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Cultural Change from the Late Bronze/Early Iron Age to the Late Iron Age (Xiongnu Period) in the Upper Orkhon Valley, Central Mongolia

Dr. Ursula Brosseder / Dr. Chimiddorj Yeruul-Erdene / Jamiyan-Ombo Gantulga

In Mongolia the sequence of archaeological cultures exhibits numerous hiatuses of several centuries for which neither archaeological contexts nor artifacts are known. This fact is a severe obstacle to our understanding of cultural change between the Late Bronze/Early Iron Age and the Late Iron Age (Xiongnu Period) with the emergence of the First Steppe Empire. Currently a gap of roughly 200 years separates these two time periods, from which no archaeological record seems to be known. As this transition phase has never been a target of systematic research, it is even unknown whether the hiatus is caused by missing systematic research or whether it is real in the archaeological record.

It is the goal of this fundamental research project to research on graves/ritual complexes of both periods in the micro-region called Ar Bulan in the Upper Orkhon Valley in order to obtain data and advance in this question.

Fig. 1 Location of the sites in the micro-region Ar Bulan, Upper Orkhon Valley.

The Bronze Age site (Ar Bulan Bronze) is situated on a mountain ridge above the Orkhon River, while the Xiongnu period site (Ar Bulan Khunnu) is located roughly 1km away, more remote from the river on the slope of a small mountain. Both sites were registered in course of the project Geoarchaeology in the steppe.

Fig. 2 View on Ar Bulan Bronze (left) and Ar Bulan Khunnu (right).

Fig. 2 View on Ar Bulan Bronze (left) and Ar Bulan Khunnu (right).

During the first campaign in 2012 we established first a detailed plan of both sites and excavated at Ar Bulan Bronze two slab graves with human skeletal remains and pottery, beads and stone tools, as well as satellites of a khirigsuur.

At the site Ar Bulan Khunnu we demonstrated for the first time that the small cemetery with 9 circular graves is embedded in various stone settings. So far we know of stone lines to the north of graves that are rarely documented and known mostly from monumental tomb sites. One of our focus is to study continuity in ritual.
Just as with the BARCOR Project in the Upper Orkhon Valley, we employ a bio-archaeological approach in order to better understand living conditions, diet, life and death of humans and animals which allows also for discussing aspects of continuity and discontinuity.

In order for a time efficient but detailed documentation, we work with the structure-from-motion technology and document most levels with a series of digital photos which are processed into a 3D model with the software AgiSoft PhotoScan Professional.

Fig. 3. Sample view of the 3D model from Ar Bulan Bronze Tomb 10, level 2.

Fig. 3. Sample view of the 3D model from Ar Bulan Bronze Tomb 10, level 2.

Fig. 4. Sample view of the 3D model from Ar Bulan Khunnu Tomb2, level 4.

Fig. 4. Sample view of the 3D model from Ar Bulan Khunnu Tomb2, level 4.

Funding:

Gerda Henkel Foundation

Logo der Gerda Henkel Stiftung

Partner:

Institute of Archaeology, Mongolian Academy of Sciences

Contact:

Dr. Ursula Brosseder [Email protection active, please enable JavaScript.]
Dr. Chimiddorj Yeruul-Erdene [Email protection active, please enable JavaScript.]
Jamiyan-Ombo Gantulga, M.A. [Email protection active, please enable JavaScript.]

 

Related Literature:

  • Bemmann 2011: J. Bemmann, Was the center of the Xiongnu Empire in the Orkhon Valley? 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) 441-461.
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  • 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.
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