By Francis Allard and Jean-Luc Houle;胡亚毅译
2004-10-08 11:18:43 阅读
University of Chicago Eurasian Archaeology Conference beyond the Steppe and the Sown






   Recent archaeological research in the Khanuy River valley, central Mongolia. By Francis Allard (Department of Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh) and Jean-Luc Houle (expert in East Asia and specializes in the archaeology of that region). After University of Chicago Eurasian Archaeology Conference beyond the Steppe and the Sown: Integrating Local and Global Visions, May 3-4, 2002.Initiated in 2001.

   The Khanuy Valley International Collaborative Project on Early Nomadic Pastoralism in Mongolia aims to clarify the nature of the early stages of nomadic pastoralism in central Mongolia. Nomadic pastoralism, which remains the most widely practiced subsistence economy among modern Mongolians, has attracted the attention of many anthropologists and historians, many of whom have proposed various explanations to account for its origins and features. An early and now discredited model proposed that it had developed from a hunting and gathering subsistence economy, being a transitional stage on the path to full sedentism.
   Scholars now recognize that nomadic pastoralism emerged from an earlier sedentary life way associated with food and animal domestication, a process that archaeology reveals to have been a lengthy one. Parts of the Eurasian steppes appear to have witnessed such a transition over the course of the last millennia B.C., a development suggested by various findings, such as the increasingly ephemeral nature of habitation sites and the increasing importance over time of the horse and its accoutrements. However, explaining why nomadic pastoralism developed in the first place has proven to be a more difficult issue to resolve. While some point to population pressure or economic specialization as the stimulus behind the adoption of a life way characterized by regular patterned movement and an almost total reliance on animal products, others see climatic perturbation as the agent of change, with increasing desiccation forcing sedentary agriculturalists to adopt a migratory lifestyle in search of sufficient quantities of consumables for their already domesticated herds. Finally, some have also pointed out that agriculture and nomadic pastoralism exist at the opposite poles of a subsistence economy continuum along which various combinations of levels of sedentism and nomadism exist.
   Lying at the eastern end of the Eurasian steppe belt, the extensive non-urbanized grasslands of present-day Mongolia continue to be inhabited by nomadic pastoralists whose seasonal movements are determined in large part by the needs of their herds, which include horses, sheep, goats, cattle, yaks, and camels. Significantly, the steppes of Mongolia are dotted with numerous, often impressive, archaeological sites built of stones. These sites generally show little evidence of structural disturbance, the salutary outcome of an absence of industrialization and cultivation in most areas, and of the fact that stones are not normally used by nomads in the building of living quarters or other structures. Sites, which range widely in size, include small burials marked on the surface by corner flagstones, as well as structurally complex sites called khirigsuurs, which are larger square or round stone enclosures surrounding a stone mound. Structures typically found at the largest of these khirigsuurs include burials, small stone mounds, stone circles, stone paths, and sometimes deer stones, the latter large stone stelae carved with images of stylized deer and other representations. Mongolian archaeologists have paid close attention to the khirigsuurs, especially to the (sometimes looted) burials that lie beneath the central mound. Although they have also excavated smaller structures such as burials, small stone mounds and circles at the khirigsuurs, these undertakings have typically been undertaken with the hope of recovering beautiful artifacts.
   Partly on the basis of comparisons with material excavated from better-dated contexts outside their country, Mongolian archaeologists have dated the khirigsuurs to the last two millennia B.C., a period they identify as the Bronze and Iron Age. Significantly, Mongolian archaeologists believe that the builders of the khirigsuurs were nomadic pastoralists, a claim that appears to be supported by various lines of evidence, including the nomadic pastoralist associations of the dated non-Mongolian material, the recovery of many horse remains and horse equipment from the khirigsuurs, and the rarity or absence of above ground habitation remains, suggesting the ephemeral nature of settlements and the frequent movement of people at that time. A number of sites located in some areas of Mongolia have been dated to an earlier Neolithic period and have yielded polished lithics, ceramics and milling stones, thus presenting us, as in other parts of Eurasia, with a possible sequence that would have witnessed sedentism and animal domestication preceding the emergence of nomadic pastoralism, at least in those regions of Mongolia where such early sites have been found. Significantly, as history reminds us, the greatest military victories of the ancient Mongols were not achieved by settled agriculturalists but rather by confederacies of horse riding nomadic pastoralists. One such group, known as the Xiongnu, who practiced agriculture, achieved military victories over the Chinese Han dynasty to its south during the last centuries B.C. and first centuries A.D.
   An understanding of the nature of early nomadic pastoralism and the circumstances of its emergence in Mongolia is hampered by an archaeological record that remains fragmentary and uneven. To begin, there are as yet no absolute dates published for any of the so-called Neolithic sites or the Bronze and Iron Age khirigsuurs thought to be associated with the earliest nomadic pastoralist populations in Mongolia. Second, an emphasis on the excavation of large tombs and the recovery of prestige goods has meant that we have relatively little information on the full range of extensive ritual activities that clearly took place at the khirigsuurs, many of which are likely to have centered at least in part on herded animals, as suggested by the recovery of horse and other animal parts at these sites. Mongolian archaeologists have also shown little inclination to develop a methodology aimed at the identification of habitation sites, an attitude that results from the fact that nomadic encampments are notoriously difficult to locate and do not yield material that is considered valuable. Without absolute dates, knowledge of habitation sites or a fuller understanding of the range of activities that took place at the stone-built sites, it remains impossible to draw a fuller picture of nomadic pastoralist society in ancient Mongolia or gain an understanding of the developmental trajectory that may have seen a sedentary agricultural lifeway give way to nomadic pastoralism.
   Our collaborative project, established in conjunction with the Institute of History of Mongolia, is a long-term multidisciplinary program that aims at a fuller understanding of the nature and emergence of early nomadic pastoralism in Mongolia, an objective that can only be met by addressing the real problem of its uneven and limited archaeological record. A four-week long Pilot Project carried out in 2001 in the Khanuy River valley of central Mongolia provided us with an ideal opportunity to better acquaint ourselves with the broad range of archaeological data that is relevant to the issues being addressed by the project. Located at an altitude of 1,500 meters, the 250 square kilometer portion of the Khanuy river valley that is the focus of the research program remains economically undeveloped and is inhabited by nomadic pastoralists. Agriculture is practiced in the valley only on a limited basis by a few families. Numerous stone-built sites dot the valley bottom and hillsides in the research area. Aside from smaller graves, the sites include many impressive khirigsuurs as well as one very large site where deer stones are found. Significantly, all of the sites appear to be ritual/burial in nature, with none of the above ground stone constructions in the research area structured in a manner that would suggest permanent or temporary residences. According to Mongolian archaeologists, the sites in the area range in date from the Bronze Age (2nd millennium BC) to the Turkic period (6-8th century AC).
   The 2001 Pilot Project team established camp beside a large khirigsuur said to date to the Bronze Age. Measuring 400 by 400 meters, the well-structured site consists of a central five meter tall stone mound that is surrounded by a ring shaped area comprised of 1,750 small stone mounds measuring up to three meters in diameter. Also centered on the central mound, a further second ring shaped area consists of 1100 stone circles. A total of 16 graves are concentrated in another section of the site. A number of activities were carried out at the khirigsuur over the four-week period. Aside from mapping the site, we excavated two stone mounds, two burials, three stone circles, as well as a portion of the stone path connecting the central mound to one side of the site. The stone mounds yielded selected horse parts, a set of front teeth and neck vertebrae in one mound and a complete horse skull in another. The stone circles provided important evidence of ritual activity. All three contained large numbers of whitened cremated bone fragments (about 33,000 in the case of one circle) belonging to various animals (horse, sheep/goat and possibly cattle). The absence of charring or burning inside the circles suggests that the bones were cremated at another location, collected and then deposited within the stone perimeter of the circle. One human burial contained the fragmentary remains of an adult (probably a secondary burial) while only the outline of a child was detected in another grave. No artifacts were recovered from the burials.
   A systematic survey of a portion of the research area located a total of 150 sites: most of these were single small graves. A few of the larger sites were mapped in detail, while the rest of the graves were sketched, permitting us to begin discerning the outlines of a site typology. One important finding in this regard has been the high level of structural similarity among the large sites, all of which also tend to have an orientation of about 280 - 290 degrees. A further important component of the Pilot Project was the initiation of an ethnographic study of the valley aimed at the collection of data that may shed light on site formation processes and past behavioral responses to environmental constraints. Thus, the interviews we conducted with many of the nomadic families in the valley allowed us to learn about the river's seasonal flooding, the lateral movement of the channel over time, the practice of agriculture in the valley, and the nature of the yearly migratory cycle. This information has been helpful in helping us determine likely places where habitation and other sites could have been located in ancient times, as well as make predictions regarding the preservation of the sites in different locations within the valley. A final and unexpected discovery was that of a large Xiongnu cemetery located in a tributary valley of the Khanuy valley at an altitude of 1800 meters. We mapped the entire cemetery, which turned out to consist of over 400 tombs, many of these elevated square platforms with long ramps leading to them. Dubbed a 'royal' cemetery by the Mongolian archaeologists, it includes what appears to be the largest Xiongnu burial ever found, a ramped tomb whose length exceeds 80 meters.
   The research area has turned out to be an ideal location for the investigation of early nomadic pastoralism in Mongolia and the project plans to continue working in this same area over the next few years. Sites are not only well preserved; they are also abundant, pointing to the intensive use of the valley at the time of their use. However, little is in fact known of the nature of occupation in the valley during the last millennia B.C. and the project must concentrate on recovering basic archeological data before addressing more complex issues.
   The following provides an outline of the overall long-term objectives of the project and of the reasoning behind the activities that will be carried out over the course of the next few years:
   1) The clarification of the region's culture and historical framework:
   An understanding of developmental trajectories and synchronic processes is not possible without first establishing the outlines of the spatio-temporal framework. This will involve the collection of datable organic materials from different types of sites, combined with the further refinement of the region's site typology.
   2) The identification of habitation sites:
   Knowledge of habitation sites is important for many reasons, including the determination of whether they are associated with a mainly agricultural or pastoralist lifeway. In the case of the latter, the sites might be temporary locations occupied by nomads (such as presently in the valley), or possibly the sites of more sedentary pastoralists. Certainly, it is possible that different regions in Mongolia may have practiced types of pastoralism that differed in their degree of mobility. Thus, the marked intensity of use of the valley at the time of the khirigsuurs may have necessitated a labor force, supporting population, and possibly even a leadership that displayed less mobility than other, less intensively occupied, parts of Mongolia. Over the course of the next field season, a methodology will be developed whose aim will be the identification of habitation sites. Such sites are typically difficult to locate owing to the ephemeral nature of nomadic sites, the fact that occupants of the valley appear to have never used stones in the construction of their dwellings and camps, and the fact that sites near the river may been buried under alluvial (sand, clay) deposits, or destroyed by the meandering channel.
   3) The clarification of ritual behavior at the many stone-built sites in the valley:
   At present, the bone material recovered from the few 'ritual' structures excavated so far reveals the importance of the horse and other animals at the time the khirigsuurs were in use. However, more work is required before we are able to determine more precisely the sequence of events involved in rituals, as well as the spatial and temporal dimensions of ritual behavior at any one site or during an entire time period. The relationship that existed between ritual and power is certainly a topic that deserves special attention.
   4) Developing a better understanding of geomorpholo- gical processes in the valley:
   Such information is essential if we are to understand the processes that may have led to the preservation or destruction of archaeological sites in the valley. We hope to obtain the help of a geomorphologist two years from now. In the meantime, we will be extending our ethnographic study to try and obtain further information on these issues.
   5) Understanding the migratory cycle of nomadic pastoralists:
   An important component of the ethnographic study is the collection of information on the seasonal movements of local pastoralists. We are interested to learn why, where and when nomads move during the year, all of which may provide important insights into the behavior of those who inhabited the valley during the last millennia B.C.
   6) Charting and explaining changes in the subsistence economy:
   At present, we are not even sure whether agriculture was in fact ever practiced in the valley prior to, or even at the time of, the stone-built sites. It is possible that, in contrast to other parts of the steppes, or other regions of Mongolia, agriculture was never practiced in our research area in ancient times owing to the high altitude and/or inclement climate, in which case we will not recover evidence of a transition from an agricultural to a nomadic pastoralist subsistence system. Although it is presently possible to grow more recent domesticates (e.g. potatoes) in the valley, it is unknown whether crops such as millet (cultivated in northern China from very early on) could have been cultivated in this area. It is not even known whether wild millet stands - or stands of other grains - exist presently in central Mongolia. In order to answer these and other relevant questions, the project intends to undertake a more comprehensive ethnobotanical study that will involve working with botanists in Mongolia as well as foreign experts. Here again, the local nomads may provide us with relevant information. We will begin next season to float the excavated soil samples from different types of sites as a way to recover possible plant remains that are contemporary with the excavated contexts. Such remains will be analyzed to determine the type of plant and, if possible, whether or not it was domesticated. In the eventuality that we do recover evidence that an agricultural life-way was replaced by nomadic pastoralism, we will then need to ask about the possible cause(s) for such a transition. Explanations such as population pressure and economic specialization can be tested archaeologically, albeit with some difficulty. Understanding whether climate changes such as desiccation may have played a role in this process is certainly an important objective of the project. At present, limited palaeobotanical and other studies in other parts of the Eurasian steppes and northern China have begun to provide information that is relevant to this issue. We will continue monitoring those palaeoclimatic studies carried out in nearby regions.
   7) Understanding the socio-political trajectory:
   The presence of the large burial mounds and the very significant amount of labor needed to construct the many khirigsuurs in the valley point to the likely presence of some type of leadership associated with these sites. These sites bring to mind a number of important questions and issues that the project regards as highly interesting and relevant. For example, how can we best define the nature and expression of power at the time of the khirigsuurs? We know from the excavation of other large burial mounds in Mongolia that in some cases, few artifacts accompanied the deceased, reversing the usual association made between the scale of mortuary structures and the amount of prestige goods. Possibly, then, the power of leaders may have been expressed more simply through the impressive scale of his or her tomb and associated structures than by the grave’s goods displayed at the funeral. Although not entirely consistent, this is a pattern that is witnessed in other nomadic societies as well. Another possibility is that religious specialists were buried under these large mounds and that the associated rituals were meant to confirm the power of the religious system and position of the specialist rather than honor the achievements or status of a single individual. Importantly, the excavation of smaller burials, both independent graves as well as burials at the khirigsuur, helps to further clarify the nature of the regional socio-political hierarchy, and provides further data to support or reject the idea that the amount of burial goods is not correlated with the scale of the burial structure. Finally, we also wonder about the circumstances that may have permitted or encouraged the development of the hypothesized complex socio-political hierarchy. Here again, a number of possible scenarios exist including one that sees a climatic amelioration leading to increased productivity. In such a scenario, khirigsuurs became centers of territories whose increasingly productive lands needed to be protected and in which leadership was dependent on the ability to manage the defense of the territory. The testing of these models remains an important objective of the project, although much more data must be collected before answers to these and other related questions can be proposed.
   The activities planned for the 2002 field season aim to collect data that can be used to address all of the above issues. They will include many of the tasks already begun during the Pilot Project: the excavation of burials, mounds, and circles at the khirigsuur, surveys of parts of the research area, the mapping of sites, and interviews of nomads. We also plan to begin excavating a small Xiongnu burial at the cemetery discovered by our team last summer. In contrast to the usual emphasis on large burials, the team has agreed that we will first focus on excavating a small ramped burial and its associated satellite burial. This will yield important material that can be compared to that recovered from elite graves. One new component of the project in 2002 will be the initiation of a settlement pattern study aimed at the identification of habitation sites.
   Excavations of burials, stone mounds, and stone circles will be carried out at the large khirigsuur, while other excavations will focus on a few isolated gravesites and a small burial at the Xiongnu cemetery. Except for the Xiongnu burial, all of these structures tend to be small in area (less than 20 square meters) and shallow in depth (soil depth usually less than one meter). In the case of the stone mounds, as many as 500 stones must first be removed before the soil can excavated to reveal the cultural level. A range of simple techniques are used to excavate these structures and record information. The equipment includes trowels, tape measures, plumb bobs, string, compasses, levels and a one-meter grid. Levels are drawn and photographed at different stages of the excavation. All materials are bagged and labeled. Soil samples are screened and floated to recover charred and other materials. Similar techniques will be used in the excavation of the small Xiongnu tomb.
   2) Regional Survey:
   Teams of two or three are assigned to a portion of the research area, usually a unit measuring one by one minute in the Latitude/Longitude system. Walking at a distance of 60 meters from one another and using a compass to follow a path along the north-south axis, the line of team members stops whenever one of them locates an archaeological site. All team members then join at the site to measure and sketch it using tape measures and compasses, and to take its location using a GPS unit. After finishing their work at the site, the team members return to their earlier locations before resuming the survey. Once the team reaches the northern or southern end of its unit, they move eastward to begin a new sweep. Notes are rewritten at night and the sites found that day located on a master map. One responsibility of the survey members will be to search for rock paintings and carvings along the rocky outcrops that line the valley.
   3) Mapping of sites:
   A number of sites will be selected for detailed mapping. A team of at least two people are assigned to a particular site, whose structures (central mound, small stone mounds, circles, paths and fences) they map using a compass and tape measure. The distance and angle values are recorded and used to draw the site at night using a ruler and protractor. The basic layout of very large sites with many structures is drawn using a GPS. It is hoped that a transit can be purchased and used during the 2002 field season.
   4) Ethnographic work:
   Teams of a few people travel by vehicle to visit the gers of local inhabitants, who are then interviewed with the help of a translator. The visits can last from 20 minutes to over one hour. The team members ask the families a number of questions that pertain to the project. These include, among others, questions about the frequency and scale of flooding events by the river, the movement of the river channel, erosion, their migratory cycle during the year, whether they cultivate and/or collect wild plants, their views about the archaeological sites, etc. In some cases, the team members might be taken by the nomads to a particular location away from the camp (e.g. winter camp, agricultural field). Because the project wishes to begin collecting more general ethnographic information about the valley, the interviews will also include questions about topics that are more relevant to present-day life in the valley.
   5) Settlement Pattern Study:
   This walking survey will attempt to locate habitation sites. A methodology will be developed by one of the field assistants at the very beginning of the field season. Although for that reason it cannot yet be described in detail, it is likely to involve team members walking in straight lines (using a compass) at some distance from one another and picking up artifacts such as ceramic sherds from the surface. It may also involve digging small shovel probes at regular intervals, and screening their contents in order to recover artifacts.
   At the local level, no systematic study of the archaeologically rich Khanuy river valley has yet been conducted. The project will therefore recover much needed basic information on the Bronze and Iron Age of this part of Mongolia. The planned systematic full coverage survey, identification of habitation sites, and radiocarbon dating of excavated material are all field and analytical methods that have yet to play a significant role in Mongolian archaeology. It is expected that these will provide a more complete picture of social structure and development at this time in Mongolia. Archaeologists working in other parts of Eurasia have been making use of these methods for some time and it is essential that archaeological fieldwork in Mongolia keep up with developments in surrounding regions in order to provide further comparative material for general models that focus on the economic and sociopolitical foundations of nomadic pastoralism.
   A better understanding of nomadic pastoralism during the Bronze and Iron Age is also likely to provide insights into modern economic practices in rural Mongolia, where this subsistence strategy continues to play a central role. While developments over the past thousands of years in Mongolia display a certain degree of continuity, it will also be interesting to note how populations continually need to adapt to changing economic, social, political and environmental circumstances, even as these same basic environmental parameters (i.e. steppes covered by grasslands) impose certain limitations on the nature and scale of such developments. It is expected that the project’s findings will provide insights into some of the economic, political and environmental pressures that nomadic pastoralists face in present-day Mongolia, such as changes in the size of territories, responses to climatic change, and the introduction of private land ownership.
   Finally, this project is one of the few collaborative archaeological projects presently operating in Mongolia. The project has been promised access to the research area for the next four years. There exists an ideal opportunity to make a significant contribution to knowledge of this little understood region and to help strengthen academic ties with Mongolia. As stated in the collaborative agreement, the results of the fieldwork will be published jointly by both sides in a range of journals, including Mongolian and possibly Russian journals, as well as English language journals. The latter may include the Journal of East Asian Archaeology, Antiquity, the Journal of Field Archaeology, and the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. Articles may also appear in popular publications such as Archaeology and Earthwatch Magazine.










































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