Paleoanthropological study of a skull from a burial at the Chemurchek sanctuary Hulagash (Bayan-Ulgii aimag, Mongolia)

Kovalev A.A. (Moscow, Russian Federation), Solodovnikov K.N. (Tyumen, Russian Federation), Munkhbayar Ch. (Khovd, Khovd aimag, Mongolia),

Erdene M. (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia), Nechvaloda A.I. (Ufa, Russian Federation), Zubova A.V. (Saint-Petersburg, Russian Federation)


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Recent studies show that, in the 3rd millennium BC, the highlands in the basin of the upper reaches of the Khovd (Kobdo) River constituted a ritual zone, which was of particular importance for the population inhabiting the western foothills of the Mongolian Altai Mountains. Its cultural singularity was due to the so-called Chemurchek cultural phenomenon a set of characteristics of West European origin, which appeared there no later than 27002600 BC. Three large-scale ritual complexes-shrines attributed to this period were discovered in the area of Lake Dayan Nuur. Excavations conducted by the expedition of A.A. Kovalev and Ch. Munkhbayar revealed that these structures constituted fences consisting of vertical stone slabs, decorated all-over on the outside with the images of fantastic anthropomorphic creatures and animals. The excavation of Hulagash 1 (one of these sanctuaries), radiocarbon dated to the middle of the 3rd millennium BC, revealed a single grave in the centre of the structure, synchronous with the time when the complex was used. The grave belonged to a man of advanced age, whose body was wrapped in a wide piece of cloth. The significance of this man being buried in the centre of the ritual site remains unclear. This person could have been sacrificed during construction or, conversely, he could have had a special status. Craniometrical measurement and dentological investigation of the scull from the Chemurchek sanctuary Hulagash were conducted; its graphic reconstruction was performed. Its anthropological type shows a significant Mongoloid component. Intergroup comparison revealed its significant morphological differences from markedly Caucasoid groups, including the Afanasievo culture of South Siberia and Central Asia. This excludes the morphogenetic continuity of the Chemurchek phenomenon from the antecedent Afanasievo population. The individual from Hulagash bears the greatest anthropological similarity to the Neolithic-Eneolithic and Early Bronze Age populations of the Circumbaikal region (Serovo and Glazkovo cultures) and the Barnaul-Biysk Ob area (Itkul and Firsovo XI burial grounds dating back to the pre-Bronze Age; Early Bronze Age burial grounds of the Elunino culture). This is obviously a manifestation of a shared anthropological substrate, since the anthropological component of the Baikal type (which the population of the Elunino culture included) was recorded in the Neolithic-Eneolithic materials from the northern foothills of the Altai Mountains. Remarkable morphological similarities between the individual from Hulagash and the bearers of the Elunino archaeological culture reinforce the assumption that there is a cultural affinity between the Chemurchek and Elunino populations of the Early Bronze Age.

Key words: Early Bronze Age, Chemurchek cultural phenomenon, Elunino culture, Western Mongolia, paleoanthropology.


Funding. This work was supported by a grants from the Russian Foundation for Basic Research No. 18-59-94020, 18-09-00779 and 18-00-00360, Ministry of Education, Culture and Science of Mongolia (Project No. 2018/25). The article has been written within the State Projects No. -17-117050400143-4.


Acknowledgements. We express our sincere thanks to Dr. Mednikova M.B. for her consultation and invaluable comments.


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted: 12.11.2019

Accepted: 19.12.2019

Article is published: 02.03.2020


Kovalev A.A.  

Institute of Archaeology RAS, Dm. Ulianov st., 19, Moscow, 117036, Russian Federation



Solodovnikov K.N.

Tyumen Scientific Centre of Siberian Branch RAS, Malygin st., 86, Tyumen, 625003, Russian Federation



Munkhbayar Ch.

Khovd State University, Zhargalant sum, 84000, Khovd, Khovd aimag, Mongolia



Erdene M.

National University of Mongolia, prosp. Zaluuchuudin, 1, Ulaanbaatar, 210646, Mongolia



Nechvaloda A.I.

Federal Ufa Research Centre RAS, prosp. Oktyabrya, 71, Ufa, 450054, Russian Federation



Zubova A.V.

Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (The Kunstkamera) RAS, Universitetskaya nab., 3, Saint-Petersburg, 199034, Russian Federation