Cultural Landscape


All monument typologies in mountainous Bayan Ölgiy reveal distinctive patterns of orientation in space. Their regularity allows us to conclude that directionality had meaning even though any attempt to articulate that meaning would now be speculative. The specific instances of these patterns demonstrate, moreover, that whatever meaning was lodged in directionality, those principles of orientation were not applied rigidly.

Through their central mounds and sometimes through their outer circular frames, khirigsuur demonstrate an understanding of center and undifferentiated periphery that suggests reference to a cosmic realm. Circular mounds similarly reflect a formulation of undifferentiated space. However, square khirigsuur mediate between that center and the four quarters; and in many cases, an entrance and standing stone mark the east side of a round khirigsuur. Burial mounds of the Early Nomadic period suggest a religious conception of the significant world within which the undifferentiated center was balanced by a keen sense of a north–south axis (the row of mounds) and of a west–east axis (altars and balbal). By virtue of their central mounds, all these structures suggest a keen awareness of a vertical axis joining an upper space with a lower space. It is probable that this virtual axis had mythic significance.

Massive standing stones were almost always aligned with the main face to the east, but when they stood in multiples or within a frame, they reaffirmed the cardinal directions. At the same time, a stone’s form forcefully suggests an axis joining an upper realm, the earth, and a lower realm. As we look at monuments from the late Bronze Age down to the Turkic period, it is clear that the east became increasingly privileged. This is markedly so in the case of Turkic image stones and their accompanying monuments.