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E.A. Novgorodova
The World of Mongolian Petroglyphs


Petroglyphs, or carvings or line drawings on rock having a scenic or symbolic meaning, require a painstaking though very rewarding effort from a researcher. They provide the only opportunity for us to push back the darkness of oral tradition. As for Mongolia, which we believe has all grounds to be named a country of petroglyphs, another series of ancient shrines has been discovered there over the past decade which have found only selective coverage in special literature. The present book too is far from jwoviding a complete account of the findings as the scope of the hook allowed us to select only the most remarkable and typical sources.

It is in fact an attempt to summarize vast petroglyphic material spanning a considerable period from antiquity to the Middle Ages. The sources are arranged chronologically rather than by monuments, though the latter approach seems to be more convenient for a narrow study. All the drawings were initially, analysed and compared with available archaeological evidence from adjacent areas. This made our dating in many cases more accurate.

The earliest petroglyphs in Mongolia were found in the country’s west, in the karst cave known as Hoit-Tsenherin-agui, or the Cave of the Blue River. These are the remains of Upper Palaeolithic art. The roof and wall drawings are virtually not visible as the small niches containing them remain almost dark in the daylight. In the first niche, the motifs of “antlers”, “arrows”, “boomerangs” and “snakes” are found everywhere. The second niche contains the paintings of an antelope, a ram, an oistrich, and an elephant, a wild camel, “antlers” and numerous fur-trees. The fourth niche contains points, chevrons, triangles, arrows, a bird and a horse.

Palaeolithic cave paintings are rather eloquent as to the way our ancestors saw their universe; the heavens percepted in the form of birds, the underworld and the water element presented by snakes and fish, and the earthly world—by hoofed animals and female figures. The abundance of symbols and signs in Palaeolithic caves reflects the formation of abstract thinking. The idea of the (166/167) World Tree, the quest for a clue to the life and death mystery,, the mysteries of the fertility cult are all manifest in the| symbols of the Palaeolithic myth. In deciphering the Hoit-Tsenherin-agui we followed French scholars, specifically A. Leroi-Gourhan who has revealed that the order in which cave paintings appear on the walls corresponds to the progression of the myth.

Central to attention of the primitive man was the ancestral spirit in the form of a hoofed animal mating with the woman, the symbol of female energy. In Mongolia, the idea of the Original Mother mating with a hoofed animal who was believed to have been their great ancestor lives longer than in the paintings found in Western Europe. Thus, at the Chouloot shrine the author was rather impressed by the figure of a woman giving birth to a child, her three-finger arms raised up. Next to her is the carving of a ram with a female symbol under its hind leg. Also at Ghou- loot, the depiction was found of a continuous life giving series — a matrilinear succession of great grandmother-grandmother-mother and daughter. A similar image of mother-ancestress is reiterated in a more cryptic form of an anthropomorphous mother-goddess with her arms raised up. These Chouloot paintings are believed to- be Eneolithic and rather unique. Very often these figures are accompanied by the paintings of bulls, deer and dancing anthropomorphous figures which are likely to be male.

The Bronze Age brings new themes: a warrior with a how and an axe, a charioteer, a deer with the sun in its antlers. Unlike the static Eneolithic paintings the horses, deer and bulls of the Bronze Age are shown either moving or harnessed. As old as chariots are big “mythical” hoofed animals with their bodies being dismembered into many geometrical shapes (we called it a decorative style).

The Early Nomadic Age is marked both in the rock paintings and the deer stones by the famous deer in the “flying” gallop- and with ramified antlers. In Mongolia, this subject comes to appear more often than anywhere else in the Sako-Scythian world.

One more rather numerous corpus of Mongolian petroglyphs dates back to the Huns epoch. The Huno-Sarmatianj paintings are accurately dated thanks to the tamga, or totem symbols, which have many analogues of Kushan coins which have been found in Central Asia as well as on the burial pottery of the Huns period found in Mongolia. This period is abundant in several other motifs, including “A Princess Travelling on a Cart” (the gorge of Yamany-oos), “A Trip to the World of Ancestors” or a burial ceremony (Tsagaan-gol gorge) accompanied by a number of animals.

The early Turkic period is marked by a fascinating picture found in the Mongolian Altai, Har-had mountain. We named it, “Warriors Riding Armour-Clad Horses”. This earliest depiction of mounted warriors in mail coats is of considerable interest to those who study military art in Central Asia before Genghiz Khan.

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