The Western Mongolia Archaeology Project team (mainly in our previous guise as the Khanuy Valley Project) hit the 6th SEAA conference, in Ulaanbaatar, in a big way this week. Oula Seitsonen presented a condensed version of our recent Past Mobilities paper as a poster (GIS approaches to movement and mobility in the monumental landscape of the Bronze Age Khanuy Valley) and I delivered a paper focusing on the identification of remains from Mongolian stone circles and their corresponding re-interpretation (Rings of Fire?) as well as one outlining the domestic economy of the Bronze Age and Xiongnu periods in the Khanuy Valley (The Culture Changes but the Herd Stays the Same: Bronze Age and Xiongnu Subsistence). Jean-Luc-Houle, meanwhile, focused on the seasonal movement of families in the Bronze Age and contrasted the situation in Khanuy with that in the Altai, based on data gathered during our first season of the Western Mongolia Archaeology Project (Long‐Term Occupation and Seasonal Mobility in Mongolia).
Other highlights of the conference included the big reveal of the finds from the Gol mod 2 cemetery excavations that took place in 2011, by Erdenebaatar, during the opening ceremony and excellent presentations by Julia Clark and Camilla Kelsoe discussing their recent work in Hovsgol province. Camilla used the ceramics from their excavations as a launching pad for discussing the reasons for adopting, or not, new technologies whilst Julia emphasised the need for us to consider hunter-herder interactions in the north of Mongolia. William Taylor presented a pilot study using 3D morphometrics to argue for ridden horses being present in horse-head mounds, examining them at a population level using several criteria to produce a range. Also working at a regional level were papers examining the spread of bronze metal working in East Asia, using compositional analysis (Gary Hsu) and the spread of starchy crops (Xinyi Liu).
It has, then, been a full and tiring week. At 4.30am tomorrow though we leave our rooms in Ulaanbaatar and head for Bayan Olgii and the next phase of fieldwork in the Western Mongolia Archaeology Project. We seem to have another good group of students and volunteers joining us, many of whom took the opportunity to attend some of the conference sessions as well as the usual sight-seeing in the city and we’re looking forward to working with them as we gather more data to improve our understanding of the prehistory of the region. We’ll be back, at the earliest, on July 6th.
This has been another very busy year for me: fieldwork for projects in Mongolia and Tanzania has been completed and post-excavation work has continued on the material from Nigeria, whilst my PhD research has been refined and refocused. We decided from the beginning that the Western Mongolia Archaeology Project should involve only one year of fieldwork; we now begin the process of consolidating our research from that project and the Khanuy Valley Project, planning how best to develop knowledge and our interest in Mongolian Bronze and Iron Age cultures further. The Archaeological Investigation of a “Moving Frontier” of Early Herding in Northern Tanzania, meanwhile, was envisaged as a pilot project and, having met our research goals for that project we await news to hear whether or not the project will enter its mature phase.
All in all, 2013 promises to provide significant new opportunities and, more pleasingly still, the fruition of the work of several previous years. As I look forward to the new year I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of my colleagues and clients for their help and support in the last year and to wish them A Very Happy Yule.
I have felt privileged to have been involved with the Khanuy Valley Project over the duration of the last, most informative phase of the project in recent years. I am, therefore, delighted to announce that the project will leave a legacy beyond our research output and friendships. The same core team of researchers that ran the last phase of the Khanuy Valley Project (Jean-Luc Houle, Jamansarav Bayarsakhan, Oula Seitsonen and myself) will be joining together again to run the Western Mongolia Archaeology Project in 2012.
This project will feature a fieldwork component run along similar lines to the Khanuy Valley Project between 21st May and 22nd June. I’m also pleased that some of our previous students and volunteers have already asked to join us – such requests help to reassure us that we create the space for a fun and supportive element to our fieldwork and campsites, building friendships and nurturing colleagues beyond our core team of staff. In addition to this core team, the project will collaborate and share resources with the Rock Art and Archaeology: Investigating Ritual Landscapes in the Altai Mountain region of Western Mongolia Project, run by Bill Fitzhugh and Richard Kortum. Working so closely together in the field, when looking at very different aspects of the same cultures, should provide valuable new insights for both teams, as well as new opportunities for our students and volunteers,
The Western Mongolia Archaeology Project has been added to the Project Gallery on my website, and applications are now open for students and volunteers to join us. We’re only taking a small team this year and, although applications are not processed on a first come first served basis, those interested would be best advised to apply as soon as they have made that decision.
I received a copy of the glossy hardback to the left in the post this morning. It’s a weighty tome, comprising over 600 A4 pages of the most up to date research into the Xiongnu with papers from leading scholars outlining our current understanding of a culture that has seen an increasing amount of academic attention in recent years. It also includes the following article:
Houle, J.-L., Broderick, L.G., 2011. Settlement Patterns and Domestic Economy of the Xiongnu in Khanuy Valley, Mongolia. In Brosseder, U., Miller, B.K., eds. Xiongnu Archaeology – Multidisciplinary Perspectives on the First Steppe Empire in Central Asia. (Bonn Contributions to Asian Archaeology 5). Vor-und Frühgeschichtliche Archäologie, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn: Bonn. pp. 137-152
In the last couple of weeks I’ve also heard that I’ve had a poster presentation accepted for the Deer and People: Past, Present and Future conference at the University of Lincoln, beginning September 8th. I’ve included a copy of the abstract for the poster, below, and have also uploaded a copy of the poster itself to my Academia page.
Deer and People: Past, Present and Future
Deer form a highly significant and visible part of the worldview of prehistoric people within the area of the Mongolian forest steppe. Ecological studies suggest that deer species may only ever have been thinly distributed within this biome and be represented principally by Cervus elaphus and Capreolus capreolus. Recent archaeological studies are also beginning to suggest that deer may only ever have been a minor component of anthropogenic faunal assemblages. The combined ecological and archaeological evidence suggests, then, that the importance of deer to Mongolian people never lay in an economic role but in an ideological one.
Hunting pressures have led to a rapid reduction of deer numbers in the Mongolian forest steppe, with cervids suffering local extinction in several areas. One such area is the Khanuy Valley, where the last sighting of deer is commemorated in the naming of “Deer Mountain”. This poster explores the significance of deer to the local population.
I’m really pleased to announce that I’ve reached an agreement with Akin Ogundiran to work on a project examining material from the Oyo empire in Nigeria. The first stage of this project will take place in October of this year, when I will examine the faunal remains excavated during the course of his recent fieldwork at two sites (one urban and one rural) in SW Nigeria. I will also be collaborating with Matthew Law in this study.
Initial signs are that the excavated material is in very good condition and this promises to be a very exciting project which will shed light on one of the great pre-colonial empires of West Africa.
This week, the zooarchaeological report of the Khanuy Valley Project 2010 excavations was submitted. This is to be followed at a later date by the ethnozooarchaeological report of the same phase. The report has identified some significant discoveries in the development of society on the Mongolian steppe, but many of the findings are provisional, pending a re-evaluation of the chronology on the site.
The report is available now from my profile on Mendeley.