Khanui Valley Deer Stones: Preservation of Ancient Ritual Monuments in Mongolia

Mongolia holds some of the richest monuments of Eurasia’s cultural history. Intricately carved stelae known as “deer stones” are some of the earliest representations of the traditional beliefs and way of life of Eurasian nomads of the Bronze Age (3000-700 BC.) and are found on ancient ritual sites.

Khanuy Deer stone

The vast majority of these stelae and their ceremonial locales are found within central and west Mongolia, and, the site in Khanui Valley is one of the most outstanding. As could be expected, over the past three thousand years, most of these monuments have fallen victim to weathering, toppling, and damage from animals and people.

On August 15, 2009 a team of two archeologists (Ts.Turbat & J.Bayarsaikhan), Canadian monument conservator ( A. Gabov), 11 archeology students, two cooks and two drivers traveled from Ulaanbaatar to the Jargalantyn Am site to conserve and document 27 of the 32 deer stones (the largest grouping of stelae in the country). The effort was filmed by French photographer and videographer Michel Neyroud.

The conservation plan was to erect 24 of the 32 deer stones at Jarghalantyn Am.Three bigger deer stones of 24 deer stones had fallen down in their original places while the other 21 deer stones had been removed from their original place and reused for the construction of 3 quadrangular structures, unearthed by archaeological excavations in 1989 and 1990, which were erected later in the north part of the monumental complex.

The placement plan created in an earlier stage of the project, May 2009, was based on studies of similar monuments in the territory of Mongolia, and intended to replace those 21 deer stones to points which might be similar to their original placement.

The specifications for the conservation work were provided by A. Gabov (CSMO).  The expedition was organized by the Mongolian Tangible Heritage Association NGO, Ulaanbaatar.

Images from the expedition:

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The documentation of the newly erected deer stones included the use of Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI). Number of the smaller stones were imaged during the nights of the expedition. (RTI is a technique that uses a digital camera in order to take series of photographs of an object each with a different light position. A software is used to combine the information from the sixty images to produce a single three-dimensional rendering of the surface.)

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Deer Stones in 2010 (images J.Bayarsaikhan)

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and the DVD cover from the movie produced by Michel Neyroud

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