Khirgisiin Khooloin Am (Valley) is located about 10 kilometers to the southeast of the seat of Khotont Sum (County) in Arkhangaĭ Aĭmag (Province), Mongolia. It is situated in the eastern part of the Khangai Mountains where they merge onto the eastern edge of the wide and flat Orkhon River Valley (Figure 1).
The valley is 2,180 meters east-west and 1,200 m north-south, with the altitude of the valley entrance and ridges ranging from 1,490 m to 1,630 m. Seven dörvöljin [Mongolian: lit. “square site,” also Romanized as durvuljin], or mausoleum sites, as well as a few tombs dating to the Yuan dynasty period, have been located on the slope and floor of the valley (Figure 2).
In 2009, Dörvöljin Site No. 5 was looted, exposing a circular brick-chamber tomb that provided important clues to the nature of the site. From July to September 2011, a joint archaeological team organized by the Inner Mongolia Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology and the International Institute for the Study of Nomadic Civilizations, Mongolia, conducted excavations at Dörvöljin Site No. 6 and at two cairn tombs near Dörvöljin Sites No. 6 and No. 7, as well as a rescue excavation of the tomb chambers at Dörvöljin Site No. 5 in Khirgisiin Khooloin am. Below is a brief report of the findings of these excavations.
(A) Dörvöljin Site No. 6
Dörvöljin Site No. 6 is the smallest of the seven complexes located in Khirgisiin Khooloin am. It is located on the gentle west-east slope of the central valley and is divided from Dörvöljin Site No. 5 by a long ditch that runs north-south. The complex is orientated at 100 degrees, and the geographical coordinates of the central platform are 47°18’54.35” N and 102°35’09.01” E; the site is 1,536 m above sea level. In order to expose the whole complex, the entire area was divided into 4 m by 4 m test units, with a total of 42 units. The complex is laid out in a square with an enclosure wall and a perimeter trench, as well as an entryway structure and a platform-style central structure. The elements of the complex are in varying states of decay, with a large amount of building debris piled up between the perimeter wall and the central platform. No burials were discovered within the complex; however, on the east side of the platform some bones belonging to an adult male were found under the collapsed remains of the platform structure. Additionally, three disturbed pits were discovered within the cemetery (Figures 3 and 4).
As an example, in Test Units TXIX to TXXIV one can see a cross section of the site beginning at the west wall. Here deposits can be divided into three strata.
Stratum 1: Topsoil. Light-brown and loose soil, ground surface covered in long grass; this soil contains many plant roots. The thickness of this deposit is 0.02 m to 0.1 m.
Stratum 2: Accumulation layer. Grayish-brown, unevenly distributed, this soil has a darker color and is comparatively loose. It contains a small number of broken bricks and stones. The thickness of this deposit is 0.1 m to 0.68 m. The wall and building platforms are overlain by this stratum, but were built on top of sterile subsoil; the north-south ditch cuts through this stratum, breaking into the sterile subsoil.
Stratum 3: Building collapse and accumulation layer. Brown and loose soil. Starts at 0.1 m to 0.66 m below the ground surface and is approximately 0.6 m thick at its thickest point. A large number of building remains were unearthed in this layer, including flat under tiles, semicylindrical over tiles, eave-end tiles and broken bricks.
Beneath Stratum (3) is sterile subsoil.
Perimeter trench: It is located on the outer edge of the dörvöljin. Its overall layout is a square with curved edges, while in profile it has curved walls and a rounded base. It is 22.5 m long east-west and 20.5 m wide north-south; its top is 1.7 m to 3.0 m wide, while its bottom is 0.65 m to 1.0 m deep. The trench is mainly filled with naturally accumulated alluvial soil; however, in the northern section of the eastern portion of the trench, remains of burned wooden posts, and of tile and brick building materials, were also uncovered.
Enclosure wall: It is square in shape, with a side length of 12.0 m to 12.5 m. Due to the influence of the sloping terrain, the wall’s foundation gradually decreases from west to east; therefore, the southwest corner of the wall is 0.95 m higher than the southeast corner. The perimeter wall was constructed using the rammed earth technique, traces of which can be seen in the gaps in some segments of the wall. Soil excavated from the perimeter trench was used in the construction of this rammed earth wall. The wall foundation is 0.85 m to 1.0 m wide, and the current height is 0.1 m to 0.4 m; each rammed earth layer is about 0.1 m thick. Based on the collapsed wall remains that have accumulated on both sides of the wall, it is estimated that the wall was originally about 1.5 m high.
Entryway and entrance area: They are located in the central section of the eastern side of the trench and wall, and they consist of a flat area that is 2.0 m wide. The entryway in the middle of the eastern wall has four corners, each of which contains a post hole. In the northwestern post hole, remains of a wooden post were found. From this we can surmise that originally there must have been a wooden structure over the entryway. The post holes are round or oval, and range from 0.2 m to 0.35 m in diameter and from 0.15 m to 0.48 m in depth. A number of building components, which may have come from the entryway structure, were discovered within the northern section of the eastern trench.
Platform: The center of the dörvöljin contains a square platform that is 5.1 m to 5.2 m long and 0.59 m to 0.89 m high. The top of the structure had already completely collapsed, and building components are scattered around each side of the structure. The platform was built using a combination of layers of rammed earth and of stone; a total of three layers of stone and six layers of rammed earth were used. The four façades of the structure were reinforced with adobe bricks, including some long bricks at certain parts.
Intrusion pits (3 pits: K1-K3): Pit K1 is located in the central section of the platform. It is oval in plan view, with its opening being 3.3 m long and 3.2 m wide, and having a depth of 1.5 m. The pit contains a large number of broken bricks and stones. Pit K2 is located 1.4 m northeast of the platform. It is also oval in plan view, and its opening is 2 m long and 0.64 m wide. It has a depth of 0.2 m. Pit K3 is located between the post holes of the entryway. It has an irregular and elongated shape in plan view, measuring 2 m long, 0.62 m wide and 0.25 m deep.
(B) Dörvöljin Site No. 5
In the process of excavating Dörvöljin Site No. 6, a looting shaft into Dörvöljin Site No. 5 was also cleared out, and the tomb chamber of Dörvöljin Site No. 5 was reinforced for protection. Dörvöljin Site No. 5 is oriented at 95 degrees, and its geographical coordinates are 47°18’90.1” N, 102°35’23.9” E; it is located 1,522 m above sea level. The structure of Dörvöljin Sites No. 5 and No. 6 are similar, each containing a perimeter trench and an enclosure wall, as well as an entryway and a central platform structure. The complex itself has a square layout, with the enclosure wall being 46 m on each side. The entryway is located in the middle of the eastern wall and is 5.0 m wide. The perimeter trench has inner and outer sections. The inner section follows along the outside edge of the enclosure wall, with each side being 65.0 m long, 2.5 m wide and 0.7 m deep. The outer trench only exists on the western and northern sides of the complex. On the western side, it is 86.0 m long, 9.0 m wide and 0.8 m deep. On the northern side, it is 72.0 m long, 3.0 m wide and 0.5 m deep. In the middle of the dörvöljin are the remains of a round construction that is 10.0 m in diameter and 1.5 m high. The surface of this structure is randomly covered with the remains of gray slates and of pale yellow, pale pink and grayish-blue bricks. Below these are the remains of a platform-style structure, and hidden within this is a brick-chamber tomb. The platform and tomb were built directly on top of sterile subsoil. In this case, the sacrificial platform and tomb combine to form a particularly unusual structure. At the top of the platform and tomb structure is an irregularly shaped looting shaft, which is 2.75 m long and 2.0 m wide. The tomb chamber is circular in plan view and was built using interlocking long bricks; it is 3.6 m in diameter, and its remaining height is 1.25 m. The tomb entrance is located on the eastern side; however, it has collapsed, and its remaining height is only 1.0 m. The top of the tomb has also completely collapsed; the floor of the tomb is sterile subsoil. In the fill of the tomb, a large number of bricks and a small number of human bones were unearthed. All of the bones come from a single adult, the sex of whom is currently unknown.
(C) Cairn Tombs
Two tombs (Tombs 11HLM1 and 11HLM2, hereafter referred to as Tombs M1 and M2) were excavated.
Tomb M1 is located on a slope 32 m south of Dörvöljin Site No. 6. The ground surface here is covered with an irregularly shaped cairn made up of two layers of seemingly randomly placed stones. The cairn measures 3.2 m north-south, 2.6 m east-west, and 0.3 m thick. Underneath the stones is an irregular pit made of sterile subsoil that measures 2.46 m long, 0.85 m wide and 0.5 m thick, and that is oriented at 305 degrees. At the bottom of the pit is a single burial of a female, 40 to 45 years old, in an extended supine position with head pointing west. Her right arm is bent slightly inward, and her left arm and mandible are missing. Placed to the left side of the skull were a sheep talus bone and a small number of broken joint bones; placed beneath the waist were three sheep vertebrae; to the right of the waist, an iron knife was unearthed (Figure 5).
Tomb M2 is located on a slope 26 m north of Dörvöljin Site No. 7. It is an irregularly shaped cairn composed of seemingly randomly placed stones; it measures 2.8 m long, 2.3 m wide and 0.3 m thick. Inside, two iron arrowheads and an iron hook were unearthed. Underneath the pile of stones is a rectangular pit tomb that measures 1.8 m long, 0.7 m wide and 0.72 m to 0.9 m deep, and that is oriented at 15 degrees. At the bottom of the pit a rectangular wooden coffin was found, built using rectangular wooden planks held together with rivets, with a very well-preserved lid. The coffin measures 1.7 m long, 0.54 m wide and 0.3 m high. Inside the coffin were the remains of a male 25 to 30 years old in an extended supine position; the skull and bones below the knee were missing. A leather strap was uncovered by the left humerus; a bronze artifact was found by the left radius; and fragments of a birchbark artifact were found surrounding the hip bone (Figure 6).
In addition, the excavators also cleared up a cairn that did not contain a burial. This stone structure was similar in appearance to the stone cairn tombs, but did not contain a burial pit or human bones. Similar stone mounds are often seen in the Mongolian steppe. Local archaeologists hypothesize that these are a special type of tomb; however, the authors think that they are actually sacrificial sites.
(A) From Dörvöljin Site No. 6
A large number of structural components were unearthed at Dörvöljin Site No. 6, including flat under tiles, semicylindrical over tiles, eave-end tiles, animal-mask tiles and long bricks. Other artifacts include pottery vessels, a stone mortar, a silver ornament and a bronze coin. Representative artifacts are described below.
Flat under tiles: Roughly cylindrical wooden molds were used to form the flat under tiles. The tiles are light gray and the body paste contains a small amount of fine sand. The tile heads are slightly narrower than the ends, and when viewed in cross section they have the form of an arc. The tiles have plain surfaces, and on the concave side there are clear imprints of textiles and hoop bindings. There are several horizontal scratches on the convex surface of TXV(3):1, while on its concave surface there are traces of imprints of textiles and hoop bindings. It has a length of 37.5 cm, a head width of 17 cm, an end width of 23 cm and a thickness of 1.8 cm (Figure 7:1). TXVI(3):1 is a fragmented tile. Carved abstract markings are visible on the convex surface, while the concave surface has textile imprints. The remaining tile length is 23 cm, width 10 cm and thickness 1.8 cm (Figure 7:4).
Semicylindrical over tiles: They were also formed using cylindrical wooden molds. In this case, when a clay cylinder was removed from the mold it was divided to make two tiles. The body of the tiles is light gray and the tile paste contains a small amount of fine sand. The tile body has a semicircular cross section, while the tile tongue is extended on the concave side. Each of these tiles has a plain surface; however, on the concave surface there are textile imprints, part of which has creases in it. TXVI(3):2 has a slightly damaged tile tongue, and textile imprints are seen on the concave surface. It has a length of 31.7 cm, a head width of 12.5 cm, an end width of 13.7 cm and a thickness of 2.3 cm (Figure 7:2). The convex surface of TXXII(3):1 is engraved with two lines of Turkic script; the tile tongue is slightly narrow. Its length is 31.5 cm, head width 12.5 cm, end width 13.5 cm and thickness 2 cm to 2.2 cm (Figure 7:5).
Eave-end tiles: An eave-end tile and eave-end semicylindrical over tile were joined together using a carved groove that is located on the back of the eave-end tile; this helps strengthen the joint between the tiles. The eave-end tiles are all round and were mainly formed using a mold-pressing method. After individual tiles were formed, tools were used to slightly modify the pattern on each tile. The face of the eave-end tile is circular with a flat molded rim, and the middle part inside the molded rim has molded flower motifs. Three different motifs can be distinguished based on the shape of the petals.
Type A: Inside the molded rim of the Type A eave-end tiles there is a raised circle that divides the middle part into inner and outer areas. The outer area is decorated with a band of beads; the beads are separated by short vertical lines. The inner area is decorated with a five-petal flower. Each petal is a triangle shape, and in between each petal is a short vertical line. A circular pistil is at the center of the petals. There are clear bonding marks on the back side of TIX(3):1 where it is joined to a semicylindrical over tile. On the other end of the semicylindrical over tile there is a tile tongue, and on the convex side are textile imprints. The full length of the tile is 33.5 cm; the semicylindrical over tile has a thickness of 2.3 cm; and the eave-end tile has a diameter of 13.4 cm, a molded-rim width of 2.4 cm, and a thickness of 1.5 cm (Figure 7:6 and Figure 8).
Type B: Inside the molded rim of the Type B eave-end tiles are two raised concentric circles that divide the middle part into three sections. The outer section has a band of beads with gaps occurring between each bead. In the middle section is a flower; it has a band of alternating round and triangular petals. The inner section is decorated with a band of beads that forms a central pistil. The backside of TXV(3):2 is stuck to half of a semicylindrical over tile. The convex side of the semicylindrical over tile has textile imprints on it. The remaining length of the tile is 18 cm; the semicylindrical over tile has a thickness of 2.3 cm; and the eave-end tile has a diameter of 13 cm, a molded-rim width of 2.2 cm, and a thickness of 1.5 cm (Figure 7:7 and Figure 9).
Type C: Inside the molded rim of the Type C eave-end tiles are two raised concentric circles that divide the middle part into three sections. The outer section is decorated with a band of beads with gaps occurring between each bead. The middle section is decorated with triangular petals, and the edge of each petal is carved with a concave line. The inner section is decorated with a band of beads which forms the central pistil. TXVI(3):3 is attached to a semicylindrical over tile at its back. The eave-end tile has a diameter of 13 cm, a molded-rim width of 2.0 cm, and a thickness of 1.5 cm (Figure 7:8).
Animal-mask tiles: They were shaped by kneading. The tile body is that of a flat under tile which is rectangular in shape with curved edges. The decorated tile face is convex, while the plain side is concave. The tile face is decorated with an animal-mask appliqué. The mask has two horns that twist backward, two protruding ears, a forward-facing rolled forelock, round bulging eyes, an upward-pointing pig-like nose like with deep round nostrils, and bared teeth. Above the face are incised diagonal lines that represent the animal’s hair. TXV(3):3 has a length of 25 cm, width 20 cm, and the tile is 2 cm thick (Figure 7:3 and Figure 10). The two horns on TXXXIV(3):1 are partially broken; the back of the ears hang down; the mouth is grinning with its tongue out; the fangs are exposed; and traces of light brown paint can be seen on the ears. The remaining length is 28.5 cm, and width 20.5 cm; and the tile is 2.4 cm thick (Figure 7:9 and Figure 11).
Long bricks: They are rectangular and molded. TXVI(3):4 is grayish-blue. One side of the brick is covered with cord patterns. Its length is 33.5 cm, width 14.5 cm and thickness 5 cm (Figure 7:10). TXVI(3):5 is grayish-blue. One side of the brick has two lines of fingerprints. Its length is 33.5 cm, width 13.5 cm and thickness 5 cm (Figure 7:11).
Pottery guan-jar (1 item: TXXVI(3):1): It is sand-tempered gray pottery, and sand accounts for about half of its paste content. The sand is comparatively uniform, with a diameter of 1.0 millimeter to 2.0 mm. The vessel has a flared mouth, rounded lip and cylindrical belly; the bottom is incomplete. Inside the rim is an incised bowstring; a raised ridge runs along the outside of the rim; and running around the outer surface are two incised bowstrings with a water-ripple pattern placed between them. On the inner surface of the vessel’s shoulder, traces of joining clay from the forming process can be seen. These indicate that the rim and the vessel body were made separately and then were bonded together using clay paste. The mouth diameter is 20.5 cm, the remaining height 23 cm and the body thickness 0.9 cm (Figure 7:12).
Pottery hu-jar (1 item: TXXVIII(3):1): It is temperless brown pottery with a burnished, dark brown body. The vessel has a flared mouth, rounded lip, sloping shoulder, elongated rounded belly and a damaged base. There are raised ridges running along the outside of the rim and along the shoulder. Its mouth diameter is 8.0 cm, remaining height 27.0 cm and body thickness 0.8 cm (Figure 7:13).
Stone mortar (1 item: TXXXII(3):1): It is made of gray sandstone. The mortar is conical, having a flat top and narrowing to a round base. The top has a round pit in its center. The top has a diameter of 15 cm and its height is 13.7 cm; the pit has a diameter of 3.5 cm and a depth of 4.5 cm (Figure 7:14).
Silver ornament (1 item: TXXXIII(3):1): This artifact is a floral ornament made up of thin sheets of silver, on which the decoration is detailed enough to show even the leaf veins. Its length is 7.6 cm, width 5 cm and thickness 0.1 cm (Figure 12).
Bronze coin (1 item: TXXVIII(3):2): It is a Kaiyuan tongbao [of the Kaiyuan reign period of Emperor Taizong of the Tang dynasty, 713-741 CE]. The inscription is in clerical script. The first cross stroke of 元 [yuan] is short, and its second cross stroke rises up at the beginning. The three left-slanting downward strokes of 通 [tong] are not connected. The radical of 宝 [bao] connects with the central square hole in the coin. The reverse side of the coin is plain. Its diameter is 2.5 cm, and the square hole’s width 0.7 cm (Figure 13).
(B) From the Cairn Tombs
Iron knife (1 item: 11HLM1:1): The knife has a curved, narrow shape and is severely corroded. Its remaining length is 14 cm, width 2.1 cm and thickness 0.2 cm to 0.4 cm (Figure 14:1).
Iron hook (1 item: 11HLM2:1): The hook has a flat, curved shape. Its remaining length is 4 cm and its thickness 0.3 cm (Figure 14:4).
Iron arrowheads (2 items): The arrowheads have round stems, and are of two different types.
Type A (1 item: 11HLM2:2): This arrowhead is conical and flat, and it tapers to a comparatively sharp point. Its length is 8.1 cm, head length 6.1 cm, width 0.8 cm and thickness 0.3 cm (Figure 14:3).
Type B (1 item: 11HLM2:3): This arrowhead is spade-shaped and its surface is relatively flat. Its length is 9.9 cm, head length 5.6 cm, width 3.2 cm and thickness 0.3 cm (Figure 14:2).
Bronze vessel (1 item: 11HLM2:5): It is severely degraded; as a result, its type is unrecognizable. Its wall is 0.2 cm thick.
Leather strap (1 item: 11HLM2:4): Only a small section remains. The remaining length is 5 cm, width 2 cm and thickness 0.2 cm.
Birchbark artifact (1 item: 11HLM2:6): It is highly fragmented; on some of the fragments, trace evidence of its having been sewn together with a needle can be seen on its edge. One of the better preserved sections is cylindrical. Its length is 15.6 cm and width 11 cm.
During this investigation, the Sino-Mongolian Joint Archaeological Team discovered 35 dörvöljin in Khirgisiin Khooloin, Arkhangai Province, Mongolia, the majority of which were found to include perimeter trenches, enclosure walls and platform structures. Aside from Dörvöljin Sites No. 5 and No. 6 at Khirgisiin Khooloin, other excavations have been undertaken at Dörvöljin Site No. 1 at Khulhiin am; Dörvöljin Sites No. 3, No. 5 and No. 6 at Khundiin khooloi am; and Dörvöljin Sites No. 3 and No. 5 at Uvur Khavtsal. The Dörvöljin Sites can be divided into three types. The first type is the underground tomb. This type of tomb is situated beneath a platform structure that is located in the center of the complex. Examples include Dörvöljin Site No. 1 at Khulhiin am, and Dörvöljin Sites No. 5 and No. 3 at Uvur Khavtsal. The second type of Dörvöljin Site contains above-ground burials. These tombs are built above the ground surface and are placed within the central platform structure. These tombs contain both a passage and a brick burial chamber. Examples include Dörvöljin Site No. 5 at Uvur Khavtsal and Dörvöljin Site No. 5 at Khirgisiin Khooloin. The third type is Dörvöljin Sites now lacking burials. These include Dörvöljin Site No. 3 at Khundiin khooloi am and Dörvöljin Site No. 6 at Khirgisiin Khooloin. Uyghur Dörvöljin Site No. 11 at Alon Dovd am is a dörvöljin without the enclosure wall. This tomb was built of stone blocks on top of a platform structure. This type of structure can provide important information on the location of tombs in the third type of dörvöljin mentioned above. Tombs in the third type of dörvöljin may have been built directly on top of the platform, but because this location makes a tomb vulnerable to damage and looting, tombs of this type may not be found in excavations. The excavation of Dörvöljin Site No. 6 at Khirgisiin Khooloin uncovered a small amount of human bones and artifacts, indicating the possibility that that human bones were in some way placed in the dörvöljin.
The Type B eave-end tiles and animal-mask tiles unearthed from Dörvöljin Site No. 6 at Khirgisiin Khooloin have also been found at the ancient city of Por-Bajin in the Tuva Republic. The pattern and style of the tiles from these two locations are exactly the same. During excavations at Por-Bajin, Heinrich Härke used dating of wooden building materials to surmise that the city was probably built during the reign period of Tengri Bögü (759-779 CE), son of Bayanchur Khan of the Uyghur Khaganate. The pottery sherds unearthed from Dörvöljin Site No. 3 at Khundiin khooloi am and the long bricks and lotus-motif eave-end tiles unearthed from Dörvöljin Site No. 5 at Khundiin khooloi am are very similar in shape and ornamentation to those unearthed at the ancient city of Karabalghasun [aka Ordu-Baliq], capital of the Uyghur Khaganate. Thus, it is likely that these complexes were built during the Mobei Uyghur Khaganate period (745-840 CE). The style of building components unearthed from Dörvöljin Site No. 6 at Khirgisiin Khooloin was clearly influenced by Tang culture. The three types of decorative motifs on the eave-end tiles are actually derivatives of the Tang lotus-motif eave-end tiles. Animal-mask tiles are also commonly found in China, including one example that was found at the Jianling Mausoleum of Emperor Suzong of the Tang dynasty.
The sheep talus bone and sheep vertebrae from Cairn Tomb M1 are relatively common grave offerings in Yuan tombs; the iron arrowheads unearthed in Cairn Tomb M2 are also of a style that was common during the Yuan dynasty. Stone cairn tombs lasted over a relatively long period on the Mongolian steppe; the most significant differences between periods come in the assemblages and styles of the included artifacts. The numbers of grave goods included in the tombs of commoners during the Yuan dynasty is extremely small, with the majority being ornaments and tools, whereas pottery was never included.
The Uyghur Khaganate was mainly active in Mongolia; however, our current ability to identify dörvöljin from the Uyghur Khaganate period is very low. The excavation of Uyghur Khaganate period Dörvöljin Sites by the Sino-Mongolian Joint Archaeological Team has begun to reveal more information about these sites; however, there are still many questions that future archaeological work can help to answer.
Field Crew: Yongzhi Chen, Guodong Song, Gouming Yue, Bilige Saren, Jian Zhao, A. Ochir and B. Ankhbayar
Photography: Bilige Saren
Mapping: Gouming Yue
Drawings: Jing Ma
Prepared by: Guodong Song and Yongzhi Chen
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Wenwu (Cultural Relics) Editor: Qian Dai
Translation by Andrew Womack, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Anthropology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, United States
This article was originally published as “Mengguguo Houhang’ai sheng Heliekesi Haolai shangu 6 hao Huihu muyuan fajue jianbao” 蒙古国后杭爱省赫列克斯浩莱山谷6号回鹘墓园发掘简报 in Wenwu (Cultural Relics) No. 4, 2016, pp. 32-40.