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  Universities of Newcastle, Edinburgh and Mongolia

 Chuluut river basin Arkhangai aimag, Central Mongolia

                   July-August 2004
Location:               Chuluut River Basin, Hurem sum, Arkhanghai aimag, Central

Project Dates:          11th July – 15th September 2004

Team members:           Natasha Chamberlain, stage 2 Archaeology, Newcastle University
                        Bryony Morgan, stage 3 Biology, Newcastle University
                        Sarah Napper, stage 3 Biology, Edinburgh University
                        Catherine Stevenson, stage 3 Archaeology, Newcastle University
                        Amartuvshin, stage 3 Archaeology & Anthropology, National
                        University of Mongolia
                        Erdenesuren, stage 3 Archaeology & Anthropology, N.U.M.
                        Taivanbayar, stage 3 Archaeology & Anthropology, N.U.M.
                        Tsetsegjargal, PhD student in Anthropology, N.U.M.

Communications:          Sarah Napper

Address:                1f2, 45 Thirlestane Road
                        EH9 1AP


Project Aims:

            To locate and record rock art sites in the Huremt district of the Chuluut river
             basin, Arkhangai province.
            To make a photographic catalogue of sites found.
            To obtain GPS co-ordinates for rock art sites and other surface archaeology in
             the area, in order to produce a digital map showing distributions and locations
             of sites.
            To work as an international team in order to achieve these aims.
            To study the ethnography of the sites, in terms of the connection local people
             have with the art, in both past and present.
Many regions of Mongolia contain rock art sites which have not yet been documented or
recorded in detail, and in addition there is little interpretation of images compared to
those at sites in other parts of the world. The study of rock art can be helpful in
reconstructing past environments and lifestyles, as the scenes frequently depict animals
and human artefacts. Rock art may have survived for thousands of years, but it is still
vulnerable and needs to be protected, from damage by humans, animals and the elements.
Recording current levels of human and natural damage will help to establish what action
needs to be taken.
Archaeological sites need to be considered in the context of the landscape they are in.
Producing a map with locations pinpointed on a satellite map will help to understand how
sites are distributed, and also help in creating conservation plans for sites.

Study area:

The site was selected with the assistance of our colleagues at the National University of
Mongolia, and was also recommended to us by Professor Esther Jacobson-Tepfer, an
American researcher who has studied many rock art sites, particularly in Western
Mongolia. It was known from previous visits by some Russian archaeologists in the
1970s that there was rock art in the area, but a comprehensive survey had not previously
been undertaken. Travel to the site was by Russian van, which we hired for the duration
of the fieldwork with a driver, Batsukh.
The study area consisted of the floodplain and foothills of the Chuluut River basin,
focusing mainly on the stretch of the river prior to the point where it merged with the Ider
River at the north of Arkhanghai aimag. The land was also surveyed north of this point,
up to the point where the Chuluut/Ider flowed into the Selenge River. All rock art sites
found were on the Eastern side of the river in Arkhanghai aimag, overlooking pasture
land. Due to restraints on time, the Western side of the river was not surveyed as
thoroughly. A site on the Western side was described during an interview as being
approximately 10km from the study location; unfortunately this could not be checked

On arriving in our study area, we interviewed local people (who were all herders) to find
out whether they were aware of any carvings in the area, and we were shown one site
immediately. We were told of other sites in later interviews, and also thoroughly
surveyed the study area on foot (and by boat!) which revealed sites not mentioned by the
local families. Knowledge of the sites by the herders varied greatly between families, and
generally speaking the men were much more likely to have visited, or know of, the rock
art sites than the women.
Once sites were located, the images were recorded. At the majority of sites this was done
in detail. Due to limited time sites 6 and 9 were recorded in summary, noting only the
location, extent of site, numbers of rocks and images and image types. The majority of
recording time was spent on Site 1 which was the largest site and the first which we saw.
It was around 275m in length, on a wall of boulders with a steep slope of loose rocks at
its base – around 40m in height in total. To record this site it was necessary to divide it
into 28 sections, each 10m wide. A baseline was set up at the bottom of the rocky slope
with section lines running up the slope at right angles to the baseline. Lining up three
poles on the baseline by eye ensured it was straight and continuous with the previous
section. It was ensured that the section lines were at right angles to the baseline by
measuring 3-4-5 triangles. The rock art in each section was then marked, numbered and
recorded by boulder.
Details recorded included:
            – Location (by GPS and by measuring distance from the left hand section
                line and base line).
            – Dimensions, orientation and angle of rock face(s), rock type.
            – Proximity to other rock art.
            – Conservation issues:-
                    • animal damage
                    • condition of rock surface (lichen/cracks/holes)
                    • any modern scratches or images.
            – Rock art description including number, type and dimensions of images,
                the spatial relationships between images on each face, and further details
                for example style, number of legs etc.
Photographs were taken of the majority of images, time permitting. Photographs of the
sections were also taken, and also the landscape surrounding each site. Tracings on
acetate and scale drawings of some of the more interesting images were produced.
Smaller sites were recorded in the same way though dividing them into sections was not
Descriptions of each site were written, including their proximity to water and roads, any
evidence of human visitation, any threats from humans or animals, and the visual
appearance of the site.


GPS points were recorded for all 12 rock art sites; the sites with only one or a few rocks
were recorded as single points, and the maximum extent of the larger sites was noted.
There were also many kherigsuurs, or burial mounds in the area, and in several sites large
complexes were found. Five of the rock art sites were found on the rocks of these burial
mounds, and it was therefore considered important to map their distribution. GPS points
were taken for all kherigsuurs located during the survey of the area.
GPS points were also taken along the stretch of the Chuluut River which runs through the
study area, from the southernmost point visited to the point where the Chuluut/Ider meets
the Selenge as previously described. GPS points were also taken for the two nearest
towns, and the nearby tourist lodge which was used by fishermen, to be used in the
consideration of the conservation needs of the sites. GPS points were also taken for some
better known, but remote, archaeological sites that we passed on our way to the site
which may be of use to other archaeologists.
The GPS points obtained in the study will be used to plot the location of rock art sites and
burial mounds onto a base map from satellite imagery, to better understand the
distribution and relationship of sites within the landscape.

Results of the survey

Rock art sites:
In total, 12 sites were located and recorded, with a sum total of 599 rocks containing
1175 images. The subjects depicted varied widely, including animals, humans, and some
human artefacts for example knives, tools and vehicles. The images also varied in style,
with both stick figures and highly stylized animals being present at the same site. The
rock art was thought to originate from the Bronze Age (2000-3000 years before present),
but as carvings are notoriously difficult to age, this was not certain. Full site descriptions
will be included in the final report, but some features are highlighted below:-
Site 1 was the largest site, 275m in length. The majority of images from this site were of
animals – deer, ibex and horses. Other images included wolves, dogs, camels, humans,
mating deer, knives and other tools, and a horse and cart.
Site 6 contained some interesting images, notably a swastika (which the Mongolians
interpreted as four horses heads), and an image containing two humans holding hands.
Site 10 consisted of two carved ‘deerstone’ rocks – cuboid monoliths with stylized deer
carved in relief. The image styles and monolith types were consistent with those in other
parts of the aimag/country. Images of deer drawn in a similar style were also found at
sites 1, 6 and 9; the deer have elongated beak-shaped mouths, curving stylized antlers and
long necks and bodies.
Six of the sites were associated with kherigsuurs (Sites 1, 2, 7, 10, 11 and 12). Examples
of the art included various hoof-prints, animals, and deer stones with stylised stags. The
images at site 2 were on a cornerstone of the kherigsuur and at sites 11 and 12 they were
on central stones. On site 1, there were six kherigsuurs located along the rocky slope, the
rocks of at least one kherigsuur having rock art upon them. Other images at kherigsuur
sites were not located in specific places.
Overall, the vast majority of the images were of animals (Figure 1), with deer and
ibex/goat being most heavily represented (Figure 2). Interviews with local people,
including the local official with responsibility for wildlife, indicated that ibex were not in
the area; deer were still found in the nearby forests but were subject to some hunting
pressure despite this being illegal.

Conservation issues:

Many of the rocks were weathered, with flaking surfaces, small holes and cracks which
often split the rocks. Many boulders had lichen on one or more of their faces which
frequently encroached on images. Animal damage included scrapes from goat hooves and
bird droppings though these were fairly uncommon.
However, damage from humans was revealed to be a significant problem, with 22% of
the rocks recorded in Site 1 having modern marks on them. These included both tracing
over the outline of old art and engraving new images – either over or next to older
images. Sometimes ancient and modern images or lines could not easily be distinguished
though generally lighter, finer scratches were generally taken to be modern. Some marks
included dates which enabled them to be identified as modern.
The project included interviewing local people to determine their attitude towards the art
and its preservation. Opinions of local people in the area were divided as to the reasons
behind these modern marks – some thought they were made by children or people from
outside the area, but others suggested that they were made to mark a special event, e.g.
graduation, or by people who wanted to leave their mark when they left an area. Marking
‘special’ rocks seemed to be fairly common in Mongolia; other sites we visited, including
some deer stones and Taikhar Chuluu, a large rock with religious and mythical
significance, also had recent engravings and paint marks.


The study area extended from the northern most point where the Chuluut/Ider met the
Selenge (N49˚15’47” E100˚40’38”) to the most southern point reached on the reccies (N
49˚06’08.4” E100˚42’47.8”), along the linear feature of the Chuluut river. In addition to
the 12 rock art sites, a total of 173 kherigsuurs were recorded, 13 of which were
associated with rock carvings. A brief description of the kherigsuur (shape, size, whether
part of complex) was recorded when possible.
Other features recorded included a statue of a yak, which was considered holy and was
the subject of local legend and the two nearest towns (Tomorbulag, Khovsgol aimag and
Tsetserleg, Arkhanghai aimag).

Project Outcomes

The intended outcomes of the expedition will be:
   • To create a digital archive and detailed records of our findings and allow wider
       distribution of the information.
   • To produce a digital map based upon a satellite image, showing the distribution of
       rock art and burial sites found and their setting within the landscape.
   • The NUM will conduct an SPSS analysis of the data collected.
   • Expedition report
   • A lecture was given to Archaeology undergraduates, and other interested parties,
       at the National University of Mongolia
   • A public lecture at Newcastle University

Host country participation:

The expedition provided an opportunity for the three undergraduate students to practice
fieldwork skills and gain experience in using GPS technology – the Department of
Anthropology and Archaeology owns GPS receivers and now routinely uses them to
record the location of newly found sites, although the students had not had the
opportunity to use them before. The concept of using GPS to map the sites on a satellite
map was fairly new; this technology is being used in Mongolia, but is not studied at an
undergraduate level in Archaeology. The Institute of Archaeology, Ulaanbaatar, has been
conducting a joint mapping project with Professor Jacobson at the University of Oregon
for several years, but this was the first time that a GPS mapping project was conducted
with the archaeologists from the National University of Mongolia.
The preliminary results of the study were presented at a lecture in the National University
of Mongolia, in both English and Mongolian, to undergraduate students and other
interested parties.


Professor Tumen, National University of Mongolia, for her help in arranging this project
Professor Jacobson-Tepfer, University of Mongolia, for advice on project location and
International Office, National University of Mongolia
Dr Aron Mazel, Newcastle University, for advice on field techniques
Dr Meredith Williams, Newcastle University, for advice on GPS and GIS technology
The people of the Hurem district, Arkhanghai, who generously answered many questions
about the rock art in the area, and welcomed us to their homes.


Funding has been generously contributed by:

  -The Royal Geographical Society              - The New York Youth Explorer’s Club
                                                        Youth Activity Fund

- The Earth and Space Foundation                       - The Gordon Foundation
- The Royal Scottish Geographical Society      - St Edward’s School, Oxford

  - Newcastle University Exploration Council
  - Edinburgh University Student Travel Fund
  - Harry Collinson Travel Scholarship
  - The Society of Antiquaries
  - The Albert Reckitt Trust
  - The Gilchrist Educational Trust
  - Duke of Edinburgh’s Expedition Fund

    Figure 1
                                              Images recorded at all sites
Number of images






                          Animal   Circle based   Other lines   Tool/knives   Carts   People   Unclear   Interesting but   Other
                                      design                                                                 not I.D.

                                                                         Image type

    Figure 2

                     Types of animal image recorded at all sites


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