Friday, July 31, 2015

Mongolia | Khövsgöl Aimag | Deer Stones | Graves

Wandered out to Mörön, capital of Khövsgöl Aimag, 575 miles west of Ulaanbaatar ASCF. The plane was supposed to leave at 10:30 am, but due to some unexplained technical problems the flight did not get off until 6:30 pm. The original plan had been to arrive in Mörön at noon, stock up on groceries, and then head north by chartered Russian van into the Darkhat Depression, where we had a horse trip planned. With the late departure we did not arrive until 8:00 pm, after all the stores were closed and it was too late to head out for the day. With the election only two weeks away and all the politicians in town hotel rooms on Mörön were scarcer than in Bethlehem on the first Christmas Eve. The driver of our van allowed us to spend the night in a spare room in his house. The room had no furniture, but nice carpets, so we threw out out sleeping bags and settled in for the night.

The next morning we visited various markets and bought potatoes, carrots, cabbage, onions, rice, flour, salt, sugar, soy sauce, yeast, and for Yooton, who was along as guide and historical consultant, blueberry jam and two kilo of candies (she has a sweet tooth). I had brought tea along from Ulaanbaatar—five-year old Puerh for breakfast, Imperial Gold Needle Yunnan Black Tea for lunch, Taiwan Oolong for dinner, and Tie Kwan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy) Oolong for evenings around the campfire—and we intended to buy a sheep to complete our larder when we arrived in the Darkhat Depression. By 11:00 a.m. we were barreling north out of town.

Although we were a bit behind schedule to met our horsemen we made a short detour to visit the Erkhel Ulaan Tolgoi Deer Stone and Grave Complex, twenty-six miles ATCF north of Mörön. One of the more famous Deer Stone sites in Mongolia, it boasts of what is reported to be the tallest deer stone in Mongolia, if not the world. This and several of the other deer stones are quite well preserved, with the carving on them still very distinct. Our driver tells us that a team of American researchers from the Smithsonian Institute has visited this site several times and that they are expected to arrive again in three or four days. In fact, he himself is going to bring them here.

Deer Stones date from the Bronze Age, c. 2500-3000 years ago. They are so called because most of them have depictions of deer, often appearing to be flying through the air. There is much speculation but not much agreement on what the deer and other common motifs on the stones are supposed to mean. They may be what twentieth century magus G. I. Gurdjieff calls “legominisms,” i.e. means by which "ancient wisdom is transmitted beneath a form ostensibly intended for a quite different purpose.” According to Gurdieff the information contained in Legominisms could be interpreted only by initiates of certain ancient wisdom schools. “This information,” says Gurdjieff, “is necessary for subsequent generations to enable them to meet the difficulties that arise in the rise and fall of cultures, difficulties that people believe will never occur again because ‘the world is now different.’” Thus what may appear simply as primitive art to most observers may be encoded messages intended for initiates perhaps thousands of years after their creation.

Certainly down through the ages people have considered this site of some importance. Near the deer stones are several Türk grave mounds dating from probably the seventh century. The largest Türk grave mound is surrounded by a square made of small rocks and measuring about 100 feet on each side. At each corner is a small mound of rocks. The exact significance of these structures is also unknown. Near the Türk tomb are also several Chingis-era tombs dating to the thirteen century. Perhaps the Türks and Chingis-era Mongols understood the true significance of the deer stones and choose this site for the tombs. To my knowledge the code of the deer stones has not yet been cracked by modern observers.
The Deer Stone Complex
5 foot-4 inch Yooton with 12 foot-6 inch deer stone, said to be the tallest in Mongolia
Detail at top of tallest Deer Stones
Well preserved Deer Stone with the equally well preserved Yooton
Detail at the top of Deer Stone. Some commentators believe the circle represents the sun.
Detail at bottom of Deer Stone
Deer Stone with two flying deer at the bottom
Chingis-era grave mound surrounded by a circle of small rocks
Türk grave mound from the seventh or eighth century. This tomb appears to have been looted.
One of the smaller mounds at the four corner of the stone square around the Türk tomb

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