Unknown Unique Stone Steles Found in Tuvan Kurgan

Вид на курган и Долину Царей. Фото: Алексей Михайлов

Two burial monuments made of stone in the form of elongated steles with a traceable image of a person were discovered by the expedition members studying the Tuvan kurgan Tunnug. The finds are directly related to the ritual complex and are a logical continuation of the previously discovered traces of human and animal sacrifices. The steles of unprecedented texture date back to the end of the 9th century BC.

The monuments were discovered in a tumbled state not far from the center of the mound. Apparently, there were once many of them here: similar stones, analogs of modern tombstones, were traditionally installed in honor of the deceased. One stele has survived in its entirety, the other consists of two fragments. Both monuments are crowned with a symbolic image of a person, one of them has figurative facial features.


Стела 1, состоит из двух фрагментов: верхний был найден в 2020-м году, нижний — в этом сезоне. На 3D-модели справа видно изображение человека. Фото предоставлено участниками экспедиции

"In general, the installation of similar steles was typical for that time, but such iconography has not yet been encountered. This is a very interesting fact that still requires some explanation," comments Timur Sadykov, the chief scientist of the expedition, senior researcher at the IHMC of the RAS.

The most famous similar monuments of Scythian times are deer stones – massive stone slabs that got their name from the most common images of a deer, carved on a surface or applied with ocher. Most of them can be found in Mongolia and Altai, but some were found in Tuva in the immediate vicinity of the excavation site, in the same basin. On deer stones, as a rule, some important things that characterize a person were depicted: weapons, sometimes jewelry.


Стела 2, со следами изображения человека. Фото предоставлено участниками экспедиции

"The deer stones are monuments of approximately the same period, so we plan to find several such blocks at the kurgan – this is quite expected for this cultural environment. But so far we have found these two unknown steles with a slightly different set of elements. The reason for this is a mystery, we haven’t encountered anything similar yet,” explains Timur Sadykov.

The steles are clearly associated with the kurgan and date back to the end of the 9th century BC. For that time, images of a person in the form of a symbol were very characteristic. The uniqueness of these finds suggests that such traditions came here from somewhere outside, perhaps from neighboring Mongolia or from China. Whether this hypothesis has a right to exist, scientists have yet to find out.

Julia Gopius