A Xiongnu Cemetery Found in Mongolia

By Allard, Francis; Erdenebaatar, Diimaajav et al. | Antiquity, September 2002 | Go to article overview

A Xiongnu Cemetery Found in Mongolia


Allard, Francis, Erdenebaatar, Diimaajav, Batbold, Natsagyn, Miller, Bryan, Antiquity


In July 2001, members of the Khanuy Valley International Collaborative Project on Early Nomadic Pastoralism in Mongolia identified a previously unrecorded cemetery believed to be associated with the Xiongnu, a powerful confederacy of nomadic pastoralists that arose during the late 3rd century BC north of the Chinese state and that came to control a large portion of present-day Mongolia and surrounding regions over the following centuries. Named Gol Mod-2, the cemetery is located in Ondor Ulaan sum of Arkhangai aimag in central Mongolia, 12 km east of the Khanuy valley and 15 km southeast of Urt Bulagyn khirigsuur, a large Bronze Age funerary/ ceremonial complex in the valley which is presently the focus of on-going archaeological investigations by the collaborative project.

A systematic survey covering an area of 3-5 sq. km identified the limits of the cemetery, which extends 2.2 km west-east and 1.3 km north-south. It is bordered to its south and east by the Bugatiin nuruu mountains, to its west by a sandy area, and to its north by the Elsetiin gol, a small stream that is part of the Khanuy river drainage (FIGURE 1). The coordinates of major tombs were determined using a GPS, while a tape-measure and compass were used to establish the dimensions of all tombs and the locations of all small burials and structures situated near larger tombs.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

The survey identified a number of different tomb types and structures. The largest burials are those with a ramp leading up to a level platform. A total of 98 of these were identified, including 91 with clear four-sided platforms. The platform's northern end is often wider than the southern side that connects it to the ramp, while the ramps are themselves usually narrower at their ground level entrance. Located near the northwestern edge of the cemetery, the largest tomb is 83 m long, with the 3-m tall platform measuring 46 m in length and the visible portion of the ramp 37 m (FIGURE 2). The smallest tomb with a ramp is 8 m long and 5 m wide, with the platform lying at ground level (FIGURE 3). The orientation of these tombs varies between 329[degrees] and 002[degrees], a relatively narrow range that suggests a consistent funerary practice. Rather than pointing to a specific topographical landmark to the north, however, these tombs simply appear to display a general orientation toward the bottom of the gentle slope and the stream. The survey also located straight and curved rows of stones to the immediate north of some of the large tombs.

[FIGURES 2-3 OMITTED]

The remaining burials, all of these circular, are of two types. The first group includes small `satellite' burials attached to tombs with ramps, with large tombs often accompanied by many such burials. …

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