Project dates: July 14th to August 28th, 2014

Session 1: July 14th to August 4th

Session 2: August 7th to August 28th

Application Deadline: May 1st, 2014

Full volunteer contribution deadline: June 1, 2014

Acceptance type: Rolling; we encourage you to apply early before all available volunteer slots fill up.


Project directors: Dr. Zagd Batsaikhan (National University of Mongolia), Galdan Ganbaatar (Institute of Archaeology, Mongolian Academy of Sciences), Emma Hite (University of Chicago)

Project type: Mortuary and ephemeral habitation context excavations, Pedestrian survey Volunteer contribution per session: $1500 for students, $1700 for non-students

Contributions: All contributions submitted through CSEN, a non-profit 501c(3) organization, are tax-deductible


View of the main Xiongnu cemetery at Baruum Mukhdagiin Am. Each small gray circle is the surface feature of a burial. Photo taken facing northeast.



The Baruun Mukhdagiin Am (BMA) Archaeological Project is an international collaborative research program of survey and excavation in Bulgan province, Central Mongolia, located along the Orkhon Canyon approximately 290km west of the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. The project primarily focuses upon the Xiongnu (“shung-new”) period (300 BCE – 200 CE) in the Baruun Mukhdagiin Am environs through excavations at the main cemetery and ancient herder campsites, and survey of the foothills and river valleys surrounding the cemetery. The Xiongnu formed the first steppe empire of Inner Asia and catalyzed a long history of nomadic polities rising out of the Eurasian steppes to dominate and terrorize their settled agrarian neighbors, best exemplified by Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Horde. The 2014 BMA field season will concentrate on understanding the practices and relationships in life and death that constituted a local mobile pastoral community and how those practices and relationships interfaced with the broader Xiongnu imperial project.

Previous archaeological fieldwork at Baruun Mukhdagiin Am mapped 293 burial surface features in the main Xiongnu cemetery and identified several habitation contexts (presence of surface Xiongnu-period ceramic scatter) within 15km of that cemetery through pedestrian survey. The project’s multidisciplinary approach to these contexts includes bioarchaeological, zooarchaeological, ceramic, and spatial analyses of recovered materials. Volunteers will have the opportunity to participate in mortuary and habitation context excavations, pedestrian survey, and assist with analyses in the field laboratory tent, gaining first-hand experience and training in these core aspects of archaeological research.


E-mail: Emma Hite at

Mailing address:

Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads

c/o Jeannine Davis-Kimball, PhD

2158 Palomar Ave Ventura, CA 93001

Volunteer Application Packet




Mixed herd of sheep and goat relax at a typical ail in Bulgan province. An ail is a grouping of ger, the traditional white canvas and felt dwellings of Mongolian herders, where an extended family usually lives together. Motorcycles are a favorite alternative to horses in modern rural Mongolia.




Volunteers will be housed together in shared rooms of a guesthouse or apartment before the project team moves to the field site and for one night after our return from the field. These accommodations will be modest due to their temporary nature. If you would prefer to stay in a private room in higher-quality hotel or guesthouse at your own expense, we can suggest some options and help you coordinate your plans with the rest of the project team. Depending on when you arrive in Ulaanbaatar, there will not be much time to explore the city before the project departs for the field, although there should be time to change or withdraw money at local banks and ATM and do some quick shopping. A local cell phone will be available for volunteers to contact the coordinator and to make other local calls while in the city. The volunteer contribution does not cover the cost of food and entertainment while in Ulaanbaatar.


During the majority of their program participation, volunteers will live in the project’s basecamp in rural Mongolia along with other project participants (US and Mongolian staff, Mongolian university students). Field conditions at Baruun Mukhdagiin Am are beautiful but rugged, as the project is located a considerable distance from any towns, permanent infrastructure, or utilities services. Weather is unpredictable and volunteers should be prepared for the extremes of all four seasons. Please consult the List of Required and Recommended Items, as this list will be your best guide to proper preparation for your time at Baruun Mukhdagiin Am. Fieldwork in rural Mongolia is rewarding but challenging, as plans and conditions can change, for better or for worse, at the drop of a hat. A positive, flexible outlook is essential for all volunteers! Volunteers should be in good physical condition and prepared to undertake a variety of physical tasks related to archaeological research and life at basecamp while remaining in good spirits. Our senior staff have worked with volunteers ranging from senior citizens to first-year college students on previous archaeological projects in Mongolia, and our experience is that a volunteer’s a cheerful attitude and a good work ethic are far more valuable than their physical prowess or previous experience. We want everyone involved to have a positive experience this summer. Our volunteer coordinator will be available to help should any questions or difficulties arise during the course of the project.


Volunteers need to bring their own tents and sleeping bags. Temperature in Mongolia fluctuates rapidly from night to day, even during the height of summer, and our area may experience high winds, rainstorms. During the height of summer, snow and frost are not unheard of during a cold snap. Mongolia is known as the Land of Blue Sky and Mongolians consider themselves blessed by Eternal Blue Heaven. The brilliant blue sky and glorious cloud formations are as beautiful as the sunlight is intense. While Mongolia is generally quite arid, July and August fall during the rainy season. We recommend that you bring a tent that can withstand high winds and heavy rain. While you may get too hot during the day, your sleeping bag should be able to withstand the cold and you should have a decent sleeping pad to insulate you from the ground. Just because it is summer doesn’t mean that it won’t get very cold, especially at night! We strongly urge you to bring enough clothing to deal with all extremes and types of weather. You should bring at least one set of thermals or long underwear, cold weather hat and gloves, socks of both thin and heavy weight, sweaters or Polar Fleece zip-ups, long pants, a rain slicker or poncho, and other clothes for layering. Layering is the key to dealing with Mongolia’s temperamental weather! Please consult the List of Required and Recommended Items for more details.

All BMA participants will stay in tents brought from home at the project base camp. Our project area is remote, making it a beautiful and unique place for non-Mongolians to visit and work.



Our project cooks will prepare, serve, and clean up after three meals a day, from staples of the traditional Mongolian diet: mutton or goat, rice, noodles, and potatoes, supplemented with vegetables. Prospective volunteers with special dietary requirements should consult with project directors during the application process. Many foreigners find camp food bland and repetitive. Volunteers are encouraged to bring some favorite spices and seasonings from home (like A-1 sauce or curry powder) to liven up their meals. All project participants will share communal utensils, dishes, bowls, and cups. Bring a cheap set with you and don’t be surprised if others use them. There may be opportunities to buy snacks and cold drinks from small towns in the area but don’t count on them, as they are beyond walking distance from the project area. Bringing some favorite snacks and treats from home is a great idea: dried fruit, peanut butter, Nutella, hard candy, powdered drink flavoring, and other small, light items will improve your experience in the field. Tums and multi-vitamins, though more medicinal, will help you adjust to a different diet. When visiting the homes and festivals of local herders during project ‘weekends’, you may be fortunate enough to be offered samples of traditional Mongolian cuisine, such as aruul (sweet hardened cheese curds), suutei tsai (‘milky tea’ – the recipe varies by region and household), uruum (cooked cream spread), and airag (fermented mare’s milk, a particular specialty of the project’s region). Our volunteer coordinator and senior staff will discuss the relevant etiquette and traditions before each visit, but volunteers are expected to politely sample and praise the home-cooking of our generous Mongolian hosts.

The project will draw its water from the Orkhon River and its tributaries for cooking, cleaning, bathing, and drinking. Volunteers will need to purify their own water with a water purification system (pump, filter, etc.) brought from home. Bring a replacement filter and/or water purification tablets as a backup in case your equipment fails or gets damaged. You may wish to organize with other volunteers to purchase and share a water filtration pump in order to defray costs. Water purification tablets are an acceptable water purification system if you plan to participate for only one session. Staying hydrated is hugely important, especially while working under the hot summer sun. You need to drink at least 3 liters of water every day, likely more if it’s particularly hot or you’ve been working hard. Therefore, you will need to bring enough bottles for water purification and storage totaling at least 3 liters.

The meat in our diet will come from goat and sheep purchased from local herders, which will be slaughtered and butchered at basecamp and hung and prepared in the kitchen tent. These animals lead free-range, all-natural lives and their meat should be appreciated. If you are uncomfortable with animal slaughter, butchery, or seeing parts of an animal hanging to dry, you should reconsider your plan to participate in this project. These activities and sights are a fundamental reality of the mobile pastoral lifeway in modern Mongolia, so you may see them at basecamp, during visits to the homes of local herders, or during project excursions. As a member of the 2014 BMA team, you will be expected to keep any negative reactions or opinions to these and other aspects of Mongolian life yourself in order not to offend or upset our Mongolian colleagues and hosts. Our project aims to build and continue positive, ethical relations with the local community at Baruun Mukhdagiin Am, and as representatives of our project, volunteers will act accordingly


Clean is a relative term. Part of archaeological fieldwork involves getting dirty and being comfortable with few amenities, lower standards of cleanliness, and breaking out of your normal routine. All of this will be especially true for our expedition to rural Mongolia.

There is no plumbing at the BMA basecamp or anywhere within a few hours’ drive of the project area. The project will transport water from nearby rivers to the basecamp and project participants will have opportunities to bathe in the Orkhon River upon occasion. Bring a swimsuit, sandals, biodegradable and environment-friendly soap, a towel, and other personal hygiene supplies (toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, deodorant, moisturizing lotion, chapstick: see the List of Required and Recommended Items) as necessary. Project participants will launder their own clothes with laundry bar soap brought from home (biodegradable, environment-friendly) in containers, buckets, and wheelbarrows provided by the project. Clothes should dry relatively quickly during the day if hung over a tent or on a small clothesline.

View of the Orkhon River from the northernmost extent of the main Xiongnu cemetery at Baruun Mukhdagiin Am. The Orkhon and its tributaries will be the sources for all project water needs. Photo taken facing northwest.


There will be pit toilets (protected on three sides by a canvas screen) at the basecamp and ‘steppe toilets’ (ravines, depressions) during project fieldwork and excursions. In addition to other personal supplies, volunteers are encouraged to bring soft toilet paper from home and travel-sized containers of hand sanitizer, Handi-wipes, facial wipes, and Kleenex. Those who are overly modest or concerned about cleanliness are encouraged to think hard about the realities of project participation.

In addition to individual tents occupied by project participants, basecamp will consist of several larger tents for meal preparation, laboratory analyses, and storage for research materials and equipment. Volunteers should not bring any electronic items that cannot be powered by batteries, as there will be no available electrical source at basecamp or within the project area. Bring enough batteries to power your personal devices, especially your flashlight. Please also include some extra batteries (AA and AAA) for emergencies and to share with other project participants. You may wish to bring a solar charger for your batteries or electronics, as many local herders in the area power their TV sets and charge their cell phones in this way. There is neither internet access nor reliable cell phone reception within the project area. Our project participants can make calls from county seats, but these are several hours away by car and international calling rates apply. Volunteers should not count on communicating with the outside world while on the project.

Access to healthcare in rural Mongolia is very limited and medical care quality in Mongolia is not comparable to that in the US. Minor problems will be dealt with as well as possible at the project basecamp. Volunteers need to bring some supplies with them: Band-Aids of all sizes, antibacterial disinfectant (Neosporin, iodine wipes), Ibuprofen (or comparable), Tums, Pepto-Bismol tablets, Imodium, insect repellant, Aloe gel, and any prescriptions and personal healthcare items that you made need for the entirety of your time in Mongolia. Please consult the List of Required and Recommended Items for more on this subject. More serious problems and injuries will be stabilized as best as possible until the injured party can be transported back to Ulaanbaatar. Volunteers must have Emergency Medical Evacuation coverage for the duration of their participation in the project. Proof of Emergency Medical Evacuation coverage must be presented to one of the project directors on the first day of your session. Any volunteer who fails to present appropriate proof will forfeit their volunteer contribution and be barred from the project. This policy is for your own safety, health, and well-being. Mongolian healthcare providers usually do not accept foreign insurance coverage. You will need to discuss the particulars of your situation with your health insurance provider so that you know what would be involved if you needed emergency or regular medical care in Mongolia. This is your responsibility to organize and pay for as a volunteer; we will assist you in Mongolia but the project is not liable for any accident, injury, or illness you suffer as a volunteer. Please consult the BMA 2014 project Waiver (Release/Assumption of Risk form) for more information about insurance and health issues.

Going off-road on the rolling steppes of Bulgan province. There are no paved roads or infrastructure within several hours’ drive of the BMA project site.


Travel Information

International travel and any trips not pertaining to the BMA 2014 project in Mongolia are not covered by volunteer project fees. If you are delayed at any point during your travel to Mongolia, please contact the project directors and/or volunteer coordinator via e-mail and/or phone. We will provide you with emergency contact numbers before you leave for Mongolia.

Mongolia does not officially require foreigners to present any verification of immunizations for entry into the country. Mongolia’s extreme continental climate means that most of the more dangerous infectious diseases transmitted by insect/pest, air, food, and/or drink are not an issue. The project recommends but does not require the following vaccinations: Hepatitis A&B, rabies, tetanus, typhoid, and diphtheria. Volunteers should consult their healthcare provider and the Center for Disease Control ( for more information about health and medical issues related to their participation at BMA 2014.


Flying is the easiest way to get to Mongolia. Flights from Beijing, Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Moscow arrive and depart from the Buyant-Ukhaa International Airport in Ulaanbaatar. There are no direct flights from the Americas or Western Europe to Mongolia at this time. Check with your airline company about baggage fees (some airlines require you to pick up and re-check your bags in your connecting city), transfer policies, and visa requirements for your city/cities of transit. Project representatives will meet you at the airport in Ulaanbaatar after you’ve gone through passport control and claimed your baggage. After you claim your baggage, do not leave the waiting area or your bags, and do not go with anyone unless they are a project representative and/or a Mongolian official. You will have the cell phone contact information for our volunteer coordinator should you need to contact us while at the airport in Ulaanbaatar.


Travelers can reach Ulaanbaatar by train from Beijing or via the Trans-Siberian railway. These options are more time-consuming but worthwhile if you are up for an adventure. Please notify project directors well in advance if you do not intend to fly to Mongolia so that we can plan to pick you up at the main passenger train station in Ulaanbaatar. Russian and Chinese visas are required for US citizens traveling via train; you will need to plan far ahead to sort out these overland routes of travel.


Our volunteer coordinator and one of our project drivers will pick you up from the airport, take you to get registered at Mongolian Immigration, and drop you off at the project guesthouse/apartment in Ulaanbaatar. Please do not plan to arrive in Mongolia more than 24 hours before your project session starts unless you are prepared to get registered at Immigration without us. Downtown Ulaanbaatar is traversable on foot and is also served by buses, trolleybuses, and taxis. As noted previously, volunteers will not have a lot of time to explore the city before the project heads out to basecamp. While you are a project volunteer, you are advised to stay in the company of other project members if you want to explore Ulaanbaatar. Be prepared for delays and difficult traffic conditions when traveling in, out of, and through Ulaanbaatar by car or bus.



The project will form a convoy of jeeps, SUVs, and vans to travel the ~290km from Ulaanbaatar to our basecamp in Mogod county (soum), Bulgan province (aimag). The road west is now paved for a good distance but expect difficult traffic while getting out of the city and rough road (or off-road) conditions after a certain point. Riding in project vehicles is not particularly comfortable, especially when going off-road. There are no paved or formal roads within a few hours of the Baruun Mukhdagiin Am basecamp, so be prepared for a rough, bumpy ride. Those prone to carsickness are recommended to take precautions. The convoy will stop for lunch and bathroom breaks during the trip out and back to Ulaanbaatar.

Close-up of multi-period rock art panel near the main Xiongnu cemetery at Baruun Mukhdagin Am featuring reindeer and mountain goat.


Official Documents

Your passport must be valid for at least six months after your planned departure date from Mongolia. If you do not currently hold a passport, start the application process now, as it can take some time for the US government to process and mail your passport.


US citizens do not need a Visa to stay in Mongolia for 90 days or less. However, as mentioned above, you do need to register with Mongolian Immigration. Our volunteer coordinator will assist you with that process after your arrival in Ulaanbaatar. If you are not a US citizen, it is your responsibility to look up the Visa requirements for your country of citizenship as they apply to Mongolia.

Please bring two color photocopies of the first two pages of your passport (the pages with your photo and personal information) and four standard-sized passport photos with you to Mongolia. You will need these documents to register at Mongolian Immigration. We encourage you to pack those materials and your passport in your carry-on luggage or on your person (whichever is safer) to prevent delays and keep your important documents safe. If you arrive in Mongolia more than 24 hours before the start of your project session, it will be your responsibility to register yourself with Mongolian Immigration. Those volunteers arriving early to explore Ulaanbaatar or participate in other activities in Mongolia, such as a horse trek or the annual naadam celebrations, should ask their guesthouse or travel agent for assistance with this process.


Project Description

Surface feature of a Xiongnu burial at the main BMA cemetery displaying a southern-oriented dromos or entranceway.


Research Context

The Baruun Mukhdagiin Am project area is located in Mogod county (soum), Bulgan province (aimag), Central Mongolia. This area is currently home to modern Mongolian herding communities who raise and tends flocks of sheep, goat, horse, and cattle, and generally live in traditional ger (moveable circular tents constructed of wooden frames, felt, and white canvas). The project area demarcates the northeastern end of the Orkhon alluvial plain, a long-term center of human habitation and political activity in Mongolia dating back at least to the Bronze Age. Archaeological and historical sites from the Bronze Age, the Xiongnu period, the Turk period, the Uyghur khaganate, and the Mongol Empire dot the broader region. The BMA project is focused on the archaeological features and artefacts dating from the Xiongnu period (approx. 300 BCE to 200 CE).

At the end of the Late Iron Age, mobile pastoral communities in Mongolia organized into the Xiongnu Empire, the original great steppe empire of a long series of regimes that have transformed Eurasia over the past two millennia. The Xiongnu first appear in Chinese imperial texts as a rising power on the northern Qin frontier after the 209 BCE consolidation of power by Maodun (Modun). Their status as a geopolitical power-house of eastern and Inner Asia was cemented after a series of military victories and territorial expansions, extending their influence beyond modern-day Mongolia through imperial conquest, trade, and treaties. Xiongnu mortuary and habitation contexts are scattered across Mongolia, southern Siberia, and northern China, while Han historical texts provide accounts of the imperial leadership and broader movements of the Xiongnu.

Constructed where the Orkhon River transitions into a stunning canyon, the main Xiongnu cemetery upon which the BMA 2014 project will focus its mortuary excavations appears to be divided into four primary sectors with an impressive diversity of surface burial features. Previous preliminary excavations in 2006 revealed well-preserved human and animal remains associated with material culture and tomb construction generally found in Xiongnu elite cemeteries in Mongolia. Survey in 2013 of the Baruun Mukhdagiin Am environs within a 20-km radius of the main Xiongnu cemetery revealed ceramic sherd scatters indicative of ancient herder campsites. The sherds obtained from surface recovery methods are consistent with ceramic typology of the Xiongnu period.

Survey and mapping of the main Xiongnu cemetery using a Total Station.


Research Objectives


How the Xiongnu community at Baruun Mukhdagiin Am inhabited the landscape is currently unknown. Results from the 2013 pilot survey indicate that Xiongnu habitation contexts are likely to be found in proximity to modern Mongolian seasonal herder encampments. However, methodical, intensive survey using both surface and subsurface recovery methods are required to investigate whether such spatial patterning is the result of observer bias or representative of actual archaeological evidence of past behaviors. The project will conduct intensive non-random targeted pedestrian survey and deploy methods that yielded high recovery rates in previous archaeological surveys in Central Mongolia. The project will primarily use zooarchaeological data to determine the seasonality of habitation and mortuary contexts in order to determine the seasons of occupation or construction for features throughout Baruun Mukhdagiin Am. Seasonality data correlated to site distribution data should indicate seasonality and mobility patterns of the community.


There is a widespread hypothesis that a significant portion of the Xiongnu Empire’s population in what is today Mongolia were mobile pastoralists. In order to test this hypothesis at Baruun Mukhdagiin Am, the project will conduct excavations at several Xiongnu habitation contexts as well as excavations within the main Xiongnu cemetery. Data from habitation contexts will be used to help elucidate the daily patterns of Xiongnu community life as seen in the spatial distribution of artefacts, animal remains, and architectural features. These data are hypothesized to be consistent with a form of mobile pastoralism that may form the basis of a local subsistence economy or that may focus on the production of certain pastoral products, indicative of community-level economic specialization and a certain degree of centralized decision making. The project will also use the zooarchaeological assemblage recovered from mortuary context excavations to contextualize the everyday economic baseline yielded from habitation contexts. A primary question will be whether the animals interred in mortuary contexts represent mortality profiles (age-at-death and sex by species) consistent with the habitation contexts assemblage.


The main Xiongnu cemetery at Baruun Mukhdagiin Am has surface features and material culture consistent with elite mortuary practice within the Xiongnu Empire. The 2013 pilot project and previous excavations in 2006 revealed evidence that the cemetery itself is composed of non-random groupings of burial features, themselves often composed of clusters of individual surface features. Such groupings in other Xiongnu cemeteries have been interpreted as indicative of dynastic or kinship groupings within the community or imperial-level elite. One goal of mortuary excavations is to examine such clusters through thorough excavation methods for the possibility of such political and kinship relationships at Baruun Mukhdagiin Am. Mortuary practice occurs in a series of events – initial burials, funerary feasts, later commemorative practices, and later burials or sacrificial buried offerings – that build up over time into the cemetery as we see it today. The project’s examination of mortuary contexts at Baruun Mukhdagiin Am aims to better understand these events and the relationships between those events as the processes by which a local political community constituted itself over time. Variations and similarities between these mortuary events and contexts in terms of construction type, material assemblage, bioarchaeological profile, and zooarchaeological assemblage will be used to investigate the aspects of these processes that were most significant for the Xiongnu community at Baruun Mukhdagii Am

Another aspect of Xiongnu cemeteries observed during the 2006 preliminary excavations is the consistent association of human and animal remains in the main tomb chamber. Xiongnu mortuary space and ritual feature the consistent association of humans and animals (usually the domesticated herd animals of modern Mongolia) but the significance of such association has not been fully explored. Furthermore, mortuary ritual and political ideology of funerary practices involving the co-mingling of humans and animals in Xiongnu cemeteries have not been analyzed in the broader context of economic production and social life within a mobile pastoral community. The project is therefore particularly interested in viewing Xiongnu mortuary and habitation contexts holistically through the relationships between humans and animals in both life and death at Baruun Mukhdagiin Am. Contextualized zooarchaeological and bioarchaeological data, combining spatial information and association with other material culture, will be used to explore the material dimensions of these relationships.

Local herders drive horses through the main Xiongnu cemetery at Baruun Mukhdagiin Am. Our project area is part of a broader cultural landscape made up of archaeological features, historical monuments, steppe ecology, and modern mobile pastoral communities. We are guests of these communities and privileged to study their archaeological patrimony as they go about their lives


Project Bibliography

***There are no required readings for volunteers on the Baruun Mukhdagiin Am archaeological project***

However, interested volunteers may wish to consult the following scholarly sources in order to enhance their experience in the field:


[All sources are in English]

Allard, F., Erdenbaatar, D., Batbold, N., Miller, B., 2002. A Xiongnu cemetery found in Mongolia. Antiquity 76, 637-8.

Barfield, T., 1989. The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China. Basil Blackwell, Oxford and Cambridge, MA.

Brosseder, U., & Miller, B.K., 2011. Xiongnu Archaeology: Multidisciplinary Perspectives of the First Steppe Empire in Inner Asia. Bonn Contributions to Asian Archaeology, Vol. 5. Vor- und Frühgeschichtlich Archäologie, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, Bonn, Germany.

Davydova, A.V., 1968. The Ivolga gorodishche: a monument of the Hiung-nu culture in the Trans-Baikal region. Acta Archaeologica Scientiarum Hungaricae 20, 209-245.

Di Cosmo, N., 1994. Ancient Inner Asian nomads: their economic basis and its significance in Chinese history. Journal of Asian Studies 53(4), 1092-1126.

Di Cosmo, N., 1999. State formation and periodization in Inner Asian history. Journal of World History 10 (1), 1-40.

Di Cosmo, N., 2002. Ancient China and its Enemies: The Rise of Nomadic Power in East Asian History. Cambridge University Press.

Erdelyi, I., 1994. “The settlements of the Xiongnu”. In: The Archaeology of the Steppes: Methods and Strategies. Papers from the International Symposium held in Naples, 9-12 November, 1992, pp. 553-563.

Hanks, B., 2010. Archaeology of the Eurasian steppes and Mongolia. Annual Review of Anthropology 39, 469-486.

Honeychurch, W., Amartuvshin, Ch., 2006. “States on Horseback: The Rise of Inner Asian Confederations and Empires”. In: Archaeology of Asia. Blackwell Publishing, MA. pp. 255-278.

Honeychurch, W., 2012. “Thinking Communities: The State and Social Stratification among Ancient Nomads of Mongolia”. In: Durrenberger, E.P. (Ed.), The Anthropological Study of Class and Consciousness. University Press of Colorado, Boulder, pp. 29-63.

Honeychurch, W., 2013. The nomad as state builder: historical theory and material evidence from Mongolia. Journal of World Prehistory 26, 283–321.

Minyaev, S.S., 2009. Tsaram: a burial ground of the Hsiung-nu elite in Transbaikalia. Archaeology, Ethnology, & Anthropology of Eurasia 37(2), 49-58.

Murail, P., Crubézy, E., Martin, H., Haye, L., Bruzek, J., Giscard, P.H., Turbat, T., Erdenebaatar, D., 2000. The man, the woman and the hyoid bone: from archaeology to the burial practices of the Xiongnu people (Egyin Gol valley, Mongolia). Antiquity 74, 531-6.

Rogers, J.D., 2012. Inner Asian states and empires: theories and synthesis. Journal of Archaeological Research 20, 205-256.

Russell, N., 2011. Social Zooarchaeology: Humans and Animals in Prehistory. Cambridge University Press.

Sherratt, A., 1981. Plough and pastoralism: aspects of the secondary products revolution. In Pattern of the Past Studies in honour of David Clarke, edited by N. Hammond, I. Hodder, and G. Isaac, pp. 261-305. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Sherratt, A., 1983. The secondary exploitation of animals in the Old World. World Archaeology 15(1), 90-104.

Sima Qian [Watson, B., 1993]. “Chapter 110: the account of the Xiongnu”. In: Shi ji [Records of the Grand Historian]. Columbia University Press, New York.

Sneath, D., 2007. The Headless State: Aristocratic Orders, Kinship Society, & Misrepresentations of Nomadic Inner Asia. Columbia Press, NY.

Sofaer, J.R., 2006. The Body as Material Culture: A Theoretical Osteoarchaeology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Trever, C., 1932. Excavations in Northern Mongolia (1924-1925). J. Fedorov Printing House, Stalingrad.

Wright, J., Honeychurch, W., Amartuvshin, Ch., 2009. The Xiongnu settlements of Egiin Gol, Mongolia. Antiquity 83, 372-387.

Yamada, N., 1982. Formation of the Hsiung-nu nomadic state. Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 36, 575-582.



Ban Gu. Hanshu [Records/Annals of the Han].

-[Wylie, A., 1874]. History of the Heung-Noo in their relations with China. The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 3(1874), 401- 452.

-[Parker, E.H.], 1892-1895. The China Review 20, 21 (1-3), 1-24, 100-119, 129-137

Barfield, T., 2007. Nomadic pastoralism in Mongolia and beyond. In: Mapping Mongolia: Situating Mongolia in the World from Geologic Time to the Present, edited by P. L .W Sabloff, pp. 104-124. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia.

Batsaikhan, Z., 2003. Хүннү: Археологи, Угсаатны зүй, Түүх [The Xiongnu: Archaeology, Ethnology, and History]. Ulaanbaatar.

Batsaikhan, Z., nd. Unpublished project report on preliminary excavations at Baruun Mukhdagiin Am, Bulgan aimag.

Brosseder, U., 2009. “Xiongnu Terrace Tombs and their Interpretation as Elite Burials”. In: Current archaeological research in Mongolia: Papers from the First International conference on “Archaeological Research in Mongolia” held in Ulaanbaatar, August 19th-23rd, 2007, edited by J. Bemmann, H. Parzinger, E. Pohl, D. Tseveendorzh, D., pp. 565-578. Vor- und Frühgeschichtliche Archäologie, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, Bonn.

Buikstra, J.E., Ubelaker, D.H., 1994. Standards for data collection from human skeletal remains, edited by, pp. 15–38. Arkansas Archaeological Survey Research Series No. 44.

Crabtree, P.J., 1990. Zooarchaeology and complex societies: some uses of faunal analysis for the study of trade, social status, and ethnicity. Archaeological Method and Theory 2, 155-205.

Danilov, S.V., 2009. Preliminary results of the investigations on a Xiongnu settlement in Mongolia”. In: Current archaeological research in Mongolia: Papers from the First International conference on “Archaeological Research in Mongolia” held in Ulaanbaatar, August 19th-23rd, 2007, edited by J. Bemmann, H. Parzinger, E. Pohl, D. Tseveendorzh, D., pp. 241-246. Vor- und Frühgeschichtliche Archäologie, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, Bonn.

Davydova, A.V., 1985. Иволгинский Комплекс Городище и Могильник - Памятник Хунну в Забайкалье (Ivolga complex town and cemetery – Xiongnu Monuments of Transbaikalia). Издательство Ленинградского Университета, Ленинград (Leningrad State University, Leningrad).

Delgermaa L., Hite, E., 2011. “Мал амтаны ясны судлал (Zooarchaeological analyses)”. In: Amartuvshin, Ch., Honeychurch, W. (Eds.), Бага Газрын Чулуун Археологийн Төсөл (Baga Gazryn Chuluu Archaeological Project). Ulaanbaatar.

Dorjsüren, Ts., 1961. Умард Хүннү [The Northern Xiongnu]. Ulaanbaatar.

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Flocks of sheep and goat and herds of horses and cattle graze along the valleys and foothills of the BMA project area. The birch- and pine-wooded hills in the distance are home to a variety of wild Mongolian flora and fauna.


The 2014 Field Season

Senior Staff

Zagd BATSAIKHAN (Ph.D.) is a senior professor in the Department of Archaeology & Anthropology at the National University of Mongolia. Dr. Batsaikhan is one of the foremost experts on Xiongnu archaeology and has conducted numerous expeditions throughout Mongolia, including at Egiin Gol, Tamiryn Ulaan Khoshoo, and Delgerkhan Uul. He particularly specializes in the excavation and analysis of Xiongnu mortuary contexts.


Galdan GANBAATAR (M.A.) is a researcher at the Institute of Archaeology within the Mongolian National Academy of Sciences. Mr. Ganbaatar has extensive field and laboratory research experience and specializes in survey as well as spatial and ceramic analyses.



Emma HITE (M.A.) is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. She is currently a 2013-2014 Fulbright IIE research fellow in Mongolia conducting dissertation research. Ms. Hite specializes in bioarchaeological and zooarchaeological analyses, and archaeological theory.


Bukhchuluun DASHZEVEG is an archaeologist and technology expert with the Institute of Archaeology at the Mongolian Academy of Sciences. He specializes in archaeological heritage and cultural resource management, as well as technical and academic translation of written and spoken Mongolian, English, and Russian.


Project Activities

Rocky hills east of the main BMA project area. Herders and their herds occasionally pass over these hills and, more often, large raptors like vultures and eagles circle and land on their peaks.



The 2014 field season at Baruun Mukhdagiin Am will include non-random targeted pedestrian survey, excavation of Xiongnu habitation contexts identified in 2013 by surface ceramic scatter, excavation of Xiongnu mortuary contexts at the main cemetery, and field analyses of recovered archaeological materials in the laboratory tent. Volunteers will primarily work in teams with other project participants on survey and excavation at habitation and/or mortuary contexts. All project participants will work 8 hours a day, 6.5 days a week, with one half and one full day of rest. Project staff will provide training in necessary techniques and methods for whichever archaeological task you are undertaking: survey (auguring, screening, mapping, proper artifact collection and recording) and excavation at mortuary and habitation contexts (trenching, identifying and clearing features, recording contextual information, mapping, proper removal and recording of artifactual, bioarchaeological, and zooarchaeological materials). When excavation teams have recovered enough archaeological materials, interested volunteers will have the opportunity to observe or assist in laboratory analyses under the supervision of senior staff and researchers. This field season there will be a particular emphasis on bioarchaeological and zooarchaeological research.

All volunteers will need to wear good supportive footwear during project fieldwork. Suitable shoes for the workday include hiking boots, steel-toed work boots, and other lace-up shoes with a good tread that protect your toes and ankles (sneakers, trainers, and open-toed shoes are not acceptable). Survey may require you to walk up to 5 miles a day over uneven, sometimes hilly terrain while carrying survey equipment (including but not limited to an augur, trowel, small screen, notebook, and several liters of water) in your daypack. Excavation often requires you to work on your hands and knees, moving dirt by shovel, trowel, or hand into buckets and screens. Excavation is dusty, dirty, thirsty work; we recommend you wear a bandana over your mouth, gardening gloves, and knee guards or pads. While survey and excavation require decent physical condition and include a regular amount of activity, the workload is only moderate. As noted elsewhere, the weather is extremely variable in Mongolia but intense sunlight and hot days are the norm during summer time. In a steppe environment there is no natural shade or cover from the sun. Thus, a brimmed hat is required and sunglasses, light-weight, light-colored long-sleeved shirts and pants are highly recommended. Volunteers must bring and wear adequate amounts of sunscreen (SPF 30+) in addition to staying hydrated throughout the day.

Families in the Baruun Mukhdagiin Am vicinity tend herds of sheep, goat, cattle, and/or horses, all of whom may at one time or another pass through project worksites as part of their daily routine. People with a fear of animals are discouraged from attending, as herd animals roam free in rural Mongolia, even across our dig sites and occasionally through basecamp. All project participants will be respectful and polite when local herders drop by for unannounced visits as good relations with our hosts and neighbors is a key part of the project’s philosophy. If you are so inclined and particularly lucky, you may be offered a ride on a Mongolian horse in a traditional wooden saddle.

The traditional Mongolian saddle is usually constructed of wood, though some have a metal frame (as in this picture), with seats embellished with metal decorations. The stirrups are kept very short and the rider usually stands out of the saddle. The Mongolian bridle has three reins, the longer of the three used to guide the horse and tie a hobble (as above).



In addition to archaeological fieldwork, volunteers will have the opportunity to visit sites and events of interest on project days of rest. These include:

-Visits to a local herding family. Families in the vicinity of Baruun Mukhdagiin Am live in traditional Mongolian ger. This particular part of Mongolia is famous for its fermented mare’s milk (airag), an unusual beverage that you won’t find many places elsewhere in the world! Guests arriving at a family’s ger are traditionally offered some snacks and drinks and guests in turn offer something for the family. We recommend that you bring candy, gum, or small treats as a ‘guest gift’ to the family. These visits are contingent upon the availability and receptiveness of local herding families. Moreover, volunteers are expected to be on their best behavior during home visits and we will discuss proper Mongolian and ger etiquette with you beforehand.

Mogod county (soum) of Bulgan province (aimag) is one of Mongolia’s most famous airag-producing regions. Fermented mare’s milk, or airag, is produced all summer and on into the early fall. During the BMA project field season, we are likely to see numerous free-ranging herds as well as mares returning to their tied-up foals during milking times (above). The woman milking the mares is wearing a traditional Mongolian outfit or deel. Mogod airag is a rare treat that everyone should try at least once!


-Sight-seeing at archaeological and historical sites in the area. The Orkhon Valley and Central Mongolia are long-term centers of culture and civilization. From the capitals of the Gokturk khaganate, the Uyghur khaganate, and the Mongol Empire, to Bronze and Iron age ritual and burial complexes such as deer stones, khirigsuurs, rock art, and slab burials, this region is host to a great variety of features from Mongolia’s archaeological and historical heritage. At least one senior staff member will be present to provide information about the time period, archaeological culture, and architectural features of each sight-seeing trip.

Bronze Age khirigsuur complex east of the main BMA project area. The massive central mound is surrounded by other archaeological features, including standing stones and other, smaller Bronze Age burials.


-Excursions to nearby areas renowned for their natural beauty. The Baruun Mukhdagiin Am basecamp and research area are both located in Mogod county, Bulgan province, Mongolia. Our project area runs along part of the spectacular Orkhon Canyon, with rugged cliffs and rushing blue-green water dotted occasionally by large swans. There are foothills and small mountains to the east and south, some of which are wooded with birch and short pine trees. The steppe rolls along the valleys and small hills, broken up by small rivers, and is home to the herds and round white ger of the local community.

View of the Orkhon Canyon from the main Xiongnu cemetery at Baruun Mukhdagiin Am. This cemetery approximately marks the geological point at which the Orkhon, one of Mongolia’s largest rivers, transitions into a deep, winding canyon as it flows east and north.


-Festivals organized by the local herding community. Summer is naadam season, the main summer holiday in Mongolia, celebrated in Ulaanbaatar this year from July 11th–13th. Naadam traditionally includes the Three Manly Sports – wrestling, archery, and horse-racing – some of which we may see at local naadam celebrations in Bulgan province. This time of year there are also small airag (fermented mare’s milk) festivals held in the area. These events are rare opportunities for foreigners to experience rural community life in Mongolia and celebrate the best of summer with our generous hosts and neighbors.



BMA senior staff record the measurements of a standing stone within a khirigsuur complex during the 2013 field season.


Volunteer Contribution

Each session:

$1500 for students (proof of enrollment required with application)

$1700 for non-students

All contributions submitted through CSEN, a non-profit 501c(#) organization, are tax-deductible.

Volunteers interested in participating for both project sessions should indicate this in their application. Project directors will discuss this option with you during the application process.

A deposit of $250 will be due as part of the volunteer application. This deposit counts towards your total project contribution. FULL payment of volunteer contribution must be received by June 1st. If you are not accepted, your deposit will be refunded. If you are accepted and subsequently withdraw more than 45 days before the beginning of the first session, 50% of your deposit will be refunded. If you withdraw 45 days or less before the beginning of the first session, no refund will be made. If the project is cancelled, your complete deposit and/or contribution will be refunded.

The volunteer contribution covers the costs of:

- transportation to and from the project field site in Bulgan province and the capital city, Ulaanbaatar

- accommodations in Ulaanbaatar*

- airport pick-up in Ulaanbaatar*

- transportation to and assistance with registering at Mongolian Immigration*

- archaeological field training

- 3 meals a day while in the field - transportation and planning for project ‘weekend’ excursions

Contribution does not cover international travel expenses, visas, medical/health insurance, any personal supplies or equipment (including tents and sleeping bags), or any costs not specified above. Please contact us if you have any questions.

*These expenses are only covered under the volunteer contribution for the dates and locations specified for each project session. For the first session (July 14th to August 4th), the nights of July 13th and 14th and August 4th; for the second session (August 7th to August 28th), the nights of August 6th, 7th, and 28th.

Volunteer Application Packet

A mixed herd of sheep and goat wander through the main Xiongnu cemetery at Baruun Mukhdagiin Am during their daily grazing.


Contact Us

Please feel free to contact us with your questions about volunteering with the BMA 2014 Archaeological Project.

E-mail: Emma Hite at

Mailing address:

Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads

c/o Jeannine Davis-Kimball, PhD

2158 Palomar Ave

Ventura, CA 93001