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1,500-year-old Perfect Wooden Saddle of Rouran Warrior Found

1,500-year-old Perfect Wooden Saddle of Rouran Warrior Found

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Archaeologists have found a very rare wooden saddle in Mongolia, from over 1,500 years ago. It was found in a cave burial with other artifacts and the remains of a horse. This saddle came from a warlike nomadic culture that dominated much of Central Asia and which was feared by the Chinese. The discovery is providing important new insights into the era.

Mongolian experts were working at a site in the Tsagaanbulag Myangad Somon of Kobdo Aimak in Mongolia, when they found the wooden saddle, in 2015. The team led by J. Bayarsayhan were exploring the Urd Ulaan Uneet cave burial which is at an altitude of 4,000 feet (1,340 m).

Nikolai Seregin of Altai State University and his team have recently produced a report on the findings which offers description and analysis the artifacts found at the site. The researchers wrote in the Bulletin of Archaeology, Anthropology and Ethnography that several other important finds apart from the saddle were found, including “iron bits with horn psalia, compound bow, arrowheads, leather quiver with iron hook, and wooden vessel”.

Along with the wooden saddle, weapons were found at the Urd Ulaan Uneet complex. (Nikolai Seregin / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Along with the wooden saddle, weapons were found at the Urd Ulaan Uneet complex. (Nikolai Seregin / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

The Ancient Horse Burial Included a Wooden Saddle

Some horse equipment was also found including a very distinctive bit. Unusual for this region, a horse was also found buried in the grave. It may have been buried with the deceased to accompany him in the afterlife or perhaps was a sacrifice to a deity.

Elements of horse equipment, along with the saddle, were recovered from the burial site. A bit with horn cheekpieces and a buckle. (Nikolai Seregin / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Elements of horse equipment, along with the saddle, were recovered from the burial site. A bit with horn cheekpieces and a buckle. (Nikolai Seregin / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

The saddle is very well-preserved and consists of two curved sections connected by two ‘wings’. Seregin told Archaeology that the “saddle was equipped with recesses for attaching a front and rear bow and is thought to have been developed for military use”. It looks as it is was made for the comfort of the rider and it bears a resemblance to saddles depicted in Chinese art.

The saddle, which had wings, is described as perfectly preserved. (Nikolai Seregin / CC BY-SA 4.0)

The saddle, which had wings, is described as perfectly preserved. (Nikolai Seregin / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

The Saddle Reveals Clues About the Ancient Nomadic Empire

Horsetalk quotes the research team as saying that the object can “be confidently dated to the middle of the 4th to 5th century AD, with the possible extension of the upper chronological boundary to the beginning of the 6th century AD”. This is based on the design of the saddle and by carbon dating.

Seregin is quoted by Horsetalk as stating that “there is every reason to believe that the saddle from the Urd Ulaan Unaet complex belongs to the same tradition with the Yaloman and East Turkestan patterns”. The findings strongly indicate that it came from the Rouran era in Mongolia.

The wooden saddle recovered from the Urd Ulaan Uneet complex in Mongolia. (Nikolai Seregin / CC BY-SA 4.0)

The wooden saddle recovered from the Urd Ulaan Uneet complex in Mongolia. (Nikolai Seregin / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

The Rouran were a confederation of nomadic peoples who dominated much of Central Asia and who were frequently at war with Chinese kingdoms. They were related to the Xianbei people, but little is known as to their origin.

Archaeology reports the “nomadic Rouran people, were also known as fierce warriors”. The Göktürks defeated them and took over their empire, it is claimed that many of the Rouran, migrated into Eastern Europe and created the Avar Empire , who were frequently at war with the Byzantines.

Great Migration Era Reflected in the Saddle’s Attributes

The burial of the horse with the saddle is helping researchers to better understand the 5th and 6th century AD. This funerary rite can be explained “by contact with the population of the Bulan-Koby Culture” the researchers claim, according to Horsetalk. This suggests that cultural exchanges were happening among populations in an area from Southern Siberia, Manchuria, and East Turkestan.

Moreover, the researchers wrote in the Bulletin of Archaeology, Anthropology and Ethnography that elements from further west in Eurasia are evident on the saddle and “these obviously demonstrate the complex migration processes of the Great Migration Period”. This a time when many societies migrated across much of the region because of climate change and war. The wooden object indicates that Central Asian populations also had contact with societies in western Eurasia.

Elements of equipment and household items recovered from the cave. 1: A quiver with a hook; 2: a vessel; 3: a knife; 4 and 5: shoes. (Nikolai Seregin / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Elements of equipment and household items recovered from the cave. 1: A quiver with a hook; 2: a vessel; 3: a knife; 4 and 5: shoes. (Nikolai Seregin / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

The wooden saddle is very important in the study of Central Asian history as the societies that inhabited the area were all dependent on the horse. The find indicates that there was a high degree of cultural and other forms of exchanges among them in the 5th and 6th century AD.

Furthermore, the discovery is helping fill a gap in experts’ knowledge of saddles in the period. This is because similar artifacts that have been found were poorly preserved.

Top image: The wooden saddle belonged to a nomadic Rouran warrior. Source: Vlad Sokolovsky / Adobe Stock. Inset; Nikolai Seregin / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Editors Note: This article was corrected on 8-6-2020 to reflect the fact that the items in question were uncovered by J. Bayarsayhan and his team and not Nikolai Seregin and his team who offer this more recent analysis.

By Ed Whelan

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