Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Deer Stones of Mongolia

Deer stones of Ulaan Tolgoi

The deer stone monoliths of Central Mongolia date to the middle of the Bronze Age. Iron Age deer stones have been found in some countries of Asia and Europe. To date, about 1200 deer stones have been found. These range in height from 3 feet to 15 feet and the decorated surfaces face the east. The stone shown below was discovered at Ulaan Tolgoi and is the tallest ever found.

Deer Stone #5 at the Ulaan Tolgoi site [credit: H. Beaubien, July 2005]

The most extensive study of deer stone was done by the Soviet archaeologist V. V. Volkov over thirty years. He accounted for 300 Mongolian deer stones, mostly located in the north-central region. He classified these into three groups. The oldest group, dubbed Classical Mongolian, typically shows a warrior with weapons, and flying deer. This type is the most elaborate and is found mainly in southern Siberia and northern Mongolia. 

The West Asian-European group typically has sections separated by horizontal belts. There are large circles or hoops, necklaces, and two or three faces which probably represent honored ancestors. 

The Saian-Altai stones feature representations of horses, pigs, moose, and goat. These also show daggers and tools that appear to float. The deer motif is less common in this group. The Saian-Altai stones can be sub-divided into two types: Gorno-Altai stones, and Saian-Tuva stones. The Gorno-Altai often depict warriors, and the Sian-Tuva stones show faces, hoops, and belts, but no deer.

2800 year bronze solar deer found in Iran

The standing stones appear to have marked places of ritual and ceremony such as the weddings of noble couples, coronations, and treaties. They are often near burial mounds suggesting that the ceremonies were to be witnessed by the ancestors who had gone before. The deer and the sun were sacred symbols to the shamans of Mongolia. These symbols may parallel the bull and the sun among many biblical populations.

Related reading: Joint Mongolian-Smithsonian Deer Stone ProjectDeer Stone Monuments; Mongolian Lexicon; Stone Shamans and Flying Deer of Northern Mongolia; The Mongolian Deer Stone-Khirigsuur Complex by William W. Fitzhugh; Standing Stones

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