The third season of the expedition to the Scythian kurgan Tunnug in Tuva has ended. Due to the difficult epidemiological situation this year, the work was carried out in a smaller volume than planned. However, the archaeologists were able to make interesting finds - traces of sacrifices were first discovered at Tunnug.
The Tunnug kurgan is located in the floodplain of the Tunnug and Uyuk rivers, near the village of Chkalovka in the Piy-Khem region of the Tuva Republic. It is part of the so-called Valley of the Kings, where there are many "royal" kurgans of the Scythian time. According to preliminary data, the burial of the Tunnug kurgan is the largest and earliest Scythian monument from the early to mid-9th century BC known to date. Due to the fact that the Tunnug kurgan is in permafrost, there is a high probability of finding preserved organic matter and various artifacts under the stone mound of the object.
Comprehensive studies of the kurgan have been conducted since 2017, when archaeological exploration and modern geophysical survey of the monument were first carried out. In 2018, excavations began, first on the southern periphery of the monument; and, in 2019, large-scale archaeological work began at the kurgan itself.
The third season of the expedition was organized and conducted by the Institute of History of Material Culture (IHMC) of the Russian Academy of Sciences. In the first two seasons, the Russian Geographical Society also participated in organizing and conducting the expedition, but in 2020, due to the threat of the spread of coronavirus infection, the Society canceled the recruitment of volunteers for the project.
According to the head of the expedition, a researcher at the IHMC RAS, Timur Sadykov, in 2020 archaeologists continued excavations of the periphery of the kurgan, where they studied ritual objects. As in previous years, the scientists were engaged in excavations of the kurgan itself - they examined wooden and clay structures.
"The most interesting find was the remains of horse sacrifices with the elements of horse harness. This once again confirms the cultural belonging of the kurgan to the range of monuments of the Valley of the Kings, including the Arzhan-1 kurgan, where traces of ritual horse sacrifices were also found," commented Timur Sadykov.
It is interesting that this fall, scientists studying the Tunnug kurgan published a scientific article in which they talked about the possible Central Asian influence on the formation of the Early Scythian culture. Archaeologists made this conclusion after the discovery of clay structures at Tunnug, which were not found at the previously studied Scythian burial kurgans in the region.
"In addition to the elements characteristic of the Mongun-Taiga culture of the Late Bronze Age of Tuva and the culture of the Khereksurs and Deer Stones of Mongolia, we see distinct traces of cultural influences new to this territory, the roots of which, perhaps, go back to Central Asia. The conducted research can potentially shed light on the long-standing and most controversial issue of the origin and spread of the Scythian culture," said Timur Sadykov.
The use of modern technologies allowed scientists to match the elements of the kurgan, the structures adjacent to it, and all the finds with precise coordinates that form a single map of the artifacts. This way, not only the building structures, but each individual layer of the monument was documented using 3D modeling methods. In the future, the Tunnug kurgan will be fully digitized, which will make it possible to study it in more detail.
Please read about the results of the first and second field seasons here.