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Study of the Origin and Development of Equestrian-Nomadic Culture

Study of the Origin and Development of Equestrian-Nomadic Culture

Soka University,The Mitsubishi Foundation

Mongolia

Monuments around Mt. Ulaan Uushig

1998-1999 Fundamental Research
01/03/2009
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BACKGROUND

Social Background

The equestrian nomads have consistently played an important role in the history of Eurasia, but when and where did they originate? Seeking the answers to these questions through archaeological surveys, members of the Steppe Archaeology Society traveled throughout the steppes in Central Eurasia beginning in the late 1980s. Until then, most areas of Central Eurasia belonged to socialist regimes, and it was impossible for researchers from Western countries to carry out local surveys in those areas. However, it was not long before China launched its reform and open-door policy and the former Soviet Union began to implement perestroika. Given these trends, the idea of socialist regimes and Western researchers implementing joint surveys gradually became a realistic prospect. The Steppe Archaeology Society began seeking a survey partner, while at the same time participating in UNESCO Silk Road studies and various studies subsidized by the Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology.

Selecting a Survey Site

Among the Central Eurasian countries traveled by members of the Steppe Archaeology Society, the largest numbers of monuments of the equestrian nomads were found in Mongolia, and were preserved in best condition. Yet, most of them had not yet been investigated. When it was a socialist state, Mongolia conducted many joint surveys with the former Soviet Union and East European countries, so it holds no feelings of prejudice or discomfort against foreign survey teams. It is generally friendly toward Japan, as well. Based on these reasons, the Steppe Archaeology Society came to seek a partnership with Mongolia in conducting an investigation of the monuments. In 1997, members of the Steppe Archaeology Society traveled to Mongolia at their own expense to select and narrow down candidate investigation sites. In 1998, upon receiving a subsidy from the Mitsubishi Foundation, the Society made a final selection and concluded an agreement with Mongolia.

Members of the Steppe Archaeology Society examining a deer stone

ACTIVITIES

Overview of the Selected Site

Ultimately, a survey site was selected near Mt. Ulaan Uushig, located about 20 km west of Mörön, the capital city of Hövsgöl Province, about 600 km northwest of Ulaan Baatar. Ulaan Uushig is actually an isolated hill measuring 7 – 8 km in diameter, surrounded by numerous monuments. As no surveys have ever been implemented of the locations and distributions of monuments in Mongolia, the survey team firstly mapped the monuments around the mountain prior to conducting its survey. As a result, it discovered ten groups of monuments consisting of khereksurs (stone burial mounds) and deer stones mainly on the eastern and southern faces of Mt. Ulaan Uushig.

Excavation of Monuments

The survey team launched an excavation of the group of monuments located on the southeastern side of Mt. Ulaan Uushig, beginning with the area around a medium-sized khereksur and a deer stone with distinct patterns. The khereksur was chosen for a reason. Generally speaking, a massive structure was commonly used to mark the establishment of the first kingdom in a certain region. Because arranging or erecting such a massive structure requires collective labor, the structure eventually became a symbol of the ruler’s power to control the enormous labor force. Additionally, a conspicuous monumental structure was an effective way to widely advertise the newly-established power. Particularly with respect to the king’s burial mound, which was considered an extension of the king himself, the size of the burial mound indicated the strength of the king’s power. Different-sized khereksurs within the same group of monuments probably indicated differences in social order of the buried. The survey team assumed that khereksurs in the steppe served this same purpose.

Deer stone at the Ulaan Uushig Site

RESULTS

Achievements of the 1999 Excavation Survey

During the 1999 survey, the survey team did not have the time to excavate the central mound of the khereksur, but excavated 5 of the 21 piles of small stones surrounding it and from each pile unearthed a horse’s skull placed facing east accompanied by neck bones. When several small-stone piles around a deer stone were also excavated, a horse’s skull placed facing east accompanied by neck bones was similarly unearthed from each pile. These findings indicated that the people who created khereksurs and the people who erected deer stones belonged to the same culture. This discovery has great meaning. The khereksurs were not always able to be dated accurately, but because the deer stones were known to date from the first half of the first millennium B.C. judging by the carved depictions of daggers, animal patterns, and symbols on them, the discovery meant that the date of the khereksurs was approximately the same as the date of the deer stones.

Progress of Subsequent Surveys

Thereafter, surveys were continued from 2003 to 2006, funded by the Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology. Like the 1999 survey, subsequent surveys verified that khereksurs are burial mounds, and that the piles of small stones surrounding the khereksurs and deer stones each contain a horse’s skull and neck bones. In the case of the khereksur excavated by the Steppe Archaeology Society, the 21 piles of stones around the khereksur meant that 21 horses were sacrificed and offered to the individual who was buried. The excavated khereksur is not large, but a large khereksur surrounded by more than 1,600 small stone piles can be found in Mongolia. The first half of the first millennium B.C. indeed appears to have been an “era of khereksurs” within the steppe. The deer stones, on the other hand, were surrounded by piles of small stones like the khereksurs, but were also found with rectangular stone slabs and other objects of unknown significance. Many issues, such as the significance of the deer stones and their more precise date, still remain to be solved.

Horse’s skull and neck bones unearthed from a pile of small stones near the deer stone

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