Category Archives: MONGOLIA

Livestock and dairying led to dramatic social changes in ancient Mongolia, U-M study shows

Livestock and dairying led to dramatic social changes in ancient Mongolia, U-M study shows

The movement of herders and livestock into the eastern steppe is of great interest to researchers, but few scholars have linked the introduction of herds and horses to the rise of complex societies.

Horses and Gers near Khoton (Syrgal) Lake near the Altai Mountains of Mongolia.

Now, a new study in the journal PLOS ONE provides interdisciplinary support for connections between livestock dairying and the rise of social complexity in the eastern steppe. Using proteomic analysis of human dental calculus from sites in the Mongolian Altai, the researchers demonstrate a shift in dairy consumption over the course of the Bronze Age.

By tracking the consumption of dairy among populations in the Altai Mountains in Mongolia, researchers revealed the critical role of domesticated sheep, goats and cattle in ancient economies.

The adoption of ruminant livestock eventually led to population growth, the establishment of community cemeteries and the construction of large monuments. While these pronounced changes occurred in tandem with the earliest evidence of horse dairying in Mongolia, the consumption of horse dairy remained a relatively novel practise until later periods.

Thus, the spread of herds into the Mongolian Altai resulted in immediate changes to human diets, with a delay in subsequent social and demographic transformations, said study lead author Alicia Ventresca Miller, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan.

“As we push back the dates of the introduction of livestock, we need to rethink the pace of social change, which may occur on much longer timescales,” she said.

Ventresca Miller and colleagues from U-M and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany extracted proteins from calculus samples to identify caseins and whey associated with ruminant and horse dairy.

Results were interpreted in consultation with researchers from the National University of Mongolia and National Museum of Mongolia, in an effort to clarify how ancient societies changed after the adoption of domesticated livestock.

Livestock and dairying led to dramatic social changes in ancient Mongolia, U-M study shows
Sagsai burial from the site of Tsagaan Asga in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia.

Dramatic social changes and monumental constructions were fueled by a long-term dependence on sheep, goats and cattle, Ventresca Miller says. This is supported by finds of mostly ruminant bones in large monumental Khirgisuurs in the Altai Mountains, while in other areas of Mongolia horse bone deposits have been identified along with ruminants.

“These new results might allow for a shift in our understanding of Bronze Age dynamics,” said Tsagaan Turbat, professor of archaeology and anthropology at the National University of Mongolia.

Turbat believes that Deer Stone-Khirgisuur complexes, the most studied in the region, may have originated from Sagsai groups in the Altai Mountains.

The current study pushes back the earliest date of horse dairying in the eastern steppe associated with Sagsai burials to about 1350 B.C.

As initial evidence of horse milk consumption is rare, this may have been a novelty since horses were an important feature of ritual life, the researchers say.

Genetic Study Tracks Warriors from Mongolia to Hungary

Genetic Study Tracks Warriors from Mongolia to Hungary

Less known than Attila’s Huns, the Avars were their more successful successors. They ruled much of Central and Eastern Europe for almost 250 years. We know that they came from Central Asia in the sixth century CE, but ancient authors, as well as modern historians, have long debated their provenance.

Reconstruction of an Avar-period armoured horseman based on Grave 1341/1503 of the Derecske-Bikás-dűlő site (Déri Museum, Debrecen).

Now, a multidisciplinary research team of geneticists, archaeologists and historians, including researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, obtained and studied the first ancient genomes from the most important Avar elite sites discovered in contemporary Hungary.

This study traces the genetic origin of the Avar elite to a faraway region of East-Central Asia. It provides direct genetic evidence for one of the largest and most rapid long-distance migrations in ancient human history.

In the 560s, the Avars established an empire that lasted more than 200 years, centered in the Carpathian Basin. Despite much scholarly debate their initial homeland and origin have remained unclear.

They are primarily known from historical sources of their enemies, the Byzantines, who wondered about the origin of the fearsome Avar warriors after their sudden appearance in Europe. Had they come from the Rouran empire in the Mongolian steppe (which had just been destroyed by the Turks), or should one believe the Turks who strongly disputed such a legacy?

Historians have wondered whether that was a well-organized migrant group or a mixed band of fugitives. Archaeological research has pointed to many parallels between the Carpathian Basin and Eurasian nomadic artifacts (weapons, vessels, horse harnesses), for instance, a lunula-shaped pectoral of gold used as a symbol of power. We also know that the Avars introduced the stirrup in Europe. Yet we have so far not been able to trace their origin in the wide Eurasian steppes.

In this study, a multidisciplinary team—including researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, the ELTE University and the Institute of Archaeogenomics of Budapest, Harvard Medical School in Boston, the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton—analyzed 66 individuals from the Carpathian Basin.

The study included the eight richest Avar graves ever discovered, overflowing with golden objects, as well as other individuals from the region prior to and during the Avar age.

“We address a question that has been a mystery for more than 1400 years: who were the Avar elites, mysterious founders of an empire that almost crushed Constantinople and for more than 200 years ruled the lands of modern-day Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Austria, Croatia and Serbia?” explains Johannes Krause, senior author of the study.

Genetic Study Tracks Warriors from Mongolia to Hungary
Derecske-Bikás-dűlő, Grave 1341/1503 (Déri Museum, Debrecen).

Fastest long-distance migration in human history

The Avars did not leave written records about their history and these first genome-wide data provide robust clues about their origins.

“The historical contextualization of the archaeogenetic results allowed us to narrow down the timing of the proposed Avar migration.

They covered more than 5000 kilometres in a few years from Mongolia to the Caucasus, and after ten more years settled in what is now Hungary. This is the fastest long-distance migration in human history that we can reconstruct up to this point,” explains Choongwon Jeong, co-senior author of the study.

Guido Gnecchi-Ruscone, the lead author of the study, adds that “besides their clear affinity to Northeast Asia and their likely origin due to the fall of the Rouran Empire, we also see that the 7th-century Avar period elites show 20 to 30 per cent of additional non-local ancestry, likely associated with the North Caucasus and the Western Asian Steppe, which could suggest further migration from the Steppe after their arrival in the 6th century.”

The East Asian ancestry is found in individuals from several sites in the core settlement area between the Danube and Tisza rivers in modern-day central Hungary.

However, outside the primary settlement region, we find high variability in inter-individual levels of admixture, especially in the south-Hungarian site of Kölked. This suggests an immigrant Avars elite ruling a diverse population with the help of a heterogeneous local elite.

These exciting results show how much potential there is in the unprecedented collaboration between geneticists, archaeologists, historians and anthropologists for the research on the “Migration period” in the first millennium CE. The research was published in Cell.

Palaeolithic People in Mongolia May Have Consumed Giant Camel

Palaeolithic People in Mongolia May Have Consumed Giant Camel

A species of giant two-humped camel, Camelus knoblochi, is known to have lived for approximately a quarter of a million years in Central Asia. A new study in Frontiers in Earth Science shows that C. knoblochi’s last refuge was in Mongolia until approximately 27,000 years ago.

Palaeolithic People in Mongolia May Have Consumed Giant Camel

In Mongolia, the last of the species coexisted with anatomically modern humans and maybe the extinct Neanderthals or Denisovans. While the main cause of C. knoblochi’s extinction seems to have been climate change, hunting by archaic humans may also have played a role.

“Here we show that the extinct camel, Camelus knoblochi, persisted in Mongolia until climatic and environmental changes nudged it into extinction about 27,000 years ago,” said Dr. John W Olsen, Regents’ professor emeritus at the School of Anthropology of the University of Arizona, Tucson, US.

Paradoxically, today, southwestern Mongolia hosts one of the last two wild populations of the critically endangered wild Bactrian camel, C. ferus.

The new results suggest that C. knoblochi coexisted with C. ferus during the late Pleistocene in Mongolia, so that between-species competition may have been the third cause of C. knoblochi’s extinction. Standing nearly three meters tall and weighing more than a ton, C. knoblochi would have dwarfed C. ferus.

The precise taxonomic relationships between these two species, other extinct Camelus, and the ancient Paracamelus aren’t yet resolved.

Olsen said, “C. knoblochi fossil remains from Tsagaan Agui Cave [in the Gobi Altai Mountains of southwestern Mongolia], which also contains a rich, stratified sequence of human Paleolithic cultural material, suggest that archaic people coexisted and interacted there with C. knoblochi and elsewhere, contemporaneously, with the wild Bactrian camel.”

Steppe specialists are driven into extinction by desertification

The new study describes five C. knoblochi leg and foot bones found in Tsagaan Agui Cave in 2021, and one from Tugrug Shireet in today’s Gobi Desert of southern Mongolia. They were found in association with bones of wolves, cave hyenas, rhinoceroses, horses, wild donkeys, ibexes, wild sheep, and Mongolian gazelles. This assemblage indicates that C. knoblochi lived in montane and lowland steppe environments, less dry habitats than those of its modern relatives.

The authors conclude that C. knoblochi finally went extinct primarily because it was less tolerant of desertification than today’s camels, C. ferus, the domestic Bactrian camel C. bactrianus, and the domestic Arabian camel C. dromedarius.

In the late Pleistocene, much of Mongolia’s environment became drier and changed from steppe to dry steppe and finally desert.

“Apparently, C. knoblochi was poorly adapted to desert biomes, primarily because such landscapes could not support such large animals, but perhaps there were other reasons as well, related to the availability of fresh water and the ability of camels to store water within the body, poorly adapted mechanisms of thermoregulation, and competition from other members of the faunal community occupying the same trophic niche,” wrote the authors.

Towards the end, the last of the species may have lingered, at least seasonally, in the milder forest-steppe—grassland interspersed with woodland—further north in neighbouring Siberia. But this habitat probably wasn’t ideal either, which could have sounded the death knell for C. knoblochi. The world would not see giant camels again.

Preyed upon or scavenged by humans

What were the relations between archaic humans and C. knoblochi?

Corresponding author Dr. Arina M Khatsenovich, senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Archeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk, Russia, said, “A C. knoblochi metacarpal bone from Tsagaan Agui Cave, dated to between 59,000 and 44,000 years ago, exhibits traces of both butchery by humans and hyenas gnawing on it. This suggests that C. knoblochi was a species that Late Pleistocene humans in Mongolia could hunt or scavenge.”

“We don’t yet have sufficient material evidence regarding the interaction between humans and C. ferus in the Late Pleistocene, but it likely did not differ from human relationships with C. knoblochi—as prey, but not a target for domestication.”

First author Dr. Alexey Klementiev, a paleobiologist with the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Siberian Branch, said, “We conclude that C. knoblochi became extinct in Mongolia and in Asia, generally, by the end of Marine Isotope Stage 3 (roughly 27,000 years ago) as a result of climate changes that provoked degradation of the steppe ecosystem and intensified the process of aridification.”

Ancient mummy ‘with 1,100-year-old Adidas boots’ died after she was struck on the head

Ancient mummy ‘with 1,100 year old Adidas boots’ died after she was struck on the head

Intriguing new details have emerged about a medieval mummy known for her ‘Adidas’ boots – which she wore more than a millennia ago. The body of the woman was discovered a year ago this week in the Altai mountains region of Mongolia.

And her body and possessions remained so remarkably preserved that experts are still uncovering some of the secrets they keep. Now, scientists have discovered that the mummy suffered a significant blow to the head before her death.  

The Mongolian woman – aged between 30 and 40 – hit headlines in April 2016, thanks to her modern-looking footwear, which some likened to a pair of trainers. In the intervening 12 months, scientists have been working to find out more about the mysterious Mongolian mummy.

Scientists believe the body of a woman (pictured) found in April last year, died up to 1,100 years ago from a blow to the head

And her trademark felt boots – boasting red and black stripes – have been carefully cleaned, with new pictures revealed today by The Siberian Times. Experts from the Centre of Cultural Heritage of Mongolia now believe the woman died up to 1,100 years ago after suffering a serious head wound.

Initial examinations found that ‘it was quite possible that the traces of a blow to the mummy’s facial bones were the cause of her death.

They are still seeking to verify the exact age of the burial, but they estimate it took place in the tenth century – more recently than originally thought.  About the boots, Galbadrakh Enkhbat, director of the Centre, said: ‘With these stripes, when the find was made public, they were dubbed similar to Adidas shoes.

New pictures of the leather boots – which feature red and black stripes and metal buckle work (pictured) – have been released

‘In this sense, they are an interesting object of study for ethnographers, especially so when the style is very modern.’ 

And one local fashion expert. quoted by Siberian Times, said: ‘Overall they look quite kinky but stylish – I wouldn’t mind wearing them now in a cold climate.

‘Those high-quality stitches, the bright red and black stripes, the length – I would buy them now in no time.’ 

The high altitude and cold climate helped to preserve both the woman’s body and her belongings.

And a coating of Shilajit – a thick, sticky tar-like substance with a colour ranging from white to dark brown – that covered her body aided this process.  Some skin and hair can be seen on her remains, which were wrapped in felt.  The woman was buried alongside a number of her possessions – including a handbag and four changes of clothes.

Experts from the Centre of Cultural Heritage of Mongolia (pictured) have worked for the past 12 months to restore the times they found buried
This included a handbag, four changes of clothes, the ‘Adidas’ boots, and numerous practical and everyday objects (pictured)
The items of clothing found, like this jacket (pictured), were decorated with fine embroidery patterns

A comb and a mirror from her beauty kit were also found, along with a knife. Her horse and a saddle with metal stirrups in such good condition that it could be used today were buried as well. But despite her seemingly lavish possessions archaeologists believe she was an ‘ordinary woman of her time, rather than an aristocrat or royal.

The Mongolian woman (pictured) is believed to have been aged between 30 and 40 when she died. Some skin and hair can be seen on her remains, which were wrapped in felt.
Despite her, seemingly lavish possessions (pictured) archaeologists believe she was an ‘ordinary’ woman of her time, rather than an aristocrat or royal
Experts believe she may have been a seamstress, due to a variety of sewing equipment that was found inside her bag (pictured), as well as the embroidery on her clothing

‘Judging by what was found inside the burial, we guess that she was from ordinary social strata,’ added Mr Enkhbat.

‘Various sewing utensils were found with her.

The preserved remains of a horse (pictured) were uncovered at the burial site
A saddle with metal stirrups (pictured) in such good condition that it could be used today was found alongside it

‘This is only our guess, but we think she could have been a seamstress.’ 

‘Inside (her bag) was the sewing kit and since the embroidery was on both the bag and the shoes, we can be certain that the embroidery was done by locals.’ 

The grave was unearthed at an altitude of 9,200ft (2,803 metres) and the woman is believed to be of Turkik origin. It appears to be the first complete Turkic burial in Central Asia.  At the time of the discovery, commenters on Twitter and Facebook made a number of tongue-in-cheek claims that a woman must be a time traveller.

One Twitter user jokingly quipped: ‘Must be a time traveller. I knew we would dig one up sooner or later, another added: ‘Huh? Time-travelling Mummy? Corpse interfered with?.’

Meanwhile, Facebook users said: ‘Loooooool he’s wearing a pair of gazelles’, and ‘Well I must admit, I’ve got a few pair but I ain’t had them that long.’  

SEE ALSO: ANCIENT WARES WITH CLOTTED CREAM CLARIFIED BUTTER FOUND IN MONGOLIA

A host of possessions were found in the grave, offering a unique insight into life in medieval Mongolia. These included a saddle, bridle, clay vase, wooden bowl, trough, iron kettle, the remains of an entire horse, and ancient clothing.

The discovery also appears to be the first complete Turkic burial in Central Asia and the remains were found at an altitude of 9,200 feet. An elaborately embroidered bag is pictured

There were also pillows, a sheep’s head and a felt travel bag in which were placed the whole back of a sheep, goat bones and a small leather bag designed to carry a cup. Archaeologists from the city museum in Khovd were alerted to the burial site by local herdsmen.

The Altai Mountains – where the burial was discovered – unite Siberia, in Russia, and Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan. 

Ancient mummy ‘with 1,100-year-old Adidas boots’ died after she was struck on the head

Ancient mummy ‘with 1,100-year-old Adidas boots’ died after she was struck on the head

Fascinating new details have emerged concerning a medieval mummy known for her Adidas boots which she wore over a thousand years ago.   The woman’s body was discovered in the Altai mountain region of Mongolia a year ago.

Yet her body yet her belongings have been so beautifully protected that experts are still uncovering some of the secrets they keep. Now, scientists have discovered that the mummy suffered a significant blow to the head before her death. 

The Mongolian woman – aged between 30 and 40 – hit headlines, thanks to her modern-looking footwear, which some likened to a pair of trainers. 

Scientists believe the body of a woman (pictured) found in April last year, died up to 1,100 years ago from a blow to the head

In the intervening 12 months, scientists have been working to find out more about the mysterious Mongolian mummy. And her trademark felt boots – boasting red and black stripes – have been carefully cleaned, with new pictures revealed by The Siberian Times.

Experts from the Centre of Cultural Heritage of Mongolia now believe the woman died up to 1,100 years ago after suffering a serious head wound.

Initial examinations found that ‘it was quite possible that the traces of a blow to the mummy’s facial bones were the cause of her death’.They are still seeking to verify the exact age of the burial, but they estimate it took place in the tenth century – more recently than originally thought. 

Her trademark felt boots – which were compared to Adidas trainers (pictured) – have been carefully cleaned and restored

About the boots, Galbadrakh Enkhbat, director of the Centre, said: ‘With these stripes, when the find was made public, they were dubbed similar to Adidas shoes.

‘In this sense, they are an interesting object of study for ethnographers, especially so when the style is very modern.’ 

And one local fashion expert. quoted by Siberian Times, said: ‘Overall they look quite kinky but stylish – I wouldn’t mind wearing them now in a cold climate.

‘Those high-quality stitches, the bright red and black stripes, the length – I would buy them now in no time.’  The high altitude and cold climate helped to preserve both the woman’s body and her belongings. And a coating of Shilajit – a thick, sticky tar-like substance with a colour ranging from white to dark brown – that covered her body aided this process. 

Some skin and hair can be seen on her remains, which were wrapped in felt. The woman was buried alongside a number of her possessions – including a handbag and four changes of clothes.

This included a handbag, four changes of clothes, the ‘Adidas’ boots, and numerous practical and everyday objects (pictured)

A comb and a mirror from her beauty kit were also found, along with a knife. Her horse and a saddle with metal stirrups in such good condition that it could be used today were buried as well.  But despite her seemingly lavish possessions archaeologists believe she was an ‘ordinary’ women of her time, rather than an aristocrat or royal.

The Mongolian woman (pictured) is believed to have been aged between 30 and 40 when she died. Some skin and hair can be seen on her remains, which were wrapped in felt.
The Mongolian woman (pictured) is believed to have been aged between 30 and 40 when she died. Some skin and hair can be seen on her remains, which were wrapped in felt.
Despite her, seemingly lavish possessions (pictured) archaeologists believe she was an ‘ordinary’ women of her time, rather than an aristocrat or royal
Experts believe she may have been a seamstress, due to a variety of sewing equipment which was found inside her bag (pictured), as well as the embroidery on her clothing

‘Judging by what was found inside the burial, we guess that she was from an ordinary social stratum,’ added Mr. Enkhbat.

‘Various sewing utensils were found with her.

The preserved remains of a horse (pictured) were uncovered at the burial site
A saddle with metal stirrups (pictured) in such good condition that it could be used today was found alongside it

‘This is only our guess, but we think she could have been a seamstress.’ 

‘Inside (her bag) was the sewing kit and since the embroidery was on both the bag and the shoes, we can be certain that the embroidery was done by locals.’  The grave was unearthed at an altitude of 9,200ft (2,803 meters) and the woman is believed to be of Turkik origin. 

It appears to be the first complete Turkic burial in Central Asia.  At the time of the discovery, commenters on Twitter and Facebook made a number of tongue-in-cheek claims that woman must be a time traveller.

One Twitter user jokingly quipped: ‘Must be a time traveler. I knew we would dig one up sooner or later’, another added: ‘Huh? Time-travelling Mummy? Corpse interfered with?.’

Meanwhile, Facebook users said: ‘Loooooool he’s wearing a pair of gazelles’, and ‘Well I must admit, I’ve got a few pair but I ain’t had them that long.’  

A host of possessions were found in the grave, offering a unique insight into life in medievMongolia. These included a saddle, bridle, clay vase, wooden bowl, trough, iron kettle, the remains of an entire horse, and ancient clothing.

There were also pillows, a sheep’s head, and felt travel bag in which were placed the whole back of a sheep, goat bones, and small leather bag designed to carry a cup.  Archaeologists from the city museum in Khovd were alerted to the burial site by local herdsmen. The Altai Mountains – where the burial was discovered – unite Siberia, in Russia, and Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan. 

Ancient wares with clotted cream clarified butter found in Mongolia

800-year-old vases containing frozen clotted cream and yellow butter found from glacial

An anomaly of three clotted creams and one vase of yellow butter preserved in glacier about 700 to 800 years ago is discovered in the “Umard Mongol” joint investigation team of the National Museum of Mongolia, the University of Pittsburgh and the United States American Center for Mongolian Studies.

The excavation is considered to possibly be a new discovery for the international archeology scene alongside being a discovery related to nobles of the Mongolian Empire.

During the research team’s work on the protection of looted tombs relating to the Mongolian Empire and collecting artifacts that they found in 2018 and 2019 at the site named Khorig in Ulaan-Uul soum of Khuvsgul aimag.

They came across a large number of artifacts that are highly significant in research, which included the aforementioned vases with frozen clotted cream and yellow butter that were even more of a rare case.

Highly significant artifacts relating to the history of the Mongolian Empire such as items made of gold, silver, iron, silk, bones, hide and cork, as well as human and livestock bones, have also been found.

Specifically, gold relics with depictions of a golden sun, silver moon and deity, earrings and a golden accessory of a belt were unveiled with the several hundred artifacts that included various items such as a leather sack filled with trinkets in silk wrappings.

A part of a silk deel with a swastika pattern, dragons and other mythical creatures with golden thread, a part of a leather boot, bow and arrowhead, arrow case, porcelain, and clay vases, bone brush, and equestrian equipment. 

The research team is being led by the Head of the Research Center at the National Museum, Dr. J.Bayarsaikhan, and Dr. Julia Clark.

These cultural findings are expected to serve as proof of the triumphant history of the Mongolian Empire and have an important role in developing patriotic views and respect for national heritage for the future generations of Mongolia.