Arts & culture

Artistic creativity of the ancient Mongol nomads

By Dalkhjav Goomaral Research Fellow, Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum

Shoroon Bumbagar is located in the valley between two mountains of Agit and Tömst, at a distance of 28 km from Zaamar soum center and 3 km away from the Tuul River, in the territory of Agit bagh (local administrative division)  on the border of Zaamar soum of Töv aimag and Bayannuur soum of Bulgan aimag. The site is named as Shoroon Bumbagar (Earth mound) by locals. The tomb complex has rectangular fortification walls built with tamper earth with traces of surrounded ditches. The southern and northern walls are 87m and the western and eastern walls are 103m in length. There’s a gate in the south, of which on two sides there are two wider mounds that might have served as watchtowers. The fortification ruins suggest the gate was tall and statuesque. The four corners of the rectangular earth rampart surrounding the Shoroon Bumbagar are taller than the fortification. There’s a ramped earth mound with a height of 5.5m and diameter of 25m in the middle of the fortification. Inside of the fortification is plain, flat and spacious and there were remains of passage with a length of 30m stretching from the grave mound to the gate in the south.


The mounted figurine made of well-sifted dark red clay. The hair is bunned on top of the head, the figurine wears a pair of black boots, and is donned in a brown robe with white lining and left overlapping; is girdled with belt and the collars are folded outward. The horse made of clay is painted in black with white markings on the forehead and hooves are white, it is harnessed with fenders with black patterns on white background. The horse head is slightly bent aside, has alert ears and tuft manes behind ears. One of the horse riders has his hands raised, holding a whip or a small banner in his right hand and left hand in grip like gripping the bridle rein.
The forehead, jaws and fenders as well as figurine’s hands, neck, face and folded collars are painted in white, the robe brown, lips red, his hair, eyes, eyebrows and horse’s trunk in black.
The chest and abdomen of the horse was made hollow, where the torso of the horse was made by hand by shaping from inside and the torso of the rider was shaped on frame carcass with elaborate figuration of other body parts. The horse device and harnesses are precise and colored and the rider’s face is of a Medieval Asian, which shows the multi-ethnicity of the population of the Turkish khaganate.
This horse riders represent the imperial bodyguard of the khagan. These rare historical and arts relics were created for burial rituals during the Tang dynasty in Northern China.


A figurine of bird with short neck, headless. The back of the bird is arched with tail spread and hanging downward and the two wings each with 4 tuft feathers are socketed to the body. The wing coverts are in whitish yellow color and the feathers distinguished with black lines and spots. The trunk is of natural color of wood with no paint.

A joint Mongolian-Russian archeological expedition conducted research and excavation by removing the earth of the passage obliquely at an angle of 45 degree, digging an underground tunnel to the entrance. The passage to the tomb was 18m in length, which was terminated by the entrance with two small wall cabinets in the right and left side closed with bricks. The cabinets had wooden doors enclosed with bricks from outside. The figurines made of clay were in a standing pose or mounted. The standing figurines have their hands folded in front of their chest like praying and the clay figurines riding horse held black or white small banner with wooden stem.


A figurine with narrow short neck, a rooster-like comb on head and the beak slightly open with the upper beak bent downward and the lower a little shorter. The eyes are specifically painted in black and the ears are drawn from the edge of the eyes. The bird is arched with the tail hanging downward and the two wings each with 6 tuft feathers are socketed to the body. The neck, chest and lower part of the tail are whitish yellow in color with black spots on them. The back is painted in red and the wings are of a lustrous color. Length: 4.1 cm; Width: 2.5 cm; Thickness: 1.5 cm

The gate of the tomb chamber, which was closed with wooden door and bricks, was exposed at 23m from the passage doorway.

In front of the tomb chamber, there were two steles with Chinese inscription installed, which were laid attached by cushioning blue bricks,  centered at the doorway to the burial chamber. All the sides of the steles are polished precisely, but have no other inscriptions on other sides.

The inscription on the monument consists of two main parts of ‘Main inscription’ and ‘Ode’. The main inscription speaks of the biography such as origin, ancestry and the merit and virtuous deeds of the man of dedication. At the end of the inscription, there’s the ‘Ode to the man’, of which the wording is so well written apparently by a man of higher literary education and knowledge.

Beyond the outer brick door, there’s the second door made of thick wooden board of reddish brown color. The wooden door has two panels and gilt bronze hinges.

The double wooden coffins were located in the west side of the chamber. The outer coffin was 2.0m in width, 2.8m in length, inside which the inner wooden coffin was laid. As the coffin was broken heavily, it’s impossible to define the size of the inner coffin. According to the archeologists’ suggestion, there was a certain space between the inner coffin, inside which the departed was laid, and the outer enclosed coffin, where the sacrificial objects were placed. These installments were broken due to the breakage of tomb raiders. During the excavation and cleaning out the broken parts of the double wooden coffins, many fragments of earthenware and leftovers of wooden figurines were found, which must have been arranged in sequence inside the coffin or in the space between. There were a number of wooden and clay figures of human and animals.

The objects found in the tomb were largely of the symbolism and belief of ancient Turks. For instance, the two figures in the shape of lion placed on two sides of the entrance as well as the clay dragons were to serve as the protectors of the tomb.

 Numerous artifacts were found in the tomb complex, which are divided into two parts of objects of the tomb chamber and the objects of the entrance wall cabinets. The wooden, clay and other items found in the  burial chamber are the sacrificial objects for the departed and the findings in the burial wall cabinets are the representations of the servants, maids, officials and warriors of black and white banners to serve the departed in his afterlife. In this regard, the artifacts are sectioned into two divisions.

The wall cabinets contained mainly clay statuettes, which are subdivided as standing figurines and figurines riding horse.

Among the findings of burial chamber, the elaborately carved male and female figurines are of special interest. Certain dolls were carved on wood and clothed in silk. The faces of wooden dolls are apparently depicted with their hat, hairstyle and moustache. One object of interest is the wooden doll depicting a man with straight nose, wearing pointed hat and garment with round lapel and holding a walking stick, whose depiction of face and garments are unique.

The archeological findings comprise more than 100 precious artifacts, including the wooden objects in the shapes of fish, horse, camel, sheep, mythical half-human, half-bird creature, bird and dragon with moving head as well as clay figures of human, cattle, lion and dragon. The movable head and wings of the wooden bird, mythical ‘Kalavinka’ (Kinnara) creature and dragon are socketed to the trunk, which shows the sense of arts and development of ancient nomads and their artistic creativity and attempt to realize the features and actuality of the animals. These exhibits of precious value are on display in our museum as sacrificial and funeral relics created in Turkish and Tang styles.


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