Баруун Мухдагийн Ам is located in along the Orkhon River in Mogod county, Bulgan province (Могод сүм, Булган аймаг), Central Mongolia. Баруун Мухдагийн Ам is a place name. "Баруун" and "Мухдаг" are fairly easy to translate. "Баруун" means "west". "Мухдаг" is a proper name for a place; thus, "Мухдагийн" means "of Мухдаг". "Ам", however, is more challenging. While the word most commonly translates to "mouth", when "ам" is used for geographic and landscape features, it connotes a raised, level area protected on all sides from the wind. This is certainly an accurate description of the BMA cemetery, which is boxed in by hills of varying height to the north, south, east, and west. The "ам" on which the BMA cemetery is located is also delineated on the east and west aspects by deep, narrow ravines, both of which ultimately flow north to the Orkhon Canyon.
In 2013 my colleagues and I focused on mapping all burial features visible from the surface within the main Xiongnu/Hunnu cemetery at Baruun Mukhdagiin Am. Professor William Honeychurch (Yale University) was generous enough to loan us his Total Station to help us produce a high-quality three-dimensional map of the cemetery. Our project team recorded 293 features within the cemetery distributed into roughly four sectors.
|Mapping the main BMA cemetery with the Total Station. Photo courtesy of Dr. Zagd Batsaikhan.|
|Burial surface feature at the main Xiongnu/Hunnu cemetery at BMA. This feature has a dromos or entryway projecting south, a common attribute of elite Xiongnu/Hunnu burials in Mongolia. Photo courtesy of Galdan Ganbaatar.|
During our time mapping the cemetery, we were regularly visited by herds and herders going through their daily late summer/early autumn routines. The main Xiongnu/Hunnu cemetery is located on prime pasturage and seems popular with sheep, goat, cattle, and horses alike.
|Walking to join the herd of horses and their herder on their morning route up from the river on their way to be milked at home. BMA Xiongnu/Hunnu cemetery Sector D in the background. Photo courtesy of Galdan Ganbaatar.|
In addition to mapping, we conducted a targeted survey of the landscape to the west, south, and east of the main Xiongnu/Hunnu cemetery. Our permit did not allow us to conduct any subsurface recovery; however, we were able to record a wide variety of archaeological sites and features from the Bronze Age through Medieval period within a 20-km radius of the BMA cemetery.
|Pastoralist landscape east of the BMA cemetery of grassy steppe, rocky hills, and deep ravines. Herds of cattle and horse surround the white canvas gers of a local herding family (айл/ail).|
Our main survey goal was to identify ancient herder campsites within 20km of the main BMA cemetery. The identification of ancient herder campsites from the Xiongnu/Hunnu period is a key step in addressing the questions posed in my dissertation proposal: how the relationships between humans and animals in life and death shaped particular practices and institutions within a local Xiongnu/Hunnu herding community and their linkages to the broader empire.
|One of the ancient herder campsites as identified by surface scatter of ceramic sherds. Each orange survey flag marks the location of one sherd. Photo courtesy of Galdan Ganbaatar.|
In the 2013 field season, these campsite were identified through surface scatter of ceramic sherds consistent with Xiongnu/Hunnu ceramics.
|Sample of ceramic sherds from the site pictured above. Photo courtesy of Galdan Ganbaatar.|
-a smaller multi-period cemetery immediately west of the main BMA cemetery,
|Possible Bronze Age slab burial with the multi-period rock art panel in the background. Photo courtesy of Galdan Ganbaatar.|
-a multi-period rock art panel associated with that smaller cemetery,
|Reindeer and mountain goat (янгир/yangir), which are common images in Mongolian rock art dating to the Bronze and Iron Ages. Photo courtesy of Galdan Ganbaatar.|
|Possible Medieval burial located on a slope above the Derestei Valley (Дэрэстэй хөндий) less than 10km west of the main BMA cemetery. Photo courtesy of Galdan Ganbaatar.|
-and monumental Bronze Age khirigsuur (хиргэсүүр) complexes
In addition to survey and mapping, we conducted some preliminary community outreach with local herding families living in the BMA project area. The BMA Archaeological Project is committed to engaging in positive, ethical interactions with the local community, and this field season we endeavored to demonstrate our good will and honest intentions to the people whose home and cultural landscape we wish to study. During the 2013 field season at BMA, we meet with and visisted a number of local community members, but spent the majority of our 'community' time with an extended family at their autumn encampment in the Derestei Valley a few kilometers east of the main BMA cemetery. The heads of the extended family are Byambasuren (Бямбасүрэн, the grandmother) and Davaanyam (Давааням, the grandfather). Like most Mongolians, our hosts go by shortened versions of their names: Бямбаa and Даваа. As my elders and gracious hosts, I refer to them as Бямбаa эгч ("egch"), meaning 'aunt/big sister' Byambaa, and Даваа ах ("akh"), meaning 'uncle/big brother' Davaa.
I very much look forward to renewing our connections with Davaa akh, Byambaa egch, and their extended family during the summer of 2014, as well as forging new relationships with other members of the local community.
|Including friendly animals, like our buddy Bankhar (Банхар) from Byambaa egch and Davaa akh's ail. Photo courtesy of Galdan Ganbaatar.|
|So much landscape to survey, so little time! Photo courtesy of Dr. Zagd Batsaikhan.|
Those interested in volunteering this summer or just interested in what the BMA Archaeological Project has planned for the summer of 2014 may wish to check out the links described below:
The most exhaustive information about this summer can currently be found on the BMA 2014 main page at CSEN (Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads).
|A mixed herd of sheep and goat graze across burial surface features in the main BMA cemetery. Photo courtesy of Galdan Ganbaatar.|
The BMA 2014 listing on AIA AFOB provides a briefer synopsis of the project and this summer's volunteer opportunities, as well as a link to the CSEN page and a downloadable volunteer application packet. BMA 2014 also has listings at Past Horizons and a listing coming out in the spring edition of Archaeology Abroad. Check back here over the course of the spring for more news about the BMA Archaeological Project. Feel free to ask questions by commenting on this post!