Danil Mamyev, and Chagat Almashev, Director of the Foundation for Sustainable Development of Altai, she took part in a training on eco-cultural mapping and a learning exchange with indigenous leaders from the Colombian Amazon – captured in our film “Reviving our Culture, Mapping our Future“. The following year our Director, Liz Hosken, and two traditional healers from Botswana, Niall and Colin Campbell, accompanied Gleb on his travels to Altai and across the Ukok Plateau, accompanied by Maria.

We invite you to learn more about local efforts restore and sustain the role of the ancestral burial kurgans and other sacred sites in protecting Altai and its people from various challenges. Gleb’s article and photos “Maria and the Ukok Princess: Climate change and the fate of the Altai” is available on the United Nations University website, OurWorld2.0, and is featured as part of the Conversations with the Earth initiative.

More about the author: Gleb (Dr. Gleb Raygorodetsky) is an Adjunct Research Fellow with the Traditional Knowledge Initiative of the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS) and a Research Affiliate with the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance at the Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria, Canada. A conservation biologist with expertise in resource co-management and traditional knowledge systems, he argues that, as the climate changes, the future for the Altai tombs that Maria and her people seek, is not about keeping ancient artifacts encased in permafrost.