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Baruun Mukhdagiin Am (BMA) Archaeological Project

Location: Bulgan, Mongolia

July 14, 2014 to August 28, 2014

Session dates: 
Session 1: July 14 - August 4; Session 2: August 7 to August 28

Application Deadline: 
Thursday, May 15, 2014

Deadline Type: 

Flyer: PDF icon bma2014_volunteer_handout.pdf

Program Type

Field school

RPA certified



National University of Mongolia; Institute of Archaeology at the Mongolian Academy of Sciences

Project Director:

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

Project Description


Slots are still open for Session II and volunteers applying for both sessions.  There is very limited availability for Session I; if you wish to participate for Session I only, you must submit your application by May 1st.  Please contact us at for more details


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 290 km west of the capital city of Ulaanbaatar.  The project primarily focuses upon the Xiongnu period (300 BCE – 200 CE) in the Baruun Mukhdagiin 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.

Period(s) of Occupation: Xiongnu era (300 BCE to 200 CE)

Mongolia, Mobile pastoralism, Xiongnu, Bioarchaeology, Zooarchaeology, Survey, Mortuary analysis, Ephemeral habitation contexts

Project size: 
1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: One session

Minimum age: 

Experience required: 
None. Previous archaeological, backpacking, and/or wilderness experience helpful but not required

Room and Board Arrangements

During the majority of their program participation, volunteers will live in the project’s basecamp in rural Mongolia.  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.  Project directors will provide volunteers with a list of items and supplies required and recommended for project participation.  Volunteers will bring their own tents and sleeping bags.  Our project cooks will prepare 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. 
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 attitude 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 volunteer coordinator will be available to help should any questions or difficulties arise during the course of the project.  Volunteers will be working and living with Mongolian university students and project staff, and interacting with local herding families in the Baruun Mukhdagiin Am area.  Our project prides itself on its commitment to friendly, ethical, and productive relationships with our Mongolian colleagues, neighbors, and hosts.  We non-Mongolians are guests in this amazing country and volunteers will be expected to conduct themselves accordingly.
In addition to archaeological fieldwork, volunteers will have the opportunity to visit sites and events of interest on project ‘weekends’.  These include visiting a local herding family to sample traditional Mongolian fare, like fermented mare’s milk (airag) and milky tea, sight-seeing at archaeological and historical sites from a variety of time periods, excursions to sites of natural beauty, and festivals organized by the local herding community.  The night sky in rural Mongolia is incredible and it looks like there will be one major meteor shower per field session!
Our volunteer coordinator will pick volunteers up from the airport in Ulaanbaatar and assist them in registering with Mongolian Immigration.  Volunteers will be housed in a guesthouse or apartment before the project team moves to the field site.  Project fees do not cover the cost of food and entertainment while in Ulaanbaatar.
Although our volunteer application final deadline is May 1st, we accept applicants on a rolling basis.  We encourage you to apply early before all of the volunteers slots are taken.  Please contact us via e-mail for more information.

Per session: $1500 for students, $1700 for non-students. Contributions are tax-deductible when submitted through the Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads. Volunteer contribution does not cover costs of international travel or personal gear and equipment. Please see the volunteer handout for more information.

Academic Credit

Number of credits offered None


Contact Information
Emma Hite
Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads c/o Jeannine Davis-Kimball, PhD, 2158 Palomar Ave
Recommended Bibliography: 

[All sources 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.