Perfectly preserved wooden saddle is nearly 1700 years old

The wooden saddle recovered from the Urd Ulaan Uneet complex in Mongolia. Photo: N.N. Seregin

A beautifully preserved wooden saddle from Mongolia estimated to be nearly 1700 years old has provided researchers with valuable insights into the people who lived in the area all those years ago.

The saddle was among a trove of items found in the Urd Ulaan Uneet cave burial, which was first investigated in 2015.

The cave lies about 1327 metres above sea level, and is the only known cave burial in the region from this era.

Altai State University researcher Nikolai Seregin and his colleagues, writing in the Bulletin of Archeology, Anthropology and Ethnography, have described the items recovered from the important site.

The most important and informative finds were a wooden saddle, iron bits with horn cheekpieces, a compound bow, arrowheads, a leather quiver with an iron hook, and a wooden container.

After studying the items, the researchers came to several conclusions around the cultural origins of the objects and the time period involved.

The saddle is described as perfectly preserved. Photo: N.N. Seregin
The saddle is described as perfectly preserved. Photo: N.N. Seregin

The study team says the cave items came from the Rouran time in Mongolia.

“The monument can be confidently dated to the middle of the 4th to 5th century AD, with the possible extension of the upper chronological boundary to the beginning of the 6th century AD.”

This conclusion is generally supported by radiocarbon analysis.

An interesting characteristic of the cave site, not revealed during the excavations of other objects from the Rouran period in Mongolia, is the accompanying burial of a horse.

“Obviously, this feature of the funeral rite is explained by contacts with the population of the Bulan-Koby Culture,” they wrote.

They said the items found during the exploration of the cave burial reflect the very wide contacts of the population of Mongolia in various directions — the Altai-Sayan region, Trans-Baikal region, Manchuria, East Turkestan and Central Asia — in the middle of the 1st millennium AD.

Elements of horse equipment recovered from the burial site. A bit with horn cheekpieces, and a buckle. Photo: N.N. Seregin

The researchers described the wooden saddle as completely preserved. It comprises two curved shelves with “wings”, and recesses for attaching the front and rear bow.

They said the wider study of “hard” saddles used by the peoples of Eurasia is complicated primarily by the poor preservation of these products in archaeological sites dating from the middle of the 1st millennium AD.

“There is every reason to believe that the saddle from the Urd Ulaan Unaet complex belongs to the same tradition with the Yaloman and East Turkestan patterns.”

Probably, military confrontation played a decisive role in the development of these saddles, they said.

Cave burial of Urd Ulaan Uneet (Mongolian Altai): рotential of cultural-chronological interpretation
N.N. Seregin, S.S. Matrenin and T.-O. Iderkhangai.
Bulletin of Archeology, Anthropology and Ethnography, 2020;(2(49)):38-51 DOI 10.20874/2071-0437-2020-49-2-4 

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be accessed here

Elements of equipment and household items recovered from the cave. 1: A quiver with a hook; 2: a vessel; 3: a knife; 4 and 5: shoes. Photo: N.N. Seregin


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4 thoughts on “Perfectly preserved wooden saddle is nearly 1700 years old

  • May 31, 2020 at 10:43 am

    That saddle actually looks quite comfortable, and very similar to those depicted in classical Chinese paintings. The bit looks pretty savage, though!

    • June 3, 2020 at 10:53 pm

      Nothing “savage” about the bit at all. It is a common side-bar snaffle, variants of which have been used allover the world both before and since.

      • June 4, 2020 at 1:09 pm

        Yes Tim but the canons of the bit are both very thin and rectangular in section, both of which make it a very “positive”, shall we say, piece of kit.

  • June 12, 2020 at 5:44 pm

    Lovely saddle!!! I would love to see the underside, as I have a keen interest in the evolution of bars. Are they fitted to the horse’s back? Are there holes for adding padding or for hanging stirrups? And I would also love info on the horse that was buried in the cave.


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