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Radiocarbon Dates for Xiongnu period burials from Transbaikalia and Mongolia (2008–2010)


Generally absolute dates for burials of the Xiongnu period in Transbaikalia and Mongolia are obtained through the written records, which testify the Xiongnu empire between 209 BC and 91 AD, or by dating Chinese objects, such as mirrors, “wuzhu” coins or lacquer objects. These objects provide however only a terminus postquem while the time span of use is problematic (e.g. Lai 2006). An absolute date remains completely uncertain, when these objects, which only seemingly provide an accurate date, are missing. In order to develop an understanding for the cultural change this project was set up to receive absolute dates for Xiongnu period burials through an independent scientific method: radio-carbon dating.

In course of this project around 50 radiocarbon dates were obtained from 16 sites in Transbaikalia and Mongolia. Different materials were dated, mainly human bones, animal bones, wood and charcoal.

1. Ivolga, cemetery; 2. Ivolga, settlement; 3. Cheremukhovaia Pad‘; 4. Il’movaia Pad‘; 5. Dyrestui; 6. Enkhor; 7. Takhiltyn Khotgor; 8. Shombuuzin Belchir; 9. Khirgist Khooloi; 10. Burkhan Tolgoi; 11. Naimaa Tolgoi; 12. Khulkhyn am; 13. Tevsh Uul; 14. Ukhaa Khudag; 15. Nariiny Am; 16. Nariini Am.


First Results

The dates are still in the process of being analysed, some results are:

  • Ostentatious Burials of the Xiongnu are a relatively late phenomenon in the area under study and appear probably at the earliest in the second half of the first century BC and do not date later than the first century AD.
  • So far no “Xiongnu” burial can be surely dated to the third century BC.
  • The dating of human bones showed reservoir effects, which can also be observed in other parts of the steppes; a possible explanation could be a diet which included fish, at least for some of the analysed bones; research is continued.
  • Ivolga settlement and cemetery belong to the first century BC and the first century AD.
  • Chinese mirrors are sometimes in use for a long time span before their final deposition in a grave.
  • Some graves which are attributed to the “Xiongnu” belong to the time after the collaps of the Xiongnu empire which raises the question of defining Xiongnu (Brosseder/Miller 2011).



  • Brosseder 2009: Xiongnu Terrace Tombs and their Interpretation as Elite Burials. In: J. Bemmann/H. Parzinger/E. Pohl/D. Tseveendorzh (eds.), Current Archaeological Research in Mongolia. Papers from the First International Conference on „Archaeological Resesarch in Mongolia” held in Ulaanbaatar, August 19th–23rd 2007. Bonn Contributions to Asian Archaeology 4 (Bonn 2009) 247–280.
  • Brosseder/Marsadolov 2010: У. Бросседер/Л.С. Марсадолов, Новые радиоуглеродные даты для Иволгинского археологического комплекса обектов в Забайкалье (предварительные результаты) [= U. Brosseder/L.S. Marsadolov, New radiocabon dates from the Ivolga Archaeological Complex (preliminary results)]. In: Древние культуры Монголии и Байкальской Сибири. Материалы международной научной конференции 20-23 сентября 2010 г. (Улан-Удэ 2010) 183–186. PDF
  • Brosseder/Miller 2011: U. Brosseder/B. K. Miller, State of Research and Future Directions of Xiongnu Studies. In: U. Brosseder/B. K. Miller (eds.), Xiongnu Archaeology. Multidisciplinary Perspectives of the First Steppe Empire in Inner Asia. Bonn Contributions to Asian Archaeology 5 (Bonn 2011) 19-33
  • Brosseder et al. 2011a: U. Brosseder/Ch. Yeruul-Erdene with D. Tseveendorj, Ch. Amartuvshin, Ts. Turbat, Ts. Amgalantugs and a contribution by M. L. Machicek, 12 AMS-radiocarbon dates from Xiongnu period sites in Mongolia and the problem of chronology. Arkheologiin sudlal 32, 2011, 53-70 . PDF
  • Brosseder et al. 2011b: U.Brosseder/J. Bayarsaikhan, B. K. Miller, Ts. Odbaatar, Seven Radiocarbon dates for Xiongnu Burials in Western and Central Mongolia. Öv Nüdelchdiin sudlal 11, 2011, 234-240. PDF
  • P. B. Konovalov/U. Brosseder, The Dating of Barrow No. 54 and its significance. In: P. B. Konovalov, The Burial Vault of a Xiongnu Prince at Sudzha (Il’movaia Pad’, Transbaikalia). Bonn Contributions to Asian Archaeology 3 (Bonn 2008) 53–54.
  • Lai 2006: G. Lai, The Date of the TLV Mirrors from the Xiongnu Tombs. The Silk Road 4, 1, 2006, 36–44.

Financed by

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Collaboration Partners

  • State Hermitage,St. Petersburg, Dr. Leonid Marsadolov
  • Anthropological Institute, Kunstkamera, St. Petersburg
  • Buriatskii Nauchnyi Tsentr, Ulan Ude
  • Institute of Archaeology, Mongolian Academy of Sciences, Ulaanbaatar
  • National Museum of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar