In 2018, the author of the Siberia Scythica project dr Łukasz Oleszczak from Jagiellonian University was invited by K.V. Chugunov from the State Hermitage Museum to establish cooperation, which allowed archaeologists from Cracow to take part in archaeological excavations in Chinge-Tey cemetery – the elite necropolis of the Early Scythian Aldy-Bel culture.(8th-6th century BC).
The excavations resulted in spectacular discoveries of great importance for understanding the culture of the early nomads of Siberia. The research confirmed that the so-called western chain of barrows, located slightly aside and having a different orientation, is closely connected with the princely barrow Chinge-Tey I in terms of both chronology and cultural attribution. One barrow of the western chain was investigated, and two burials were discovered, including an unlooted and well-preserved burial of a young warrior, richly furnished with ornaments and weapons. The exploration of the barrow has been delayed by the pandemics, but will be continued within the currently realised project.
The research carried out to date revealed the huge research potential of the site. The continuation of this research, involving the exploration of another barrow, is highly important. Investigating a larger number of burials will generate data that can shed much light on cultural transformations in Tuva at the close of the early Scythian period. The first important steps have already been made in that direction. The bones from the barrow explored by the Polish expedition, as well as those retrieved from the princely barrow during the 12 seasons of K.V. Chugunov’s research, were subjected to isotope analyses. The larger body of data on the diet and mobility of the Aldy-Bel population will naturally contribute to the better understanding of the processes of migration and the lifestyles of the Earyl Iron Age inhabitants of the Touran-Uyuk valley. Another issue that merits investigation is the architecture of the barrows of Aldy-Bel warriors. Unlike the majority of Early Scythian tombs in Tuva, which are covered with stone mounds, the barrow explored by the Polish expedition has an earthen mound. Until other mounds of the western chain are explored, the question of material used for their construction must remain open. The results of magnetic surveys suggest earthen mounds, but their chronology cannot be confirmed without excavations. The excavations carried out to date have also produced a large number of artefacts being good chronological indicators (arrowheads, belt fittings), and more such discoveries can be expected.
The mangetic surveys carried out in the western chain and around the princely barrow have shed more light on the spatial arrangement of the site and have produced interesting results (including identification of a rectangular stone structure surrounding the so-called northern ritual complex). This has proven that the applied methodology of non-intrusive research is proper and its application on a larger scale can be expected to result in important findings concerning the site’s planigraphy. The planned research envisages surveying the area between the two main chains of elite barrows. It seems justified to assume that this area includes otherwise invisible ritual features that can be detected by magnetic prospection methods.
Summing up, the results of the currently realised project have proven beyond any doubt that we are dealing with a highly interesting group of sepulchral features, and that its further investigation can be reasonably expected to produce spectacular and important results. It is quite obvious that it is impossible to explore any larger section of the cemetery within a 3-years long project. Therefore, it becomes absolutely crucial that the research is continued.
In addition, the currently realised project has established cooperation with N.A. Zhogova, who has been investigating settlement sites in the Touran-Uyuk valley. The magnetic and aerial prospection (3D terrain models generated based on aerial [UAV] photographs) has produced important results. However, to advance research on Early Scythian settlement in Tuva further it is necessary to perform specialist analyses. Examination of bone materials from Zhelvak-5 (so far the only excavated settlement site in the region) will shed light on the patterns of animal husbandry, and obtaining a series of new radiocarbon dates seems crucial for precise determination of the chronology of the site (so far only three dates are available, all of them obtained for Hunnic-period deposits).
This research is supported by a grant received from the Polish National Centre of Science, program SONATINA 2 The excavations in the Siberian "Valley of Kings" and the early Scythian period in Central Asia (grant number: UMO-2018/28/C/HS3/00244).