On the Mongolian Steppe: A Subsurface Investigation of Soyo, Northern Mongolia

Author: Anthea Vella

Vella, Anthea, 2018 On the Mongolian Steppe: A Subsurface Investigation of Soyo, Northern Mongolia, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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Soyo is an archaeological site located in a marginal environment in the Darkhad Depression of northern Mongolia, which is positioned to answer integral questions about the arrival of pastoralism. Situated on both taiga and steppe environments this site is core to the understanding of the transition from food foraging to pastoralism. This research has incorporated a geoarchaeological approach, utilising ground penetrating radar, radiocarbon dating, stratigraphic analysis, excavation, and sediment analysis.

Little research has been conducted on Neolithic sites in Mongolia, and even less that incorporate a geoarchaeological approach. This thesis has investigated the environmental history of the site from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age, and demonstrates how Soyo fits into occupation patterns within the wider region in the mid Holocene.

In the wider region, the optimum climate occurred between 6,500 and 2,500 BP, which chronologically ranges from the Epipaleolithic/Neolithic to the Bronze Age in Mongolia. The warmer climate at Soyo allowed for the development of soils and for plants to grow and thrive. The palaeoenvironmental data implies that from ~5,000 BP onwards the climate at Soyo was humid, with cold intervals. This is evidenced at Soyo with the upper palaeosols with a correlated date of ~1,200 BP. This thesis demonstrates that Soyo is a unique site and is also a strong example of the wider palaeoenvironmental region.

Though the Neolithic in Siberia and China have been chronometrically dated to 8,000 BP and 10,000 – 8,900 cal BP respectively, the Neolithic did not occur in Mongolia till ~5,500 BP. However, this does not mean that the Neolithic did not begin 8,000 BP in Mongolia as it did elsewhere. This can be attributed to reflect the lack of chronometric dating available to researches in Mongolia, and the restriction of foreign researches to conduct archaeological research in Mongolia whilst under Soviet control. Currently the oldest date for Soyo is 10,900 BP, and it is possible that this is an example of a Mesolithic/Neolithic (12,000 – 5,500 BP) (Hanks 2010) site in northern Mongolia. Whilst Soyo does not fit into occupation patterns within the wider region in the mid-Holocene, it does strongly support a pastoralist economy.

This thesis challenges the importance placed upon agriculture, and presents an important pastoralist archaeological site by using the palaeoenvironmental history to demonstrate its significance.

Keywords: Mongolia, Geophysics, GPR, Neolithic, Pastoralism, Palaeoenvironmental Record

Subject: Archaeology thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2018
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Dr. Ian Moffat