Sie sind hier: Startseite Research Inner Asia Current Projects


Bioarcheological Research on Cemeteries in The Upper Orkhon Valley (BARCOR)

The ridge Maikhan Tolgoi from south.

The ridge Maikhan Tolgoi from south.

Our goal is a systematic research of the cemetery of Maikhan Tolgoi in the Upper Orkhon Valley that was used in the Late Bronze/Early Iron Age. The cemetery stretches along the southern slope of a mountain and includes all known monument types of this period (khirigsuurs, deer stones, slab graves) that display a great variety, as well as numerous culturally unspecific features.
Furthermore the necropolis is characterized by a unique assemblage and density of grave features, which usually are spread over larger landscapes and are traditionally considered as chronologically and/or culturally distinct.

Views on the digital 3D model of slab grave 89 from Maikhan Tolgoi.

Snow in Maikhan Tolgoi, accentuating individual features.

Despite the fact that recent research has achieved progress in terms of dating these different monument types, an explanation of their partial co-existence, has yet to be found. Traditionally they are perceived to be different “archaeological cultures”, an unsatisfactory, but nevertheless applied cultural concept, that is deeply rooted in Soviet research tradition.

By systematic research on one cemetery that was apparently in use during the Late Bronze/Early Iron Age we aim to establish a basis for researching the actual cultural, functional and chronological relationship.
In tandem with the archaeological analysis we conduct bio-archaeological studies drawing on the retinue of recent methodologies of anthropological and palaeo-zoological research. Only this inter-disciplinary approach will enable us to comprehensively clarify the coexistence of these various monument types and to find out about differences between the people constructing these features, which might be based in different subsistence strategies, diet or social differences. Since settlements of this period are missing in Mongolia, these questions can only be approached through a complex study of mortuary monuments.

During the project "Geoarchaeology in the steppe" a complete plan of the cemetery Maikhan Tolgoi was made with the help of an octocopter, and during a summer school in 2009, financed by DAAD, individual structures were drawn additionally so that a complete plan of the visible structures of this site was available before the start of the project. Through this work additional features of stone lines in some areas of the site were recorded.

In order to thoroughly understand the ways in which prehistoric peoples structured ritual and cultural landscapes, we documented all visible monuments of the whole micro-region.

After an exploratory campaign in 2011, we excavated several different features in September 2012 which demonstrate that all tested features do indeed contain skeletal remains and that their preservation is good enough to conduct anthropological research.
In order to work in the field as efficiently as possible we employ various documentation techniques, among others, the photographic documentation of each excavated level with the structure-from-motion technology, which processes a series of fotos into a digital 3D-model with the Software “Agisoft PhotoScan”.

Views on the digital 3D model of slab grave 89 from Maikhan Tolgoi.

Views on the digital 3D model of slab grave 89 from Maikhan Tolgoi.


Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft DFG (

Logo der DFG


University of Bonn, Dept. Pre- and Early Historical Archaeology
Staatssammlung für Anthropologie und Paläoanatomie München
Institute of Archaeology, Mongolian Academy of Sciences


Prof. Dr. Jan Bemmann [Email protection active, please enable JavaScript.]
Dr. Ursula Brosseder [Email protection active, please enable JavaScript.]
Prof. Dr. Gisela Grupe [Email protection active, please enable JavaScript.]
Dr. Chimiddorj Yeruul-Erdene [Email protection active, please enable JavaScript.]
Jamiyan-Ombo Gantulga, MA [Email protection active, please enable JavaScript.]

Selected related literature and projects:

  • Bemmann et al. 2009: J. Bemmann/H. Parzinger/E. Pohl/D. Tseveendorzh (eds.), Current Archaeological Research in Mongolia. Papers from the First International Conference on “Archaeological Research in Mongolia” held in Ulaanbaatar, August 19th – 23rd, 2007. Bonn Contributions to Asian Archaeology 4 (Bonn 2009).
  • Cybiktarov 2003: A.D. Cybiktarov, Central Asia in the Bronze and Early Iron Ages (Problems of Ethno-Cultural History of Mongolia and the Southern Trans-Baikal Region in the Middle 2nd – Early 1st Millennia BC). Archaeology, Ethnology & Anthropology of Eurasia 2003, 1, 80-97.
  • Deer Stone Project Field Reports
  • Erdene 2006. M. Erdene, Ancient population from Eastern Mongolia. Mongolian Journal of Anthropology, Archaeology, and Ethnology, 2 (254), 2006, 109-122.
  • Erdene 2008: M. Erdene, Comparative cranial nonmetric study of archaeological populations from Inner Asia. Mongolian Journal of Anthropology, Archaeology, and Ethnology, 4, 1 (312), 184-212.
  • Fitzhugh 2009a: W. Fitzhugh, The Mongolian Deer Stone-Khirigsuur Complex. Dating and Organization of a Late Bronze Age Menagerie. In: J. Bemmann et al. 2009, 183-199.
  • Frohlich/Bazarsad 2005: B. Frohlich/N. Bazarsad, Burial Mounds in Hovsgol Aimag, Northern Mongolia: Preliminary Results from 2003-2004. In: W. Fitzhugh/J. Bayarsaikhan/P.K. Marsh (eds.), The Deer Stone Project. Anthropological studies in Mongolia 2002-2004 (Washington D.C. 2005), 57-84.
  • Frohlich et al. 2009: B. Frohlich/Ts. Amgalantögs/J. Littleton/D. Hunt/J. Hinton/K. Goler, Bronze Age Ritual Burial Mounds in the Khövsgöl Aimag, Mongolia. In: Bemmann et al. 2009, 99-115.
  • Gantulga et al. 2009: J.-O. Gantulga/J.-J. Grizeaud/J. Magail/M. Tsengel/Ch. Yeruul-Erdene, Compte rendu de la campagne 2009 de la mission archéologique conjointe Monaco-Mongolie. Bulletin du Musée d’Anthropologie Préhistorique de Monaco 49, 2009. 115-120.
  • Honeychurch/Amartuvshin 2011: W. Honeychurch/Ch. Amartuvshin, Timescapes from the Past – An Archaeogeography of Mongolia. In: P. Sabloff/F. Hiebert (eds.), Mapping Mongolia (Philadelphia 2011).
  • Houle 2009: Socially Integrative Facilities and the Emergence of Societal Complexity on the Mongolian Steppe. In: B. K. Hanks/K. M. Linduff (eds.), Social Complexity in Prehistoric Eurasia. Monuments, Metals, and Mobility (Cambridge 2009) 358-377.
  • Machicek 2011: M. L. Machicek, Reconstructing Diet and Health in Early Nomadic Pastoralist Communities of Inner Asia. PhD Dissertation, University of Sheffield 2011.
  • Nelson et al. 2009: A.R. Nelson/Ch. Amartüvshin/W. Honeychurch, A Gobi Mortuary Site through Time: Bioarchaeology at Baga Mongol, Baga Gazaryn Chuluu. In: Bemmann et al. 2009, 565-578.
  • Parzinger 2006: H. Parzinger, Die frühen Völker Eurasiens vom Neolithikum bis zum Mittelalter (München 2006).
  • Törbat et al. 2011: Ц. Төрбат/Ж. Баярсайхан/Д. Батсүх/Н. Баярхүү, Жаргалантын амны буган хөшөөд [= Deer stones of the Jargalantyn Am] (Ulaanabaatar 2011).
  • Tsybiktarov 1998: А.Д. Цыбиктаров, Культура плиточных могил Монголии и Забайкалья (Улан-Удэ 1998).
  • Tumen 2008: D. Tumen, Anthropology of archaeological populations from inner Asia. Mongolian Journal of Anthropology, Archaeology, and Ethnology, 4, 1 (312), 162-183.
  • Volkov 1967: В.В. Волков, Бронзовый и ранный железный век северной Монголии. Studia Archaeologica 5 (Улан-Батор 1967).
  • Volkov 1971: В.В. Волков, Раскопки в Монголии. Археологические открытия 1971 года (Москва 1972) 554-556.
  • Volkov 1981: В.В. Волков, Оленные камни Монголии (Улаанбаатар 1981).