Sunday, 9 February 2014

New Discoveries of Andronovo Culture Remains In Nilka, Xinjiang

Wealth of Andronovo culture remains, including 17 tombs and 3 ritual sites was recently recovered in Nilka county, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region during the salvaging excavation in August 2013.
Tombs could be broadly categorized into three types: they are earthen-shaft burials (3 tombs); stone coffin-shaft burials (2 tombs) and wooden-coffin shaft burials (2 tombs).

chamber of tomb M16
Grave mounds made of pure yellow soil are constructed above the wooden-coffin shaft burials, usually with average diameter of 35m and height of 1.5m. The plan of tomb is east-west oriented rectangular in shape. In tomb M1 the outer coffin (4.8m in length, 3.5m in width and 0.56m in depth) was constructed by timbers along the chamber walls while in the case of M2, the timber outer coffin was located in the center of the chamber with pebbles filling the gap. The slope passage is 3.5m long on the west side. The chamber is 6m in length, 5.6m in width and 1.8m in depth. Tomb robbers misplaced both the skeleton and grave goods. As a result, only a few of pottery sheds were recovered. In M2, nothing but burning bones were excavated, indicating of cremation.  

chamber of tomb M2
Grave mounds are not visible above the stone coffin-shaft tombs probably resulting from modern agricultural activities. The chamber is constructed of four large stone slab, also with one covers upon the chamber. The plane of the tomb is in the east-west oriented rectangle shape. Two adult skeletons were discovered in tomb M4 (L: 240cm, W: 186cm, D: 90cm), one inhumation and another cremation. Scarce grave goods remain because of robbery. M16, another tomb in this type, is square in the shape with length of 100cm. One male adult was deposited flexed to right side, heading to the west, facing the south, scattering with ochre on body and surrounding area. One pottery jar was found at the north-western corner of the stone coffin.

general layout of tomb M3
M3 stands out from the typical earthen-shaft burial regarding its dome-like grave mound (Diameter: 200cm; Height: 140cm) surrounded by a ditch embedded with green rubbles on the wall. The main chamber is rightly beneath the mound around which 16 stone-coffin tombs scattered. This main chamber is consisted of two parts: the western part is a sloped second-tired platform while the eastern section is square-shaped in the plan with narrowed bottom vertically. The chamber ground is paved by finely cut slabs on which traces of red painting could be detected. Most of the human bones are mixed in the soil deposits and they include pelvis, rib and vertebrate elements. Along with human bones, pottery shards and animal bones were also excavated.

burial remains of animal bones 
All of the 16 stone-coffin tombs attaching to the main chamber contain rectangular coffin made of four stone slabs and covered with one stone plate on the top. The coffin is similar to the burial pit in size, averaging 30cm in length, 50cm in width and 20-50cm in depth, where infants either cremated (13 tombs) or inhumated (3 tombs) were buried. In terms of inhumation, bodies flexed on one side heading west. Usually one or two pottery vessels are found around their head. For cremation burials, fragmental bone elements lie on the bottom of the tomb along with ceramic grave goods. Potteries tend to be small vessels produced in lower temperature, suggesting their function exclusively for burials. Pot with ring foot and plain-bottomed jar are the two types most frequently discovered. 

ritual site J3

details of ritual site J3 with upright column in the centre of the round pit
The ritual sites are identical in structure, presenting a square-shaped plane (4.3m, 4.5m and 5.7m in length respectively). The three sites are grouped into a pyramid distribution. One bovine skull was likely to be used as a sacrifice in J3 and small copper objects, lithic pestles as well as dish-shaped stone tools were excavated. 

burial remains of cattle head
These seven tombs could be tentatively associated with Tangbalesayi cemetery in Nilka county and the western Kukesu river No 2 cemetery in Tekes county, in terms of tomb style, body treatment and grave goods, which again demonstrates their close relation to the Andronovo culture in Central Asia. It should be noted that the Andronovo stone coffin excavated in Nilka was the first discovery of Andronovo remains in Ili region, thus rendering important information about the regional development of the Andronovo culture. Moreover, M3 serves as a special case considering its unique structure and the 16 stone coffin tombs of infants encircling it. As this phenomenon is also distinctive in the Andronovo culture, it contributes to our understanding towards the diversity in Andronovo culture. Last but not least, the local variation of the Andronovo culture can be envisaged from the pottery assemblages which are dominated by pots with ring foot and plain-bottomed jars.  

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