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Земля Даурская
Михаил Константинов Находки на Аргуни (из книги «Провинциальная археология») Перевод на английский Ольги Ушниковой

Переводчик: Ольга Ушникова

Находки на Аргуни

з книги «Провинциальная археология»)


        Перевод на английский Ольги Ушниковой


Discoveries on the Argun


On our way the driver was looking at me suspiciously. His uneasiness was understandable. The boarder was close by, just a stone’s throw away, and a stranger had asked him for a lift to the place where there was no living soul around…

I got out of the car when sandy blown-out ditches came in sight hoping to find there some antiquities. The place – a break up leading to the Argun – was suitable for this, and the ditches allowed examining the top soil layer without any excavations. However, there was nothing in the first ditch. The same picture was in the second, in the third, in the fifth ones. I was thinking about coming back to Kailastuy when I found some bones jumbled with the semi-decayed wood pieces in one of the ditches. Everything resembled a human interment disturbed by someone. When did it date back? Contemplating that I came across a clay vessel protruding from under the sand. Only its bottom part had preserved. This vessel was followed by another one. It easily fitted in the palm, reminding of a vase. As well as the first vessel it was hand made. And though there was still some doubt as to the age of the discoveries, somewhere deep in my soul I felt that the answer was near. And so it proved. Next to the vessels I found the remains of another burial. There were bones, a vessel, bits fragments and some melted off iron pieces there. Only then it dawned upon me that the first interment I had seen was obviously ancient. It was not difficult to verify that. Just one step further and it seemed as if the sun had become brighter and the steppe had turned wider and freer. The last doubts disappeared: in front of me, at the place, where there should have been a somewhere vanished scull of the buried, there was a pike – the most demonstrative evidence, a real antiquity “passport”. I knelt and started to clear the sand away. Two more pikes fell into my hands at once: an iron and a bone ones. A small bead flashed in the sand. Then there appeared a fairly melted iron overlay from the quiver. The finds were topped up with a buckle, stirrups, bits, and a bone button. The departed was paid last tribute to with some mutton pieces; there was a black vessel at his headboard. Away from the burial there was a fine metallic cup, allowing a glimpse of the silver through the green of the oxide. It all was once kept inside the rectangular case-coffin, placed parallel to the Argun. Taking out the bones – archeologists take them along with other things – I pulled out from under the sand large well preserved bits of silk cloth. They were greenish with an intricate variegated pattern. It was easy to guess that these bits were the remains of a magnificent robe. But who was its owner? A noble warrior, a noion, or perhaps a chief of the guards, protecting the Shaft Genghis Khan. The only thing clear was that I saw the remains of an ancient Mongol, one of those who shouldered the supremacy of cruel and powerful Genghis Khan and his direct descendants.

…I was coming back with the same driver. I showed him the pikes, pots and other finds, told about the Mongolian palaces of the long ago and craft centers in Priargunie, and he admitted in confidence that he had been thinking of reporting about a stranger to the frontier post. We parted friends.


          This time there were three of us: I and two students-historians – Slava Misharin and Nadya Subbotina. On the way to the ditches we managed to pick up several pebbles and slivers that meant there was a Stone Age settlement somewhere near. But we didn’t linger on there. The very ditches where the day before I had been lucky to discover one more burial were waiting for us. And yesterday’s impressions were to be confirmed…

Our knives carefully touched the sand. Grain after grain, not to remove or damage anything. The bones were damp and very fragile. Even the birch bark lying under the scull had better preserved. It served as a pillow. Two rosettes which might have been suspended from the headwear were found. There was an earring next to the scull reminding of a tiny saxophone in its shape. “Now! If only to find …” Slava didn’t have time to finish. A large bronze object appeared from under the sand. Well, a mirror! It was not the one customary to us; it was a bronze disc ten centimeters in diameter. The mirror surface had oxidized and you couldn’t see yourself there. But when polished it reflected the image fairly well. The underside was adorned with a bбs-relief depicting a rural life sketch: some sheep grazing on the meadow and three people in typically Mongolian long robes nearby. One of them was most probably a shepherd; a woman was recognizable in another figurine. She seemed to be holding something in her hands. May be it was some food for the man. The third man completed this composition. He was standing near a long-eared animal – a donkey was easily discernible. Above that peaceful idyllic picture there was a tree of life, a blossoming apple tree branch. For noble Mongolian beauties such a mirror was a first-necessity item.

There we also found a comb, which was lying under the mirror. The comb was wooden, of an original semicircular shape. And there was one more object under it. It was iron, greatly damaged. We had been examining it for a long time. And finally we identified it as … scissors.

This burial gladdened our hearts with one more find – between the bones of the right hand and a plank sarcophagus wall there stood a small greenish cup. As well as the mirror it was covered with the silk cloth. The cup resembled much the one lying near the warrior interment. That all suggested some sort of connection between the two burials, the latter undoubtedly belonging to a woman.

…At night in the little house where our student team lived it was joyful and noisy. All the finds were displayed on the table. There the students scrutinized them carefully, cleaned them off the soil, stuck the pieces together, wiped them. The guys who had been at the excavation site were explaining and showing the finds; the freshmen, having just entered the university, were puzzled at the antiquity and elegance of the objects, took good note of the happening and asked our seasoned innumerable questions. And there could be no doubt that many of them became the captives of the science engaged in studying the depths of unrecorded time and jokingly called “the history spade”.


And what about those two vessels standing separately, one of which reminded of a vase? The burial where they were found (it went deep down the ditch wall and we didn’t notice it at first) differed from the rest. As if wishing to underline its independence, it wasn’t located parallel to the river as the neighboring Mongolian ones, but at an angle of about 90° to it, with the headboard northward. The sarcophagus, a stranger’s final abode, was different as well: a hollowed out of the tree block served as the coffin. All that seemed to indicate that before us there was a representative of some community differing from the Mongolian of the XII-XIV centuries. But which one? The fragments of the two iron knives and a gilded glass bead, retrieved from the block, did not answer that question. But then the vessels were very similar to the ones found in the so called burkhotuiskiy barrows.

There is such a hollow on the Onon – Burkhotuy. There in 1950 an academician A. P. Okladnikov happened to discover the burials, which did not differ in the least from the Mongolian and Turkic on the outside. They were small, two-three meters in diameter, built out of rocks tumuli. But the stock of these tumuli was very peculiar. Among the pikes the bone ones prevailed, and the iron pikes were found rarely; that metal seemed to have been uncustomary yet. There were some vessels familiar to us there. Okladnikov dated back these burials to the II – III centuries AD and ascribed them to the Mongols’ immediate ancestors.

In the history of the burkhotuitsy there is still much to be learned. And one of the summands of the unknown is their settling territories. At first marked only on the Onon, they were later allocated on the Shilka and the Ingoda. And now the burkhotuitsy appear to be found on the Argun.



The plane had already taken off, houses and streets of the settlement flashed under its wing, the patches of the fields and tillage were floating by below. The Shaft Genghis Khan came in sight. With its festive bright green color it stood out against the background of the pallid autumn steppe. Actually it was not the color of the shaft proper, but the ditch along it. With time it had been choked up, the soil there had become thicker than around, and the grass had grown brighter and denser. However it was all known before. We were interested in something else. There had to be ancient settlements along the shaft. And we saw them – two at once. From the air they seemed to be located near each other. A clear cut rectangular shape, reinforced around by two ramparts – everything was as in the archeological aerial surveys manuals. That sent a pang to my heart. I was longing to get down, to those still unknown ancient settlements. I wanted once again to get up to my neck in antiquity. But the plane was inexorably flying ahead, retaining the hope of coming back to the Argun at a later date. See you soon, the Argun!