Monument surrounded by pillars discovered on steppe

A unique Turkic monument surrounded by 14 stone pillars covered in inscriptions was discovered on Eastern-Mongolian Dongoin shiree steppe by archaeologists.

Aerial picture of the excavation site (by Osaka University and Institute of History and Archaeology & Mongolian Academy of Science)

The site was excavated during a three-year project coordinated by Japanese and Mongolian archaeologists. The monument’s main feature is a central mound with a stone sarcophagus that was found in it’s centre. The place of the burial is surrounded by 14 stone pillars covered with inscriptions. Before the excavations it was thought that inscriptions and ruins of Turkic royalties were only on the steppes in the western part of Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia, but in the course of the fieldwork 12 new inscriptions were uncovered by the team, led by Takashi Osawa.

Each of the inscriptions consists of over 100 signs, called tamga – abstract signs used by Eurasian nomadic peoples. These are now considered as some of the largest Turkic inscriptions ever discovered in Mongolia. After having been deciphered they provided insight about the person that was buried at the site. The texts commemorate an individual that held the rank of Yabgu (viceroy), the highest ranking just behind Khagan – ruler of the khaganate, during the reign of Bilge Qaghan (716-734 AD) of the Second Turkic Khaganate. According to Takeshi Osawa, the Yabgu became a Tölis-Shad (Royalty of the East), a commander in chief and highest administrative officer, in eastern Mongolia during the reign of Tengri Qaghan (734-741 AD).

It is believed that the Dongoin shiree steppe was the centre of the eastern area of the ancient Turkic Khaganate, whose location was so far not known from materials written in Chinese and Turkic texts. Using radiocarbon dating of coal pieces, sheepskin, and horse bone excavated from the sarcophagus, it was estimated that this unique monument was built in the 8th century, during the late Second Ancient Turkic Khaganate.

(after Osaka University and Institute of History and Archaeology, Mongolian Academy of Science & EurekAlert!)

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