Noin-Ula kurgans

Noin-Ula kurgans

The Noin-Ula kurgans consist of more than 200 large burial mounds, approximately square in plan, some 2 m in height, covering timber burial chambers. They are located by the Selenga River in the hills of northern Mongolia north of Ulan Bator. They were excavated in 1924–1925 by Pyotr Kozlov, who found them to be the tombs of the aristocracy of the Xiongnu; one is an exceptionally rich burial of a historically known ruler of the Xiongnu, Uchjulü-Jodi-Chanuy, who died in 13 CE. Most of the objects from Noin-Ula are now in the Hermitage Museum,[clarification needed] while some artifacts unearthed later by Mongolian archaeologists are on display in the National Museum of Mongolian History, Ulan Bator. Two kurgans contained lacquer cups, inscribed with Chinese characters believed to be the names of Chinese craftsmen, and dated September 5 year of Tsian-ping era, i.e. 2nd year BCE.


Noin-Ula kurgans

As with some finds of the Pazyryk culture, the Noin Ula graves had been flooded and subsequently frozen, thus preserving the organic material to an remarkable degree. The tombs were opened in antiquity and the bodies were removed. This corroborates the Han chronicles which state the leaders of one of the nomad tribes, oppressed by the Xiongnu at the height of their empire, took an unprecedented step 100 years after the decline of the Xiongnu. Wishing to unite their subjects, and driven by a desire for revenge, the new nomadic leaders desecrated the Chanuys' royal tombs. All the burials were unsealed, and the remains of the Chanuys were removed, together with some of their clothing, weaponry and symbols of authority. However, the robbers left Xiongnu weaponry, home utensils, and art objects, and Chinese artifacts of bronze, nephrite, lacquered wood and textiles. Many artifacts show origins along the Great Silk Road; some imported objects and fragments of fabrics are recognized as Greek. The fabric, color, weaving methods and embroidery of the cloth were similar to the fabric produced in the Greek colonies on the Black Sea coast for the Scythians.[citation needed]

Some tombs include horse burials and one tomb had especially lavish furnishings. The coffin was apparently made in China, and the interred person had many of his possessions buried with him. His horse trappings were elaborately decorated and his leather-covered saddle was threaded with black and red wool clipped to resemble velvet. Magnificent textiles included a woven wool rug lined with thin leather with purple, brown, and white felt appliqué work, and textiles of Greco-Bactrian, Parthian and Anatolian origin.[verification needed]


Kurgan No 6 was the tomb of Uchjulü-Jodi-Chanuy (Uchilonoti, Ulunoti, 烏珠留若提 Wu-Zhou-Liu-Ju-Di, reigned 8 BCE–13 CE), who is mentioned in the Chinese annals. He is famous for freeing his people from the Chinese protectorate that lasted 56 years, from 47 BCE to 9 CE. Uchjulü-Jodi-Chanuy was buried in 13 CE, a date established from the inscription on a cup given to him by the Chinese Emperor during a reception in the Shanlin park near Chang'an in 1 BCE.

During the life of Uchjulü-Jodi-Chanuy, the Chinese dominated the steppe politically. For a generous reward by the Chinese,[1] he changed his personal name Nanchjiyasy to Chji. On ascending to the throne, he confirmed the standing agreement between the Han Chinese and the Xiongnu: "Henceforth the Han and Hun will be one House, from generation to generation they will not deceive each other, nor attack each other. If a larceny happens, they will mutually inform and execute and compensate, in the event of raids by enemies they will help each other with troops. He of them who is first to breach the agreement, he will be penalized by the Sky, and his posterity from generation to generation would suffer under I this oath".

Despite this agreement, during Uchjulü-Jodi-Chanuy's reign relations with China went from cordial to antagonistic when a usurper Wang Mang came to power, which ended the Western Han Dynasty, and establishing the short-lived Xin Dynasty. Assembling a 300,000-strong army, Wang Mang began military actions, but his attempts ended in futility. Uchjulü-Jodi-Chanuy died in AD 13, before the end of the war. His successor was Uley-Jodi-Chanuy of the Süybu clan.

The most dramatic objects of Uchjulü-Jodi-Chanuy's funeral inventory are the textiles, of local, Chinese and Bactrian origin. The art objects show that Xiongnu craftsmen used the Scythian "animal" style.

A surviving portrait shows a low nose bridge, eyes with epicanthic fold, long wavy hair, divided in the middle, and a braid tied visibly and falling from the tip of the head over the right ear. Such braids were found in other kurgan tombs in the Noin Ula cemetery, they were braided from horsehair, and kept in special cases. The braid was a part of a formal hairstyle,[citation needed]and the braid resembles the death-masks of the Tashtyk. This appearance of the masks demonstrate that in the 1st century AD a Far-eastern appearance was perceived by the Huns as more attractive than one of western type,[dubious ]resembling modern Telengits who consider large eyes and high nose to be ugly. From these observations, L.N. Gumilev concluded that among the Huns of the 1st c. BC, a far-eastern ideal of beauty overcame the traditional western model, which continued in the art of the Scythian "animal" style.

Culture and Anthropology

The cultural affinity of the Xiongnu was with the peoples of southern Siberia and Central Asia;[dubious ] with the Chinese they exchanged arrows rather than culture: the Xiongnu shot with hand bows, while Chinese employed crossbows, although the Chinese had developed the crossbow from the traditional hand bows. Nomadic art influenced Chinese more than Chinese art influenced Xiongnu.[citation needed] "Animal style" motifs are occasionally found in the art of Han China, borrowed from their nomadic neighbours. Lev Gumilev elaborates the roots of the Chinese cultural influence found in the Noin-Ula cemetery. The Chinese culture was spread not only by material objects, but also by population admixture. There were populations of Xiongnu that have live under the Han rule as military allies. The Chinese migrated continuously to the steppes, the first big wave arriving in the 3rd c. BC during the Tsin dynasty (Pin. Qin), when captured Chinese became subjects of the Chanuys, a process repeated during the following centuries. Chinese women married Chanuys, princes, and nobles, and their entourages brought Chinese tastes and ideas. The numerous Hans who deserted and entered Chanuy service (for example, Vey Lüy, Li Lin) also taught the Huns the subtlety of diplomacy and martial arts. Populations of the Hun people also lived under Han rule, mostly serving as military allies under Han command. The capture of populations of Huns by the Han forces in a series of Han versus Hun Wars also contributed to ethnic integration of the north-central Asian neighbors.

Many immigrants lived in the Xiongnu pasturelands, but at first they did not mix with the Xiongnu. To be a Xiongnu, one had to be a member of a clan, born of Xiongnu parents. The newcomers were well off, but were outsiders, and could marry only among themselves, not the Xiongnu. Only later did they intermix, increase in numbers, even created a state that existed from 318 to 350 AD.[citation needed]

The Xiongnu culture can be differentiated into local, Scytho-Sarmatian, and Chinese. Most everyday objects were produced locally, showing the stability of the nomadic culture; Chinese masters made small handmade objects and ornaments; while objects with ideological connotations originated from the Scythian, Sarmatian and Dinlin S. Siberian cultures.[2]

Despite the aforementioned excavated Noin-Ula portrait indicating Mongoloid lineage of the Xiongnu, Euro-centric observers of Xiongnu culture and history try to place the Xiongnu people to that of non-Mongoloid or non-Asian ancestry or descendancy. Among the most important artifacts from Noin-Ula are embroidered portrait images. These shed light on the ethnicity of the Xiongnu, albeit controversially. It has been claimed[by whom?] that the portraits depict Greco-Bactrians, or are Greek depictions of Scythian soldiers from the Black Sea. Such suggestions are far-fetched. There are several historical sources confirming the appearance of the Xiongnu. In 350 AD, for example, power in the South Xiongnu state of Chjao (Pin. Zhao) was seized by a usurper, a Chinese named Shi Min, who ordered all the Xiongnu in the state exterminated; in the slaughter "many Chinese with prominent noses" died, suggesting the Xiongnu had "prominent noses" compared to those of the Chinese.[citation needed] In the famous Chinese bas-relief "Fight on the bridge" the mounted Xiongnu are shown with big noses. A skull analysis of Xiongnu burials made by G.F. Debets found a distinct Paleo-Siberian type of Asian facial appearance with "not a flat, but with not strongly protruding nose", somewhat similar to some North American Indians.[verification needed] This type is represented on the embroidery from Noin-Ula. What to the rest of the Chinese looked like a high nose, to the Europeans looked like a flat nose.[original research?]

The portraits are not made in the Chinese manner, and are the handiwork of a Central Asian or Scythian artist, or perhaps of a Bactrian or Parthian master in the capital of the Chanüys (who had active diplomatic relations with these Central Asian states).

The hairstyle on one portrait shows long hair bound with a wide ribbon. This is identical with the coiffure of the Türkic Ashina clan, who were originally from the Hesi province. The Ashina belonged to the last Xiongnu princedom destroyed by Xianbei-Toba by AD 439. From Gansu, the Ashina retreated to the Altai, taking with them a number of distinctive ethnographic traits.


The Chinese sources say that the Xiongnu did not have an ideographic form of writing like Chinese, but in the 2nd century B.C. a renegade Chinese dignitary Yue "taught the Shanyu to write official letters to the Chinese court on a wooden tablet 31 cm long, and to use a seal and large-sized folder." The same sources tell that when the Xiongnu noted down something or transmitted a message, they made cuts on a piece of wood ('k'o-mu'), and they also mention a "Hu script". At Noin-Ula and other Xiongnu burial sites in Mongolia and region north of Lake Baikal among the objects were discovered over twenty carved characters. Most of these characters are either identical or very similar to the letters of the Turkic Orkhon-Yenisey script of the Early Middle Ages found in the Eurasian steppes. From this, some specialists hold that Xiongnu had a script similar to the ancient Eurasian runiform, and that this alphabet was a base for later ancient Turkic writing.[3]

See also


  • Camilla Trever, "Excavations in Northern Mongolia (1924–1925)", Leningrad: J. Fedorov Printing House, 1932
  • Rudenko S.I., "Hun Culture and Noin Ula kurgans", M-L, 1962 (In Russian)
  • Rudenko S.I., Gumilev L.N., "Archaeological Studies of P.K.Kozlov from standpoint of historical geography", in News of All-Union Geographical Society No 3, 1966 (In Russian)
  • Gumilev L.N., "History of Hun People", 'Eastern Literature', 1960, Ch. 12 Regained Freedom
  • N. Ishjatms, "Nomads In Eastern Central Asia", in the "History of civilizations of Central Asia", Volume 2, UNESCO Publishing, 1996, ISBN 92-3-102846-4
  • http:/
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  1. ^ Bichurin N.Ya., "Collection of information on peoples in Central Asia in ancient times", vol. 1, M.-L., 1950, p. 101
  2. ^ Rudenko S.I. & Gumilev L.N., 'Archaeological Studies of P.K. Kozlov from standpoint of historical geography', Communications of the All-Union Geographical Society, No 3, 1966
  3. ^ N. Ishjatms, "Nomads In Eastern Central Asia", in the "History of civilizations of Central Asia", Volume 2, Fig 6, p. 166, UNESCO Publishing, 1996, ISBN 92-3-102846-4

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