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Ursula Brosseder

Scattered across the vast Mongolian grasslands are hundreds of mysterious and hauntingly beautiful stone mounds on the slopes of the hills and the terraces of the valleys. Now, in the most comprehensive investigation of its kind, archaeologists have studied a unique concentration of these structures to produce the first solid chronology.

The BARCOR team of the University of Bonn has focused on one remarkable site called Maikhan Tolgoi in Central Mongolia’s Upper Orkhon Valley.

Ursula Upper Orkhon aerial.jpg

There they’ve found a dense and varied collection of burial mounds which provided ideal conditions for an in-depth study.

Ursula Brosseder has led excavations there over the past decade spending a total of one and a half years of her life in a yurt (known as in Mongolia as a ger). She’s endured snow, dust storms and heatwaves to uncover the history of this ritual landscape and to learn about the pastoralists who created and used it over millennia.

She and her team have established that these horse-riding peoples began to build these burial structures only about 1500 BCE and have worked out how they grew over time. They have to come to see that the monumental mounds – known as khirgisuurs and surrounded by numerous deposits of sacrificed horses - stand at the end of a longer development and mark the culmination of the Bronze Age World.

The team also uncovered several so far unknown and unclassified structures that raise new questions and tell us that we are not yet done with understanding this rich period of the Mongolian steppe. By comparing results with neighboring sites and valleys they show that findings are true for all Central Mongolia. This brings us one step closer to understanding the region which was a crucial hub not only in prehistory but also became vital for the later emergence of all Steppe Empires.

For Ursula, the project has been rewarding because it’s shedding new light on the people of the eastern Eurasian steppe who have not yet the historical attention they deserve.

She said: “While we are still analysing our results to understand these past cultures that shaped world history, this work is also a cornerstone for our new Horsepower project”.

Ursula graphic of Upper Orkhon.jpg

The results are published in a paper titled, ‘Searching for patterns through the ages in ritual landscapes of Bronze Age Mongolia’, published in Festschrift for Hermann Parzinger.

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