An ancient female skeleton discovered along the Tuul River, some 55 kilometers outside Ulaanbaatar, may be more remarkable for when she lived rather than who she was. After examining earrings and rings discovered amongst the remains, Kh. Lkhagvasuren, an archaeologist who heads the Mongolian Historical and Cultural Heritage Center, said this week that the woman was likely a contemporary of Chinggis Khaan. The discovery is an important one for the discipline and for Mongolia as physical evidence from that period remains rare. “Few people have found anything from the 13th century,” Lkhagvasuren said, “especially that close to the Tuul river. ”While an examination of the skeleton—specifically the skull and waist—revealed that it belonged to a teenage female, not much else is known about the young woman’s life.
The body was buried in a wooden coffin—thought in some circles to be a common Mongol practice at the time—and the trinkets found with it suggest the woman was neither wealthy nor powerful in life.While it would be too much to assume the woman had direct contact with Chinggis Khaan himself, it might not be a stretch to imagine that she knew his one-time patron and later rival Ong Khan. Ong Khan, known as Wang Khan in Chinese History, made his fall camp in the area where Lkhagvasuren and his students—the archaeologist is also President of Chinggis Khaan University—discovered the young woman’s skeleton on a crisp October day.Those conditions and a picturesque setting offered some clues about why Ong Khaan chose the site, known as Khonkhor, where surrounding hills afford protection from the wind—though permitting enough breeze to keep the bugs at bay—and the Tuul peacefully intersects a plain on which animals still graze today.
This idyllic landscape may also explain why the site’s importance begins well before the 13th century. In fact, many groups historically residing in present day Mongolia decided to set up
camp in the exact same spot. Not far from the young woman’s body, for example, Lkhagvasuren and his students uncovered the remains of a Hu Nu man, possibly a chief, buried 12 feet deep in hard earth. Objects dating to the early Bronze Age have also been discovered at the site, making it of particular interest to the Historical and Cultural Heritage Center. With its wealth of artifacts, Khonkhor has also attracted the interest of the US State Department, which runs a program supporting archaeological research around the world. “The US government feels it’s important to promote preserving historical and cultural sites around the world,” said Marissa Maurer, the Public Affairs Officer for the US Embassy in Mongolia. This dig, she said, was deemed important enough to receive a US$29,800 grant.
Inspecting the project’s recent discoveries at Chinggis Khaan University last week, US Ambassador Mark Minton offered his congratulations and support to the project team. “It’s very interesting work,” he said. “We’re very happy we can support it and now that we see the results, we’re very glad we did.” Of course, the money has been a boon to the Historical and Cultural Heritage Center, used to bring high-tech equipment, including computers powered by propane, to the site. Compared to previous expeditions where all discoveries had to be trucked back into Ulaanbaatar for analysis, Lkhagvasuren said this project is “easy.” Computers alone, however, will not reveal Mongolia’s human record, but then, Lkhagvasuren has plenty of experience. “I’m not a very famous or good archaeologist, but I’ve been working at it since I was 12 years old,” he said. “I have a lot of practice.” Lkhagvasuren and his team hope to use all tools at their as they continue the project into next year. With any luck, they may piece together more Mongolia history, especially, Lkhagvasuren hopes, the 13th century.
by William Kennedy
THE UB POST