A rare collection of Chinese bronze coins of the 6th-7th centuries discovered in Altai

(ORDO NEWS) — Siberian archaeologists have studied Chinese bronze coins found in Altai in an early medieval burial ground.

n total, they found 29 artifcts from the end of the 6th-7th century AD, which were present only in women’s and children’s burials.

It seems that the locals used the coins not as a means of payment, but to decorate the costume. This is reported in an article published in the journal Archeology, Ethnography and Anthropology of Eurasia.

During the existence of the Turkic Khaganates, the Forest-Steppe Altai was a periphery of nomadic empires, information about which is not available in written sources.

Moreover, this period is rather poorly studied by archaeologists, so the study of each major monument of the early Middle Ages can shed light on the previously unknown history of the population of this region.

So, in the Krasnogorsk region of the Altai Territory, on the right bank of the Isha River, there is the Gorny-10 burial ground – one of the basic monuments of the early Middle Ages in the south of Western Siberia, named after a nearby village.

In 1997, 2000-2003, archaeologists excavated this burial complex, discovering 75 burials on an area of ​​more than 2,200 square meters.

Already the first excavations have shown that the burial complex dates back to approximately the 6th-8th centuries AD, and it was built on the site of an early Iron Age settlement.

Most of the discovered burials were single. The three deceased were buried accompanied by horses, which emphasizes their high social status. In the graves of some people, horse bones were absent, but sometimes there were horse equipment.

Archaeologists noted some features of the traditions of the local population: the creation of secondary burials, posthumous trepanation of skulls.

An anthropological study of the remains showed that among the buried there were people from two populations: Samoyedic and Turkic. Although many of the dead were buried with varied and valuable grave goods, most of the finds have not yet been published.

Nikolay Seregin from Altai State University, together with Siberian colleagues, studied Chinese bronze coins found during excavations at the Gornoe-10 burial ground. In total, archaeologists discovered 29 coins, which were present as accompanying inventory in eight burials (6, 18, 44–46, 48, 62 and 66).

Scientists noted that the finds were present only in women’s (n = 5) and children’s (n = 3) graves (most of them also contained other valuable inventory), and most often they were originally located near the head of the deceased, on the chest or at the neck , as well as in the region of the belt.

Most of the coins were found together with the remains of a 30–40-year-old woman from a paired burial-6. So, between her right elbow and spine lay seven artifacts, another one on the right humerus.

The excavated coins are represented by several different groups. Among them were wu-zhu, kai-yuan tong-bao, which are quite common outside of China. In addition, quite rare coins of chang-ping u-zhu and u-sin-da-bu were present.

A rare collection of Chinese bronze coins of the 6th 7th centuries discovered in Altai 1
A – plan of burial-62, B ​​– fragment of burial-62 in situ, C – plan of burial-66, D – Chinese bronze coins found in these burials

According to archaeologists, the collection of Chinese bronze coins discovered in the Gorny-10 burial site seems unusual for the sites of North and Central Asia. In the forest-steppe zone of Altai, where this burial complex is located, such artifacts of the early Middle Ages were practically not found.

The coins also made it possible to establish the time when the burials took place. Thus, the lower limit cannot be earlier than 581 AD, and the upper limit cannot be later than the 7th century (or the beginning of the 8th century). Similar dating, according to the researchers, is demonstrated by radiocarbon analysis, the results of which have not yet been published.

Scientists also noted that in the early Middle Ages in North and Central Asia, Chinese coins did not serve as a means of payment. Apparently, they were used as head or belt ornaments, pendants and amulets. It is possible that finds from children’s burials also indicate that they contained the remains of girls.

It is noteworthy that other items of Chinese import, for example, metal mirrors or silk products, were not found by archaeologists in the Gorny-10 burial ground.


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