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The Xiongnu cemetery of Gol Mod, Mongolei

Dr. Ursula Brosseder

Since the 3rd century BC the Xiongnu are a steppe nomadic people who are mentioned in the Chinese written records. They appear as a political and military power on the northern frontier of the Han Empire, and they are soon recognized as a political entity. Until the 1st century AD when the Xiongnu were finally defeated and did not play an important role any more, the Han Empire tried to handle over quite a long period of time these nomadic barbarians with a “peace and kinship treaty”, which partially was an agreement to pay tribute to the Chanyu.

But who were those Xiongnu? And how adequate is the image shown in the chronicles? The archaeological record on the Xiongnu is still not so abundant in comparison with other regions in the early medieval time.

In the past Russia with its research in Buryatia contributed the most to the knowledge on the Xiongnu (Yu. Tal’ko Gryncevich, G. Sosnovskij, A. Davydova, P. Konovalov, S. Minyaev) and also set the stage for research on Xiongnu with the famous expeditions under P. Kozlov in 1925 to Noyon uul.

Since the past 10 years however, after the political turnover in the eastern hemisphere, research on the Xiongnu has increased tremendously in Mongolia – today there are about seven international expeditions researching on Xiongnu archaeology from France, Korea, Russia and the United States – and soon there will be more data available for the scientific community.

One of the expeditions in Mongolia longest involved in research on the Xiongnu is the “Mission archéologique française en Mongolie (MAFM)”, headed by J.-P. Desroches from the Musée Guimet in Paris. Since 2001 they conduct their research in the Arkhangay province at the site of Gol mod, located 350 km west of Ulaanbaatar.

In 2004 and 2005 the MAFM excavated a second aristocratic tomb (T 20). I joined the expedition in 2005 and together with my colleagues Guilhem André and Erööl-Erdene I am leading the excavations conducted in Gol mod. In 2005 we excavated the burial chamber of the princely Tomb 20 with several archaeologists, a restorer, a topographer and several students from Ulaanbaatar.

At the beginning of the excavations we found on top of the burial chamber (in a stone packing) a light Chinese chariot, which was probably dismantled before its deposition. In the burial chamber we excavated a second, lighter inner construction, in which the coffin was placed.


The inventory of the burial chamber was rich and is still in progress to be studied. The documentation, excavations of the blocks taken in 2005 took up all the time of the campaign in 2006 and much of 2007s. A first impression on the findings can give the following pictures
For the work of the MAFM and more information on the excavations in Gol mod, see the official website at

My own research interest focuses on the society of the Xiongnu and their contacts to the West and how they interacted with other late Iron Age communities in Eurasia. In scientific literature for example it is often assumed that the European Huns are the followers of the Xiongnu. Looking at the archaeological evidence more closely there are however numerous obstacles questioning this picture.

  • U. Brosseder, Zur Archäologie der Xiongnu. In: Attila und die Hunnen. Ausstellungskat. Speyer (Stuttgart 2007) 63-71. 
  • U. Brosseder, Fremde Frauen in Ivolga? In: M. Blečić u. a. (Hrsg.), Scripta praehistorica in honorem Biba Teržan. Situla 44 (Ljubljana 2007) 883-893. 
  • U. Brosseder, Les Xiongnu et leurs relations internationales. Хүннүгийн үеийнхэн тэдний гадаа харилцаа. In: J.-P. Desroches/G. André (ed.), Mongolie, les Xiongnu de l’Arkhangaï. Монгол улс: Архангай дахь Хүннүгийн судалгаа (Oulan-Bator 2007) 82-84.

Sources on the Xiongnu

On the worldwide web: (Caram, Dyrestuj and others)


In latin

G. André, Une tombe princière Xiongnu à Gol Mod, Mongolie (campagnes de fouilles 2000-2001). Arts Asiatiques 57, 2002, 194-205.
N. di Cosmo, Ancient China and its enemies. The rise of nomadic power in East Asian History (Cambridge 2002).
N. di Cosmo, The Origin and Rise of the Xiongnu Empire. In: H. Celâl Güzel/C. Oğuz/O. Karatay (eds.), The Turks (Ankara 2002) 217-227.
J.-P. Desroches/G. André (éd.), Mongolie, les Xiongnu de l’Arkhangaї (Oulan-Bator 2007).
J.-P. Desroches, La nécropole de Gol Mod en Mongolie. Comptes rendus de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, fasc. III, oct. – janv. 2003, 1167-1176.
N. Ishjamts, Nomads in Eastern Central Asia. In: J. Harmatta (Hrsg.), History of civilisations of Central Asia II. The developments of sedentary and nomadic cilivisations: 700 B.C. to A.D. 250 UNESCO Publishing (Paris 1994) 151-169.
B. Miller/F. Allard/D. Erdenebaatar/Ch. Lee, A Xiongnu Tomb Complex: Excavations at Gol Mod 2 Cemetery, Mongolia (2002-05) In: History and Tradition of Mongolian Statehood (Ulaanbaatar 2006).
Mongolie. Le premier empire des steppes (Arles 2003).
H. Parzinger, Die frühen Völker Eurasiens. Vom Neolithikum bis zum Mittelalter (München 2006).
D. Robcis/G. André/A. Lalande, Etude et restauration d’un insigne de commandement Xiongnu, Techne 21, 2005, 5-11.
S. I. Rudenko, Die Kultur der Hsiung-nu und die Fürstengräber von Noin-Ula. Antiquitas 3,7 (Bonn 1969).
Yü Ying-Shih, The Hsiung-nu. In: D. Sinor (ed.) The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia (Cambridge u. a. 1999) 118-149.

In cyrillics

Давыдова А.В. 1995, Иволгинский археологический комплекс 1. Иволгинское городище. Aрх. памятники Сюнну 1. – Санкт-Петербург.
Давыдова, A.B. 1996, Иволгинский Комплекс 2. Иволгинский Могилник. Арх. памятники Сюнну 2. – Санкт Петербург.
Давыдова А.В. и C.C. Миняев 1993, Новые находки наборных поясов в Дырестуйском Могильнике. Арх. вести 2, 55–65.
Давыдова, А.В. и Миняев, С.С. 2003, Комплекс археологических памятников у села дурены. Арх. памятники Сюнну 5. – Санкт-Петербур.
Коновалов, П.Б. 1976, Хунну в Забайкалье. Погребальные памятники. – Улан-Удэ.
Крадин, Н.Н., 2001, Империя Хунну. – Москва.
Крадин, Н.Н., Данилов С.В. и П.Б. Коновалов 2004, Социальная структура хунну забайкалья. – Владивосток.
Кубарев, В.Д. и А.Д. Журавлева 1986, Керамическое производство хуннов Алтая. In: Палеоэкономика Сибири. 101–119. – Новосибирск.
Миняев, С.С. 1988, Комплекс погребений 44 в Дырестуйском могильнике. Краткие сообщения института археологии № 194, 99-103.
Миняев, C.C. 1995, Новейшие находки художественной бронзы и проблема формирования "геометрического стиля" в исскустве Сюнну. Археологические Вести (Санкт Петербург) 4, 123-136.
Миняев, С.С. 1998, Дырестуйский могильник. Арх. памятники Сюнну 3. – Санкт Петербург.
Миняев C.C. и Сахаровская, Л.А. 2002, Сопроводительные Захоронения "Царсково" Комплекса № 7 в Могильнике Царам. (engl. Summary: Sacrifice Burials of "Royal" Complex No. 7 at the Tsaram Cemetery) Археологические Вести (Санкт Петербург) 9, 86-118.
Могильников В.А. 1992, Хунну Забайкалья. // Степная полоса Азиатской части СССР в скифо-сарматское время. Арх. СССР, 254–273.
Талько-Грынцевич, Ю.Д. 1999, Материалы к Палеоэтнологии Забайкалья. Арх. памятники Сюнну 4. – Санкт-Петербург.
Tөрбат Ц., Амартүвшин Ч. и У. Эрдэнэбат 2003, Эгийн голын сав нутаг дахь. – Улаанбаатар.