Archaeology of the Hsiung-nu in Russia - new discoveries and some problems

by S. Minyaev, Institute of History of Material Culture
Academy of Sciences, Russia

The Hsiung-nu (Huns of Asia ) headed a powerful alliance of cattle-breeding tribes in the late 3rd - the early 2nd century B.C. and dominated in the eastern part of Central Asia during two centuries, laying the foundations for the emergence of tribal alliances there in the Middle Ages. The military-political events of the Hsiung-nu rule are well-known from Chinese written sources. Theirs are testifing: "the hsiung-nu hadn't had the towns, the settlement, the agriculture, they coldn't to sow and they are going for the hunting only".

At the end of XIX to th beginning XX century, the collaborators of Kyachta museum in Russia have investigated especially much of archaeological monuments in Trans-Baikal region. They had discovered many ancient settlements and sepulchres of several time. The discovery of the cemeteries of the Hsiung-nu (Huns of Asia) was one of the most large discoveries at history of world archaeology. The anthropologist from Kyachta J.D.Talko-Grinzevich had discovered these archaeological sites in 1896 and first patterns of the Hsiung-nu art too (he was a manager of the Kyachta museum and afterwards he was a professor of Krakov University in Po- land).

Later in 1924 the expedition of P.Kozlov discovered in Noin-Ula mountains (Northern Mongolia) very riches tombs aof the Hsiung-nu. The silver plates, the carpets, the nephrite articles were republished repeatedly. These sites and objects of art right away attracted attention by all researchers. Since 1928 special expeditions were organized for research of archaeological sites of the Hsiung-nu .

Many archaeological sites were discovered and were investigated in Central Asia last years, first time in Russia, in Trans-Baikal region. There are next the sites in this region :

the Ivolga complex ( the big fortress, the small fortification work, the cemetery); the Dureny-1 settlement and Dureny-2 settlement; Enchor settlement; Bayan-Under fortress; Derestui cemetery; Ilmovaja pad cemetery; Tcheremuchovaja pad cemetery; Enchor cemetery; Zaoziornaja cemetery and possibly Hariatzk settlement and Bargay settlement. Many small cemetery of the Hsiung-nu is situated in south of Trans-Baikal area around Kyachta.

In north Mongolia were discovered some fortresses ( Huret-tov; Terelgiin; Gua-Dov; Bars-Hot; Haralty; Gargalanty and others) and cemeteries ( Hunuy; Tebsh-uul; Edergol; Darchan and others); the excavations in Noin-Ula too were continued . In Mongolia there are some the fortresses, the settlements and cemeteries else (possibly more 10), bat not enough the information.

In north China there are some tombs of the Hsiung-nu and Erlanhuhou fortress in Ordos. Possibly there are others sites in north China bat not enough the information.

So, this time there is large base dates about hsiung-nu archaeology and very big and very document collection of archaeological finds. First time the systematic archaeological investigations were made in Russia (Buryatia Republic), in Trans-Baikal region. As a result Russian museums (the museum of regional studies in Kyachta town and Ermitage museum first of all) have the best large collections of the Hsiung-nu antiquities.

The Ivolga complex (a big fortress, a small fortification work, a cemetery), the Dureny settlement and the Derestui cemetery were investigated best of all.

The Ivolga complex (the excavation by prof. A. Davydova) was investigated most of all. The big fortress is situated at a distance of 16 km from Ulan-Ude, in the Selenga-river valley. The dimension of the fortress are: from north to south - 350 m, from the west to the east - 200 m. The four ramparts defensive are breadth 35-38 m. This obstacle was insurmountable for cavalry, horses couldn't jump over it. Fundamentally the excavation were made in the south part and inside part of the fortress, where the excavated area represented 7 000 square metres. Here 54 dwellings 600 pits were investigated, the majority of which were left behind from the various economic structures. The majority of the dwellings belonged to the type uses sank into the virgin soil. One dwelling is house built the surface of the virgin soil only - it placed in the centre of the fortress. In the north-eastern tern corner of the every dwelling was the fireplace, constructed of slabs stone.

The Ivolga fortress was built in according to certain plan. The dwellings were placed in rows, the rows were formed in the blocks, which were divided of the long ditch-like pits. The finds are testifying, that the inhabitants of the fortress were engaged in the agriculture,the metallurgy (iron and bronze), the jewellery, the cattle-breeding,the hunting and the fish (Davydova,1995). The Ivolga cemetery (the excavation by A.Davydova) was investigated tigated fully. There are 216 tombs in the cemetery, in which were preserved details of the clothes, the necklaces, the beads unique and the details of the belts - the bronze plaques in "Ordos style", the bracelets etc (Davydova,1996).

The Dureny-1 settlement (the excavation by A.Davydova) was investigated widely also. Here are the dwellings of Ivolga type and he inhabitants were engaged in the agriculture, the cattle -breeding and the handicraft also. This settlement is length along the bank of the Thikoy-river 11 km about.The excavated area represented 12 000 square metres.In the Dureny settlement were found the ornaments of types different and the bronze seal unique, which in face has the picture of the he-goat mountain.

The Dureny-2 (the excavation by S.Miniaev) This settlement has a very interesting stratigraphy . There are eleven stratum in all. The middle stratums (5-7 st.) are the vessels of the Hsiung -nu types (5 st.) and 6-7 st. are the vessels of the Hsiung-nu types and the typical vessels of the Middle Ages together. So, we can to fix, that the Hsuing-nu were inhabitants of Central Asia both 2-1 c. B.C.. and in the Middle Ages (in the opposite of the Chinese written sources).

The Derestui cemetery (the excavation by S.Miniaev) was investigated best of all in last years. The digs of Derestuy cemetery are special sense. The Derestui cemetery is situated at a distance of 200 km from Ulan-Ude town, in the Dzyda-river valley. This cemetery contains very important facts for solution of the problems of the social history of the Hsuing-nu.There are several groups of the barrows at Derestui cemetery . Every group consisted of the several complex (Fig.1 for example) . The structure every complex is: a central barrow ( a big dimension, the stone slabs in surface) and the "accompany burials", which were around of a central tomb (not the stone slabs in surface). The deceaseds in these burials (the children and the women as a general rule; they were deceased at the same time in a central tomb) were sacrificed . Many "accompany burials" were not disturbing of the robbers.

Main, the "planigraphy" of Derestuy cemetery repeat in others cemeteries of the Hsiung-nu.

There is a great collection of finds from this cemetery and the bronze details of the belts and the clothes (the plaques in the Ordos style" first of all) are the basis of the collection. The collection of Derestuy bronzes artistic arise from scientific and very document excavations in 1984 - 1993. The collection distinguish oneself by just authenticity. The great value of the collection is that the objects were found in un- disturbed tombs. Now we can know disposition all finds in the tombs and functional fixing every find .

Bronzes artistic were found on the women's and men's belts.Thanks to news finds are presentation for different versions of Hsiung-nu's belts, from most simple belt to the most completed. The most completed belt pieces consisted of central part (two bronze plaques as a rule, many plaques had a special wood -lining) and diversity others details - the small plaques, the open-work rings, the small rings, the fastenings, the buttons, the buckles etc. All bronze plaques are scenes in the "Ordos style ": a skirmishes between horses, a beast of prey and a herbivorous rous and fantastic scenes ( a struggle of two dragons for example ). The details of the most simple belt were completed from iron's plate only.

Well-known great importance of belt in life of cattle-breeding tribes. Beside direct fixing it had very big sense for index of public position every person. An analyses of combination on-burial and inter-burial constructions has singled out some types of tombs. Those several types of tombs constructions reflected complicated social composition of Hsiung-nu. Every stage in this composition corresponded to with definite belt's set. The dimensions and quantity details of belts were depended from sex, age and social position him owner. The bronzes of Derestuy were found in ordinary burials, therefore refore they may be standard of Hsiung-nu belts set. The collection considerably supplement a presentation about Hsiung-nu art. The plaques with stage skirmish two dragon others plaques and plates are unique.

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New excavations of archaeological sites of the Hsiung-nu in Russia give new information about main problems of the hsiung -nu society.

The discovery of fortresses and settlement of the Hsiung-nu show more compound economic structure of Hsiung-nu society.The Ivolga fortress, Dureny settlement, the others fortresses and settlements of the Hsiung-nu are the sprouts of the ancient town or "proto-town". The inhabitants of the "proto-tawn" were engaged first time in agriculture and metallurgy. The topography these "proto-town" is very interesting. They are placed like that: the Ivolga fortress was in north, the Mongolian's fortresses were in south of the Hsiung-nu empire, the settlements not fortify were in the middle. These settlements (not fortify) were placed near : in Selenga valley are some settlements distanced in 50-60 km.

The Chinese written sources also are referring of the Hsiung-nu towns. Ssu-ma Th"ian referees the fact in passing (" Hsiung-nu were constructed a town for keeping of grain"). Bat Ban Gu described more in detail. In "Han-shu", 70 chp. there is the description of the capital of Tzi-tzi chanyou (chief). This description is reminding of the construction of Ivolga fortress.

So, we can to fix two contradiction:1) the facts of archaeology (the Ivolga fortress for example) - the written sources (Hsiung-nu hadn't the towns) and 2) the written sources among (Historical records,110 - Han-shu, 70). The facts of archaeology are obviously,therefore it is necessary to analysed the written sources anew.

The 110-th chapter of "Historical records" by Ssu-ma Ch"ien (The biography of the Hsiung-nu, "the Hsuing-nu lieh-chuan ") is main source of Hsuing-nu history. This chapter one can to divide on two parts conditionally. The first part is history of nomads in Central Asia from the old time to end 3-th cen. b.c. These nomads were the predecessors (not ancestors!) of Hsuing-nu in the Asia steppes and just these tribes "hadn't the towns". The second part of 110-th chap. is the history of the Hsuing-nu tribes themselves . Just in this part Ssu-ma Ch"ien refereeds: "Hsiung -nu were constructed a town for keeping of grain".

So, we can to fix that the rise of the Hsuing-nu empire is the first period of the urbanism in Central Asia, in the regions of nomadism typical and permanent.

The process of urbanism in Hsuing-nu tribes were not unique, because after Hsuing-nu the others nomads (uigurs, mongols ) went the same route ( the uigur fortress in Tuva or the ancient towns in Mongolia are example).

There is a complex of the causes the rise towns in Hsiung -nu: a military strategy, a commerce, a handicraft, bat a cause principal is the economic necessity. The great nomadic empires occupied to the vast territory and a cattle-breeding only (typical cal for nomads) couldn't to provide of the empires of the productions necessary. The empires were needed at an balance in among the productions different.

Possible, the model of urbanism at the Hsuing-nu will to have a conformity in the others society nomads.

Other main problem of the hsiung-nu's history is the origin of the Hsiung-nu themselves and the early stages of their history , that remain obscure to this day.The great historiographer of old China Ssu-ma Ch'ien remarked only that " the Hsiung-nu descended from Shun-wei, a scion of the Hsia rulers family". The evidence of written sources alone is not sufficient to resolve the above problem. More information is offered by archaeological sources, first and foremost new cemeteries in Russia, that let to form new opinion about this problem.

The Hsiung-nu burials are , as a rule, individual, supine, with the limbs extended abd oriented in the 90 per cent of cases toward the northern sector. They can by divided into several groups:

1) those at the level of the earliest horizon with no inner grave or overgrave structure,
2) in a pit,
3) in a pit with a coffin and no overgrave structure,
4) in a pit with a coffin placed in a timber frame and no overgrave structure
5) in a pit with a wooden coffin placed in a stone cist and an overgrave stone setting,
6) in a pit with a coffin placed in a timber frame and with an overgrave setting ,
7) in a pit up to 10-15 m deep with a drams, a coffin, a timber ber frame and a several-logs-high chamber enclosed in a square stone setting of a big size,with the pit petitioned by four or five stone walls throughout its depth. In the three latter groups the coffin or the timber frame are often ten lined with vertical stone slabs and in some instances the pit is filled with similar slabs.

The burial with different types of structures are found next to each other and in some cases form chronologically integral complexes.The grave goods from different burials are typologically inseparable and give no ground for chronological classification . The main types of the Hsiung-nu burial structures have nothing to do with the sex or age composition of the population

. The different types of the Hsiung-nu burials differing in the degree of the complexity of their burial structures and the wealth of their grave goods reflected the social differentiations within Hsiung-nu society of the 2nd- 1st century B.C. _514_0.If correct , this conclusion will make it possibly, to chart a road towards identifying a group of burials belonging, possibly, to the "early" Hsiung-nu ("proto-Hsiung-nu")

. Rich burials of nobility with coplicted structures ( groups 6 & 7) cannot be considered characteristic of the Hsiung-nu burial practice as a whole, as they merely reflected the isolation of the nobles and the privileged strata and the complication of the social structure in the period of the Hsiung-nu dominion,beginning with the turn of the 2nd century B.C. The structure of these rich burials of the hsiung-nu's nobles is copy of rich tombes Han nobles.

After digs of Derestuy cemetery it's perfectly clear that the burials of 1-4 groups too cannot be considered characteristic of the Hsiung-nu burial practice. In Derestuy cemetery and others cemeteries of the Hsiung-nu the burials of these types is situated around central barrows ("the accompanies burials") and the deceaseds in these burials were sacrificed _515_0. On can see, that the accompanies burials aren't the graves of the Hsuing-nu themselves (the Hsiung-nu couldn't to kill of the Hsiung-nu for sacrifice).

So, the "proto-Hsiung-nu" sites can be expected to be close or analogous in the sum total of the main features to tree "rank-and-file" graves of the Hsiung-nu during the period of their domination of Central Asia. Judging by the "rank-and-fail" graves of the 2nd - 1st centuries B.C., the main elements of of those "early" structures should be the pit and the inner grave structure in the form of a wooden coffin placed in stone cist and some time a small overgrave structure in the form of a stone setting.

It is a`s yet difficult to identify sites that can be characterized as those of the "proto-Hsiung-nu" in the Inner Asian part of the steppe zone and all the more in Altai and Southern Siberia. The archaeological cultures of these regions have set of indications, differ from hsiung-nu's culture.

The moment "Ordos hypothesis" of origin of the Hsiung-nu is popular. Chinese archaeologists identify of Ordos archaeological sites of Scythian time (Maozinggou, Budungou etc.) and sites of "proto-Hsiung-nu" . But archaeological sites of Ordos have others indications, differ from Hsiung-nu: others burial structures, orientation etc.

The base of the hypothesis is from the text of "Historical Records" by Ssu-ma Ch'ien and of " Han history" by Ban Gu. The texts tell, that in period of Qin dynasty the Hsiung-nu were banished from their homeland to north and after downfall of Qin the Hsiung-nu returned to region "to south of river" (Ordos plateau). But there are some contradictions and mistakes in text by Ssu-ma Ch'en and Ban Gu. After detailed analysis of the text "Historical Records" and " Han history" one can assume that in fact the homeland of the Hsiung-nu in period Warring States was situated in north regions of states Zhao.

The data of archaeology correspond with this hypothesis. If to turn to Scythian time sites in the Far Eastern steppes, one can see that there existed once more zone of the Scythian world in region old south and south-west Manchuria. The burials of the region (Nan-chan-gen, Zhou-tzia-di, Tzun-du-chan, some burials profonded in upper stratum Hsia-jia-dian settlement) have some common characteristics, namely, the position of the dead was predominantly extended supine, inside the rectangular pit was a wooden coffin, the short walls of which were inserted in the long ones, the coffin was covered with stone slabs and the wall of the pit were lined with similar slabs. Like "pank-and-file" Hsiung-nu burials, those graves had bronze buttons, zoomorphic plaques, small bells and imitation cowrie shells inside. Some types of the Hsiung-nu grave goods, especially shifted three-bladed arrows and flat share -arrows made of iron, can be regarded as a result of the development of similar bronze arrows from the above-mentioned Scythian burials. It is noteworthy that the shape and weight of those arrows bespeak the use of a big bow, apparently, approaching the Hsiung-nu bow in size.

To sum up, it is precisely the some Scythian time burials of the south and south-west Manchuria that manifest to the fullest extent the set of "proto-Hsiung-nu" characteristics among all the sites of the Scythian period known at present in the east of the steppe zone. It is hence possible to outline the probable region of the early stages of Hsiung-nu whistry and to pin-points the sites, the detailed analysis of which is of prime importance in resolving the problem of the origin of Hsiung-nu.

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