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Origin of the Alans
Found: the Ritual Center of the Arimaspi.

I have tracked Chinese and Japanese archaeological interests in the Sandauhaizi Complex back to the 1980s, but no European research has been published. The only American to mention this impressive site was Joshua Wright (Asian Perspectives, 2014) but his perspective was flawed.

Sandauhaizi may have been discovered in the 1960s by Wang Bo while he searched for deer stones in Xinjiang Province. In 1996, Wang Linshan and Wang Bo mentioned the site for the first time in an academic paper. In October 2001, Hatakeyama Tei visited Sandaohaizi, writing about it during the following year. That same year, the site was listed by the Chinese as one of five key heritage preservation units. The ritual site contains the largest stone mound in Eurasia along with 51 deer stones around its periphery.

   
The Sandaohaizi ritual center as it stands today.

Located next to Flower Lake in the southern Altai, Sandauhaizi in only a few miles from the Mongolian border and sits at an altitude of 2700 meters. It is possibly (or better still, probably) the most important archaeological discovery within the past half century. The c. 800 BC ritual site is connected to Arzhan 1, the Aldy-Bel culture and the Bai-dag cemetary in Tuva. We are looking at a virtual Steppe "empire" in existance 600 years before the Xiong-nu empirical polity. The Chinese hypothesis needs review and feedback. I think they are amazingly correct.

   
Sandaohaizi deer stone showing the oldest known depiction of saddled horses.

I have posted 15 photos of this impressive ritual complex on the Facebook group, Steppe Archaeology-Eurasian Nomads. (If you click on a photo, it will enlarge in a separate window.) Please review this archaeological site carefully and let me know what you think. Thank you. The link is here:

http://facebook.com/groups/945254875586148/?multi_permalinks=1302423746535924¬if_t=like¬if_id=15

Big Grin
Alan J. Campbell

member of Legio III Cyrenaica and the Uncouth Barbarians

Author of:
The Demon's Door Bolt (2011)
Forging the Blade (2012)

"It's good to be king. Even when you're dead!"
             Old Yuezhi/Pazyrk proverb
Reply
Hi Alan
 Interesting point about the Pazyryk horses being dehydrated and looking like “race horses”. Even though there is not much Akhal Teke DNA I think that steppe breeders would have introduced the wiry desert horse into their breeding at some stage and Daphne Goodall in her book A History of Horse Breeding is convinced that somewhere in time the European Forest horse “Equus Robustus” was introduced into Central Asia and the Altai, probably via Caucasus and north of Caspian Sea and were bred with the Asiatic wild horse or Mongolian horse to create the larger sized horse like the Welsh Cob or your Morgan horse Misty. We find the European Forest horse in quite a few modern horses like the Klepper or Estonian horse, the Cob, these horses being about 14.2hh like your horse  and the Dales Pony originating in Roman times from around Ribchester area indicating the possibility of a connection to the Iazyges who although not Alans maybe did some horse trading with their eastern neighbours via the Roxolani when not fighting them, the Dales Pony ranged from 13hh to 14hh.


When we look at horse breeding we must ask, what qualities were ancient steppe breeders looking for in their horses? Ancestry, line breeding, temperament, action, conformation, colour, size, endurance? According to Carolyne Willekes in her book The Horse in the Ancient World, basic Steppe breeding required a horse that was required to fulfill a whole retinue of tasks, ranging from long distance travel, herding, hunting, milking, racing and war. The herds were kept large on open grassland so only the best males were left entire. Only the toughest would have survived the harsh winters. 

 As you mentioned hooves and legs were important in the days before horse shoes. The general belief is that light-coloured hooves are softer than dark ones and thus more prone to ailments. Goodall goes on to say that the horse reared on cool, moist, soft pastures, has large, spreading hoofs to help them move on soft ground and is usually a lymphatic animal, unsuited to any but slow work; the horse raised in a dry climate and whose feet are small with dense and tenacious hooves designed to withstand abrasive conditions and prevent the development of chips and cracks, is usually a compact wiry, and vigorous animal. Change their relative habitat and in a few generations the shape and sizes of their hoofs would be entirely reversed to meet new conditions of nature. So there must have been a lot of experimenting to try and produce horses with strong legs.

The following conditions breed certain types of horses.

Desert/grass steppe produces a light wiry animal with stamina.

Mountain/lush valley produces a short-backed, short-legged, sure footed hardy animal.

Chalk/Lucerne grass areas produce a larger, possibly heavier, well-bred animal. Ferghana had good chalky soil so it is no surprise that Ferghana was renowned for its large quality horses. I wonder if steppe breeders sent their young horses there for a while for agistment on the hilly pastures for strong bone growth.

Islands produce smallish animals after the pattern of the first introductions. I am time poor at the moment and can get more details later about Tuvan horses but glad the thread is still going.  Smile
Regards 
Michael Kerr
Michael Kerr
"You can conquer an empire from the back of a horse but you can't rule it from one"
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I am quite surprised to not find Sandaohaizi in Jacobson-Tepfer's 2015 book. (in the Index at least)
Is it perhaps known by any other names?
Having that many deerstones, I would've expected it to be there.
Jan Pospisil - fantasy/historical/archaeology illustration
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Arimaspi Ritual Centers and the 13-Month Calendar

Hello, Michael and Jan

I believe Jacobson-Tepfer worked through Mongolian authorities, and she never carried out "landscape" studies in China. "Sandauhaizi," has also been written as "Huahaizi" but the specific site is referred to as "Shibal-kul khirigsuur 1" by Chinese archaeologists. Therefore, I was wrong in saying that stone ritual complexes (without human burials) were not khirigsuurs.

I'm also a little pressed for time, but would like to mention a paper by Liu Wensuo, "Archaeological Remains of Sacrificial Rituals in the Eastern Altay Mountains," undated PDF but after 2011. Liu discusses the huge khirigsuur at Shibal-kul in Qinghe County, plus a secondary structure 700m south-southwest, also the Khara-sayel khirigsuur in Fayun County, and the Tubshin Nuur example in Bayan-Olgiy Aimeg, Mongolia. All of these ritual khirigsuurs are accompanied by deer stones, and Liu believes these stones are the earliest of the Sayan-Altai style. He also mentions that each of these structures is located at the headwaters of rivers.

   
Shibal-kul khirigsuur 1 at Flower Lake, headwaters of the Qinghe River.

   
Khara-sayel khirigsuur at the origin of the River Irtysh.

   
Tubshin Nuur khirigsuur at the headwaters of the Bulgan River, a tributary of the Ulun-gol's upper reaches. This khirigsuur has a series of 13 stone walls radiating from the center. Perhaps conjecture, but to me the layout appears to function as a 13-month calendar. Theoretically the Arimaspi calendar would have each week at 7 days, each month at 28 days, with the year having a final "celebration" day to equal 365 days. It's so barbaric it's pure genius! (Like the Celtic version.)

Liu Wensuo also mentions smaller ritual khirigsuurs and accompanying deer stones in areas just north of the Tianshan, plus circular ritual "platforms" (with perhaps the same function) in the Illi River Valley that date between the Warring States and Han periods. The southeastern Altai khirigsuurs seem to hail the arrival of the Scytho-Siberian culture of the Arimaspi/Pazyryks. Those khirigsuurs just north of the Tianshan may designate the southern extent of Arimaspi territories-- in other words, the broad pastures of eastern Dzungaria. The stone circular platforms in the Illi Valley are later than those in the Altai and western Mongolia, and they either correspond with the occupation of the Yuezhi or the Wusun. These geographical locations are worth thinking about, as they may pinpoint the actual (and extensive) ritual sites and homeland of the Maiemir-Pazyryk-Berel people. 

Liu adds this, "In the author's opinion, according to the geographical environment, the entire area of Sandao Haizi is not suitable as pasture even in the summer... In conclusion, the remains of the large-scale khirigsuurs of concentrated distribution and with numerous deer stones in the eastern Altay Mountains, especially in the Shibal-kul area, closely correspond to the geographical conditions of the area characterized by the sources of rivers with rich deposits of copper and iron, abundant water, and opportunities for traffic [ie. trade]. This demonstrates that the area was an important center for religious activities in ancient times. The inhabitants of the north and northeastern Altay Mountains probably came to the center of the eastern Altay to perform sacrificial rites on important occasions."

I'll end this post with another photo of a Sandauhaisi deer stone. Wink
   
Alan J. Campbell

member of Legio III Cyrenaica and the Uncouth Barbarians

Author of:
The Demon's Door Bolt (2011)
Forging the Blade (2012)

"It's good to be king. Even when you're dead!"
             Old Yuezhi/Pazyrk proverb
Reply
An Arimaspi Ritual Khirigsuur in the Tianshan

In 1996, archaeologists discovered a "sun altar" in the Bayanbulak Grasslands, an alpine valley in the Tianshan and just above the Tarim Basin. The structure has a central rock mound encompassed by three stone rings at 50, 71, and 100 meters. Four radial rock walls extend from the center to the outer ring.

   
The Bayanbulak khirigsuur from a drone photo.

   
Photo showing the four radials of the 300-foot wide structure.

The Bayanbulak khirigsuur is very similar to Shibal-kul Khirigsuurs 1 and 2 at Flower Lake, Quinghe County in the southeastern Altai (as described in the previous posts above). However, the number of deer stones found in the Tianshan are limited in number, as compared to the plethora found in Quinghe and Fayan Counties.

   
Bayanbulak in relation to the Tarim Basin.

   
The Shibal-kul styled khirigsuur found in the Bayanbulak Grassland may have significance as the southern periphery of the Arimaspi culture. Trade with the Tocharians in the Tarim area would account for the bell-shaped earrings and stirrup-shaped horse bits (both common in the Arzhan, Tuva, region) found in Tarim burials.
Alan J. Campbell

member of Legio III Cyrenaica and the Uncouth Barbarians

Author of:
The Demon's Door Bolt (2011)
Forging the Blade (2012)

"It's good to be king. Even when you're dead!"
             Old Yuezhi/Pazyrk proverb
Reply
The Steadfast Horse, Part 1

 I want to thank Michael for his post on steppe horses, and let us return to the equine subject.
Michael wrote, "According to Cardyne Willekes in her book, The Horse in the Ancient World, basic steppe breeding required a horse that needed to fulfill a whole retinue of tasks, ranging from long distance travel, herding, hunting, milking, racing and war. The herds were kept large on open grassland so only the best males were left entire. Only the toughest would have survived the harsh winters."

A very good point, the steppe winters are harsh and those in the Altai are incredibly unforgiving. Several recent archaeologists have claimed the Pazyryks lived in the Altai during the winter, an incredulous deduction from someone who has never been to the Altai... even in the summer.

   
In the Altai, life begins anew in late spring. Here we have a photo of the White Berel River, with Belukha Mountain in the background. The growing period of pasturage is very short at this high altitude, now green but soon to pass.

   
Archaeologists working at Berel during a summer in the 1990s. This was the season the Pazyryk/Arimaspi came to the high valleys to bury their elite, a two-month period between late June and late August. As we can see, the summer grass has stopped growing and can only feed a limited number of horses.

   
Today, a single road traverses the Altai's length. It's paved in some places but most travel is done by 4-wheel vehicles over narrow dirt roads between valleys. 2500 years ago, traveling to the high Berel valley was incredibly dangerous. You needed a steadfast horse, the primary requirement for your personal mount. Everything else-- speed, endurance, herding, hunting and warring-- were secondary to a surefooted companion.

We turn to Dr. Gala Argent, a horse breeder herself. "Riding a horse over dangerous terrain, for herding other animals or for hunting, requires a horse to understand and respond to requests for more subtle movements: quickly stopping and starting, changing pace and stride, turning and yielding. It occurs in situations where tight maneuvering is required [essential], and is potentially very precarious indeed. Riding for such activities requires a responsive and honest mount, and such responsiveness only develops between horse and rider through ongoing and sustained positive interaction. Horse and rider must move as one, in synchrony. They must be able to anticipate and predict each other's actions."

   
The perfect synchrony between horse and rider, that bond between human and horse, can only be highlighted by the very autonym the Pazyryks called themselves-- "the Horse Lovers." No other steppe culture needed the absolute steadfastness and surefootedness of a horse, simply because they did not traverse the high Altai. Above, we see a horseman and his mount crossing the Altai in early winter, only three weeks after the first October storm. The rider is Adali, father of Aisholpan in the documentary The Eagle Huntress. They are snow-bound on the high ground of Bayan Olgii Aimag, just east of Berel.

This is the stark reality of life on a horse in the mountains, and too many archaeologists are not aware of how dangerous life was and still is in the high Altai. Stay tuned for Part 2, as we go back to the 19th century with photographer George Kennon as he rides to the high ground at Berel in his search for the highest Asian peak north of the Himalayas.
Alan J. Campbell

member of Legio III Cyrenaica and the Uncouth Barbarians

Author of:
The Demon's Door Bolt (2011)
Forging the Blade (2012)

"It's good to be king. Even when you're dead!"
             Old Yuezhi/Pazyrk proverb
Reply
The Steadfast Horse, Part 2

The physical and mental link between rider and surefooted horse enabled the Pazyryks to traverse between valleys of the Altai for a period of two months between the flooding washouts of spring and the first snows of an exceeding long (and bitter) winter. That said, we might realize that George Kennon had not the luxury or bond with a steadfast mount. We have no idea what possessed the man to travel from the comforts of 19th century America to the abject physical cruelty of the high Altai. Just after 1880, he traveled the length of Czarist Russia (no doubt mostly by coach) until he reached Semipalatinsk, just north of the Altai.

   
Kennon's goal was to become the first man to photograph Mt. Belukha in the "Katunski Alps," it's summit at 14,784 feet above sea level. We are talking about high, thin, air that will reach 93 to 103 degrees in the shade... as he noted. He rode rented horses along trails only known by his guides, a 700 mile journey until he reached... "a Cossack station called Berel in the Buktarma Valley." His saddle was of local make, similar to the one pictured above (dated to the late 19th century).

   
George Kennon began his journey from Berel Station on the first of August, the "Katunski Alps" rising in the distance. We see him riding out of Buktarma Valley in what is now the Katon-Karagay National Park.

   
The "Katunski Alps" from the crest of the White Berel Mountains. (G. Kennon photo, U.S. National Archives)

   
Along the way, Kennon crosses a verdant valley, flowers and berries ripe for the picking. Perhaps this amazing anomaly called to the senses of the Arimaspi so long ago. In the land of harshness, there was untold sweetness. (Steel engravings in this post; The Century, August, 1888)

   
Kennon descends into the glacial gorge... "All the time there came up to us from the depths of the gorge the deep thunder of great glaciers, as masses of ice gave way... resembling the sound of a distant but heavy, and rapid, cannonade." The guide rode ahead, "We could no longer see him from where we stood, but every now and then a stone or small boulder, dislodged by his horse's feet, would leap suddenly into sight 300 or 400 feet below us, and go crashing down the mountainside, clearing 200 feet at every bound, and finally dashing itself to pieces against the rocks at the bottom."

   
This trek of man and mount must have been a daily event for Pazyryk men and women, a life based on untold and unseen danger, where one slip of your horse meant death. During the descent, Kennon remarked, "It was almost impossible to keep in the saddle on account of the steepness of the incline, and once I just escaped being pitched over my horse's head at the end of one of his short slides." (Glacial waterfall, Katon Alps; G. Kennon photo, U.S. National Archives.)


Kennon's rare and first-hand account, along with his photos and published engravings, help us see the ancient reality of traveling in the Altai. They depict the Berel region before modern roads, and they highlight the life-sustaining importance of the ancient, and sure-footed, Berel horse. Big Grin
Alan J. Campbell

member of Legio III Cyrenaica and the Uncouth Barbarians

Author of:
The Demon's Door Bolt (2011)
Forging the Blade (2012)

"It's good to be king. Even when you're dead!"
             Old Yuezhi/Pazyrk proverb
Reply
Alanus wrote: Several recent archaeologists have claimed the Pazyryks lived in the Altai during the winter, an incredulous deduction from someone who has never been to the Altai... even in the summer.


Strange that these archaeologists think that the nomads would spend the winter in freezing conditions with no game or shelter from the biting winds and deep snow covering food sources for their horses and livestock and then spend their summers in the hot dry conditions in extremely dry regions such as the Gobi and Tarim deserts and surrounding regions.

From my understanding Spring in the lowlands are officially February to April but not beginning effectively until late March and is marked by sharp contrasts of warmth and cold and constantly blowing high winds. As a result of the long winters with feeding near starvation levels the horses and livestock are in a wretched condition and things don’t improve till June. The horizontal creases on the hooves of the horses excavated from the Altai tombs are evidence of a long period of winter starvation.
It was not until mid-June and July the herds of horses were moved into the rich green mountain passes and grasslands nourished by rainfall and springs and where the snows had melted at heights of 2600 feet or less, where their herds made up for their long periods of starvation and grew fat. Cool
Regards
Michael Kerr
Michael Kerr
"You can conquer an empire from the back of a horse but you can't rule it from one"
Reply
Let's Raise Horses in the High Altai, Gansu, and the Turfan Depression

Thank you, Michael, for a knowledgeable post. With your above information, we can rule out the High Altai as a horse breeding and raising area. The best places to raise steppe horses must have been the lower altitude valleys and the periphery of the Altai... especially in areas of spring run-off and along the lower courses of rivers. This is precisely where we see ritual khirigsuurs and deer-stone complexes; they may not have been far from where the Pazyryks actually raised their livestock. Strange, that so many academics have studied the high-altitude burial grounds yet avoided the Real questions, "Where did this culture live?-- and who in hell were they, anyway?" Big Grin

For a little humor, and irony, we can look at the "dummying-up" of academia, which goes back to at least the 1990s as research papers (and books) give us some silly geographical statements which totally avoid the importance of climate and pasturage. Kato Kyuzo, writing in 1992, claimed, "I doubt the Pazyryk people were the Yueh-Chih because the latter mainly inhabited the Gansu region." Likewise in 1997, we have Zadneprovsky placing the major Yuezhi burial ground at Haladun in Gansu Province, and he was legitimized by Craig Benjamin in 2007.

     
Errors happen, especially after eating too much turkey. First, we return to Sima Quan who said (quite distinctly) that the Yuezhi lived, "west of Dunhuang to the Quilan Mountains." Dunhuang is on the western end of Gansu, Haladun is well to the east of Dunhuang, so the chances that the Yuezhi lived in the major portion of Kansu are geographically slim. Second, as we have discussed before, Gansu would not have sustained the large number of horses the Yuezhi were recorded as having. Granted, the province has changed in two millennia but the area around Haladun is one to the driest-- and hottest-- locations in China. It's similar to the Oklahoma "Dust Bowl" of the early 20th century. Caption for the Kansu photo above, "Quick! Let's grab the last pasturage before it blows away!"

   
Obviously, the Yuezhi lived somewhere else. More recently (2010) Xinru Liu suggested the Yuezhi, "lived in a region relatively near China, northwest of its western borders, between the northern foothills of the eastern end of the Tianshan Mountains and the Turfan Depression." Any location east of Tianshan is the Turfan Depression, the lowest point below sea-level in China, and the hottest place in the country with an average rainfall index of .9 inches per annum. "Quick! Save that last drop of steaming water before our horse drops dead!" Not that the Turfan Basin is totally useless; you can watch Matt Damon ride through it in The Great Wall while being chased by taoties.

So the Turfan Depression also makes a lousy place to raise any number of horses.
How much pasturage is required to raise a horse, anyway? Just about every Farm Extension Bureau in the U.S.A publishes a pamphlet on the basic needs of a single horse.
California-- Carrying capacity for 1 horse on dryland pastures in the San Francisco Bay area may range up to 60 acres per year.
North Dakota-- For 1 horse for a year, 20 to 36 acres.
Arizona-- 60 acres per year for 1 horse.
Wyoming-- For a yearly grazing season, a horse needs about 13,120 pounds of dry matter and about 38 acres of example pasture to provide it.
Utah-- Average Animal Feed Requirements of Hay in tons per Month: 1 horse, .5 tons; 1 cow, .4 tons; 1 sheep, .1 tons per month. To sustain these three typical steppe culture animals for a year, the requirements are 12 tons. 

These statistics can't tell us where the Yuezhi or Pazyryks lived, but they certainly show the incredible amount of pasturage needed to sustain a single horse. According to the Shi-ji,  some Yuezhi "nobles" had horse herds of up to 5,000 head. Wushi Luo, alone, "had so many herds of horses and cattle he could only estimate their number roughly by the valleyful." Horses are a finicky bunch; they love apples. They won't touch grass that grows near where they defecate, they love sweet-grass, and they will go back and eat their favored grass until they've snipped it to the soil. Therefore, pastoralists have to change locations on a frequent basis, allowing the pasturage to recuperate for the following year.

We shall continue in another post, but the above facts are never mentioned by archaeologists or anthropologists. This is the reality of what was physically needed to raise large stocks of horses. In the meanwhile, we have not just tribes but an entire "confederation," a huge steppe polity, with absolutely no place to live. Undecided
Alan J. Campbell

member of Legio III Cyrenaica and the Uncouth Barbarians

Author of:
The Demon's Door Bolt (2011)
Forging the Blade (2012)

"It's good to be king. Even when you're dead!"
             Old Yuezhi/Pazyrk proverb
Reply
A Single Photo: this is Why you avoid the High Altai in the winter.

Kazakh pastoralist moves his herd from autumn pasturage in the Altai to lower altitudes... and caught in a blizzard.

2 hours ago" />   
Just right-click on it, and click again to Enlarge. Hot cup of tea, anyone?
Big Grin
Alan J. Campbell

member of Legio III Cyrenaica and the Uncouth Barbarians

Author of:
The Demon's Door Bolt (2011)
Forging the Blade (2012)

"It's good to be king. Even when you're dead!"
             Old Yuezhi/Pazyrk proverb
Reply


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