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Podcast: Archaeological Excavations in Mongolia: Current Research

A Program on Central Asia panel presentation featuring lectures by Jan Bemmann and Ursula Brosseder of Bonn University

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Duration: 1:17:09

April 6 at UCLA

Jan Bemmann, Bonn University
The Orkhon Valley, Mongolia: A Center of Several Medieval Steppe Empires

The Orkhon Valley is located in the heart of Mongolia, 370 km west of Ulanbaator. During many centuries the Orkhon Valley was the center of several steppe empires. The Old Turk tribes erected the famous memorials of Khöshöö Tsaidam, the Uighurs built their Capital Karabalgasun (Ordu balik), and the Mongols founded in this valley Karakorum, the first capital of the Great Mongol World Empire. Since the first archaeological expedition, leaded by Friedrich Wilhelm Radloff (1891), the research has focused on the two world famous capitals und memorial places alone. In a new research project headed by the University of Bonn started in Summer 2008 all monuments are registered in the Middle Orkhon Valley with a special focus on walled enclosures. In a systematically approach we use aerial photograph analysis, satellite images and surveys. We are using the latest technology for photogrammetric and geomagnetic measurements. A small drone (an unmanned air-vehicle called octocopter) was developed to photogrammetrically survey monuments. Based on the vertical images, digital surface models (DSM) and true ortho photo mosaics were derived. The DSM were textured with the images and converted in interactive 3D models. To enable precise magnetic prospections of large areas in the order of tens of hectares within passable time a new motorized measurement system was developed at the Institute of Photonic Technology (IPHT) in Jena, Germany. This is based on SQUIDs (Superconducting QUantum Interference Devices) – sensors, which provide highest magnetic field resolution also at fast movements over the ground. Astonishingly, most of the newly discovered walled enclosures date from the early Middle Ages, probably from the times of the Uighur Empire (744–840). In the Hinterland of Karabalgasun there are many contemporary settlement sites, cemeteries and production sites. It seems that the Uighurs used the whole Middle Orkhon Valley, whereas the Mongols used and settled more intensely in the Upper Orkhon Valley. A newly discovered Chinese inscription in a stone quarry in the Upper Orkhon Valley gives witness of building activities during the Kitan period.

Ursula Brosseder, Bonn University
Studies on the Xiongnu – The first Steppe Empire in Central Asia

Recent research has contributed greatly to a more differentiated view on the first Steppe Empire in Central Asia. In this lecture I focus on the Elite as documented in the written and archaeological record. Since Elite burials are only typical for a later stage of the Xiongnu Empire I discuss the possible explanations for this phenomenon. The Elite is embedded in a network of communication throughout the Eurasian Steppes, which is not only shown by foreign prestige goods in their burials, such as Chinese chariots or Graeco-Bactrian textiles, but will be exemplified with Belt plaques.

Sponsors: Asia Institute, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology