Tomb of the Huns found in Khuvsgul Province
Scientists and researchers from the Institute of History of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences (IHMAS) have found tombs from the Hun people dating back to the 2nd century BC. In total, 31 Huns were buried in the tombs that were discovered at the foot of Salkhit of Rashaant Soum in Khuvsgul Province. After three years of research and excavation, the experts from IHMAS finally found the tombs of the Huns. Further detailed information about the tombs will be available to the public soon.
Below is an interview from Unuudur Newspaper with S.Ulziibayar, an expert on the research on Ancient History at the IHMAS.
-Unprecedented finds were discovered from the tombs of the Huns in Khuvsgul. Can you give us more information on the discovery?
-There are indeed numerous finds with the potential of creating a stir. We conducted an excavation at the foot of Salkhit, which lies four kilometres away from the Rashaant Soum of Khuvsgul Province. A joint expedition, with officials from IHMAS and the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology from the National University of Mongolia discovered the tombs in 2006, and excavation work continued from 2009 to 2011. As the anniversary of the first state of Mongolia, the Huns, occurred in 2011, we were able to conduct the excavation rather intensely last year using the funds received from the Anniversary Commission. We excavated 29 separate tombs in total and the field research has now finished.
Our institute is set to release a book about the tombs discovered at Salkhit. As we didn’t announce the book formally through a research conference, it’s too early to publicise it. We also want to make people aware that we didn’t cooperate with any foreign partners on this excavation. It was the first ever joint expedition of native Mongolians during the past 20 years in this country.
-Out of 31 tombs, only two of the them were not plundered. Is plundering typical amongst the tombs of the Huns?
-Yes. The majority of the tombs discovered were plundered in some way. As part of an ongoing feud, it seems that the enemies of the Huns used to plunder the tombs intentionally soon after the burial. Fortunately two of the tombs remained intact.
-Some people have been plundering the tombs to gain profit lately. Is this correct?
-Yes. In an attempt to earn money easily, people have plundered a great deal of tombs with historical significance. During field research, tombs that were excavated a year ago have been plundered by the time we returned.
-Does that mean that the finds of the Huns are that valuable?
-Some say many valuable artifacts can be found from burial mounds or ancient tombs, but it’s all a misconception. In fact, there’s almost nothing that can be sold. Many broken vases and bronze mirrors are found in the tombs because ancient people used to break them and bury them with the dead according to their tradition. Most of the items found in the tombs were made of bones, as ancient people mostly buried food and meat with the dead. For instance, 80 percent of the artifacts from the tomb in Salkhit were bone. Though iron items are often found, their condition is always poor as iron erodes and loses its shape over time.
Another remarkable discovery was two bronze belt plates depicting two tigers attacking a dragon from both sides. This kind of belt plate from the Huns has only ever been found in two places in the world. A plate with patterns resembling clouds and a bone artifact depicting a boar has also been found. These are indeed unparalleled artifacts, which are hardly ever found in tombs of the Huns.
-People are speculating that the finds of the tomb will make a sensation. What are other valuable finds were discovered?
-The most significant discovery from the tomb at Salkhit is not the artifacts, but rather the burial customs. Most of the bodies buried in Hun tombs are buried lying on their left side. However, the bodies in the Salkhit tombs were all lying on their right. Also, there is no evidence of Huns being buried with their horses. Yet, in most of the tombs the bodies were buried with horses. Thus, the tombs of Salkhit uncover other distinct burial customs of the Hun people. We believe that the people buried in the Salkhit tombs represent a small percentage of the Huns.
-The tombs date back to the 2nd century BC. How did you determine the date?
-According to laboratory research conducted last June, the tombs date back to the second half of the 2nd century BC. During that time, the burial customs of the Huns were not consistent. Currently, there’s no evidence that explains the customs of the Huns. Experts believe that many ethnic groups influenced the customs of the Huns.
-Where are you storing the finds of the tombs of Salkhit now?
-Our institute is storing the finds. Once we finish the research work, we will transfer the finds to the National Museum of Mongolian History.
-Is the DNA of the Huns being researched as well?
-Unfortunately, no. As DNA research costs a great amount of money, we weren’t able to do it. It’s one of the disadvantages of working only with Mongolian excavation teams. If we cooperate with foreign organisations in excavations, they offer discounts on DNA research in their own laboratories, or sometimes they do the work for free. As such, the DNA research will not be conducted on the finds this year. The bodies in the tombs are assumed to be members of the one clan, if not members of the same family. If the DNA of the bodies is examined, we would be able to get more detailed information about the family structure. We could even compare them to people today and determine whose ancestors they were.
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