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SCIENTISTS FACE ROYALLY TRICKY TASK

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The scientists in charge of preserving Vladimir Lenin's body have taken on an even trickier task - how to restore the mummy of a 2,000-year-old Scythian princess found in remotest Siberia.

The embalmed body of the young woman, nicknamed "The Lady," was unearthed by Russian archaeologists last year, but the news went unnoticed amid political turmoil in Moscow.The archaeologists shipped her back to Novosibirsk, where she spent eight months in a refrigerator meant for dairy produce. Exposure to the air has shrunk and darkened her skin, which was fresh and white when first uncovered.

She is now in the hands of Moscow's Center for Scientific Research into Biological Structure, which has helped maintain Soviet state founder Lenin's corpse in the Red Square mausoleum.

"We'll bring back her coloring to a more normal shade," said the center's Vladislav Kozeltsev, who has been working with Lenin's body for 15 years.

"When a person has dieted, you can tell because the skin hangs off them. If you feed them up they look plumper. That's what we'd like the mummy to look like," he said.

He declines to give details on the procedure.

"Our method of embalming bodies used to be a state secret, now it's a commercial secret," said Kozeltsev, who heads a team of eight scientists.

Already he can report some progress. When the mummy was first found, intricate tattoos depicting mythical monsters were visible on her shoulder and thumb.

After just two weeks' work in the center, the tattoos can now be seen running all the way down her arm.

When she was first discovered in the wilderness, The Lady was lying on her side, frozen into the permafrost in the remote Umok plateau of southern Siberia. Her neck and stomach had been cut open and she was stuffed with peat, moss and fur.

The mummy was buried alongside six horses in full harness, dishes, a mirror, a brush, and even a small pot of marijuana to help her travel into the afterlife.

She was clothed in a voluminous white silk dress, a long crimson woollen skirt, white felt stockings and a wooden headdress that supported a tall felt plume.

"The young woman was buried in late spring or early summer," said Natalya Polosmak, chief archeologist of the Siberian team that discovered the mummy.

"She clearly died in winter and judging from the state of the body when we discovered it, about three months passed between death and burial."

Her body lay in the hollowed-out trunk of a larch tree, decorated with carved leather figures of deer and snow leopards, which was placed inside a chamber of logs.

After the tomb was closed, rainwater trickled down a hole bored through the rock and slowlyze and stayed intact for 20 centuries.

Six other mummies have been found in the Umok plateau over the past 10 years, but all quickly disintegrated.

Soon after The Lady was recovered, rumors began circulating among the Siberians that those involved in removing the mummy from its tomb would be cursed.

It took Polosamak five weeks to arrange a helicopter to transport the body to Novosibirsk. On the way one of the craft's engines failed and it crash-landed.

"To withstand a bump like that without falling apart, not to mention a night out in the wilds, just goes to show what good condition she was in," said Kozeltsev.

He hopes to be able to send the rejuvenated mummy back to Novosibirsk by the end of the year where it could be stored in a glass case, like Lenin's in his Moscow mausoleum.