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Archaeological excavations at the Khermen Tal site in Arkhangai Province, Mongolia

The Khermen Tal site is located in Ogiinuur Sum, Arkhangai Province, Mongolia. The site is attributed to the Xiongnu, a nomadic tribe that made its first appearance in northern Eurasia in the third century BC, migrating westward in the second century before vanishing in the fifth century. As one of the best preserved and largest ancient city groups in Mongolia, it contained three walled enclosures the remains of which lie side by side from east to west and have the same layout. Hence the site's name: 'Hudgiyn Denj' or 'Three Interconnected Cities'.

Archaeological excavations at the Khermen Tal site in Arkhangai Province, Mongolia
Aerial photo of the 'Hudgiyn Denj' site [Credit: Archaeology Press IA CASS]
From 2014 to 2016, a Sino-Mongolian joint archaeological team from the Inner Mongolian Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology and International College of Nomadic Culture of Mongolia conducted an archaeological survey, while also undertaking research, exploration and mapping of the site.

Some features of the site were also cleared. The Central platforms of the Western and Middle Cities, the Eastern Gate of the Western City and the earthen platform in the southwest of the Middle City were uncovered during the excavations. The eastern wall, a moat and path in the Western City were sectioned.

Very few artefacts were recovered from the various features and deposits. Only several broken pottery shards were unearthed, as well as a copper nail, a copper knife and an iron knife.

Archaeological excavations at the Khermen Tal site in Arkhangai Province, Mongolia
Aerial photo of the Middle City [Credit: Archaeology Press IA CASS]
From July to October in 2017, the joint archaeological team cleared up the central platform located in the middle of the walled enclosure (numbered IIA). This platform consisted of a covered cone-shaped platform, a sloping step-road in the west and a north-south oriented sloping step-road in the east.

The platform was oriented north-south and each side was 35.8m long. Around the platform, 36 large post-holes were discovered, most of which were round in shape with a 0.75~1.05m diameter and 0.80~1.00m depth. In their bottoms, there were flat stones used as plinths. Around the large post-holes, there are also small post-holes with a 0.15~0.30m diameter and a 0.30~0.60m depth distributed regularly.

According to the results of excavations, there was probably a grid-like structure consisting of 100 large posts, probably supporting a large ritual platform 9 rooms wide and 9 rooms deep. A sloping step road in the west connected with the middle part of the west end of the platform. The step road is 14.4m long and 4.2m wide.

Archaeological excavations at the Khermen Tal site in Arkhangai Province, Mongolia
The earthern platforms IIA and IIB [Credit: Archaeology Press IA CASS]
The sloping step road in the east was 2.6~2.9m wide and 64m long, oriented north-south, and was located next to a small earth platform (IIB) to the left of IIA. This smaller platform is likewise oriented north-south and is square in plan. It’s 13.6m long from east to west and 12.8m wide from north to south. Regularly distributed small post holes were also discovered around this platform.

'Hudgiyn Denj' belongs to the Xiongnu period based on stratigraphic, typological analysis and the results of C14 dating, between the third century BC to the first century AD. Written historical books in ancient China recorded that the Xiongnu used to build religious sites along the basin of the Orhon River for their religious conventions, such as offering sacrifices to the god of heaven three-times-a-year. Later, the chief of the Xiongnu also convened meetings on state affairs at the sites by the opportunity of these religious ceremonies, with horse racing and camel riding as an amusement.

The central platform of the Middle City of 'Hudgiyn Denj' is the first large platform base of a building constructed from packed earth and wood that has been completely uncovered in Mongolia and is therefore of significant historical value for research in the field of Xiongnu archaeology.

Source: The Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (IA CASS) [January 23, 2018]


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