Take advantage of the search to browse through the World Heritage Centre information.

Funeral Sites of the Xiongnu Elite

Date of Submission: 19/12/2014
Criteria: (ii)(iii)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Mongolian National Commission for UNESCO
Ref.: 5951

The Tentative Lists of States Parties are published by the World Heritage Centre at its website and/or in working documents in order to ensure transparency, access to information and to facilitate harmonization of Tentative Lists at regional and thematic levels.

The sole responsibility for the content of each Tentative List lies with the State Party concerned. The publication of the Tentative Lists does not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever of the World Heritage Committee or of the World Heritage Centre or of the Secretariat of UNESCO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its boundaries.

Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


1.  Funeral site of the Xiongnu Elite at Noyon Uul mountain

Batsumber, Bornuur , Mandal soums of Tuv province

N48 33 44.7, E 106 30 32.5

2.  Funeral site of the Xiongnu Elite at Gol Mod I

Khairkhan, Erdenemandal soums of Arkhangai province

N 48 19 38.2, E 101 55 02.0

3.  Funeral site of the Xiongnu Elite at Gol Mod II

Undur-Ulaan soum, Arkhangai province

N48 00 22.7, E 101 12 26.6

4.  Funeral site of the Xiongnu Elite at Duurlig Nars

Bayan-Adarga soum, Khentii provine

N48 32 40.9, E 111 04 42.9

5.  Funeral site of the Xiongnu Elite at Takhiltyn Khotgor

Mankhan soum, Khovd province

N47 24 14.3, E 092 06 34.5

The Xiongnu, who are the ancient ancestors of the Mongols of today, was the First Empire to be established by the nomadic people living in the grasslands of Central Asia. The Xiongnu Empire occupied a vast territory extending north and south from Yellow River to Lake Baikal, and east and west from Manchuria to Altai Mountains. 

The Xiongnu Empire was one of the most powerful empires within Asia and interacted with the Han Dynasty, linking the eastern and western worlds by controlling the main part of the great Silk Road.

Researchers are in wide agreement that the unique civilization of nomads of Mongolia and Central Asia was founded by the Xiongnu people. In Mongolia alone, there are over 5000 elite and small circular tombs, and 10 archaeological remains of settlements, and countless examples of rock art.   

Funeral sites of the Xiongnu Elite

A total of 11 funeral complexes of the Xiongnu Elite have been found in Mongolia and Russia. Most (7) of these complex sites are located in the territory of Mongolia.

A certain style of tomb of the Xiongnu Elite was widespread. This shows a similarity in funeral rites between all the sites. Most funeral complexes of the Xiongnu Elite consist of big elite tombs and small circular tombs and sacrificial features that either have stone or earth surface cover. The external structure of a Xiongnu Elite tomb has two parts: a rectangular stone terrace directly above the burial pit, and an adjoining entrance passage to the south.

Although the general layout of terrace tombs is very similar, their sizes and depths can differ considerably. The depth of the burial pits range from 6 meters to 20 meters, depending on size of the surface structure. Vault walls were usually built from logs which were covered with felt rugs decorated in various patterns. Sometimes the coffins were additionally covered with silk or other textiles and with decorations near the head section representing the sun and the moon.

The Xiongnu often buried specific ritual objects with their royalty and other aristocrats. Tombs that are deeper tend to have objects of better quality and sophistication. Tombs often contain the heads and long bones of animals that appear to have been sacrificed. 

1. Funeral site of the Xiongnu Elite at Noyon Uul
This site occupies a total of 129.6 he area located at Kharaagiin Noyon Uul mountain within territories of Bornuur, Mandal and Batsumber soums of Tuv province. There are 230 elite burials in places called Sujigt (Sujigt-1. 73.8 he; Sujigt-2. 5.3 he), Zuramt (7,1 he) and Khujirt (43,4 he). This heritage site was discovered in 1912. The tombs are similar to elite tombs of other places but the tomb #20 is the deepest (18.35 m) so far known in Eurasia.

2. Funeral site of the Xiongnu Elite at Gol Mod I
This site is located 35 km southeast from Khairkhan soum and within the territory of Khairkhan and Erdenemandal soums of Arkhangai province and covers 400 he area. Approximately 484 tombs have been registered, of these 3 elite tombs, 41 satellite burials and 3 sacrificial features were excavated. This site was firstly discovered in 1956.

In 2000-2010, joint Mongolian and French expedition recovered complete silver and bronze ornaments, golden and silver decorations of coffin, felt rug, silk, bronze and iron utensils and jasper objects. Besides these, there are artifacts, which came from China and Middle Asia that helped to establish foreign relationship of the Xiongnu.

3. Funeral site of the Xiongnu Elite at Gol Mod II
Gol Mod II site is located in Undur-Ulaan soum of Arkhangai province. This site covers a total of 3.5 square km area and surrounded with rivers and small sand dunes with larch forest. It is located 100 km west from the Gol Mod I. This shows that the area of Khangai ridge was the center of the territory of the Xiongnu. A total of 107 big tombs have been registered, of these 98 are square shaped with entrance way and 9 are circular with entrance way as well.

Since 2002, archaeological investigations have been initiated at Gol Mod II. As a result Tomb-1 and 28 satellite burials in east have been studied completely. The Tomb-1 is measured at 46x46 m, which is the biggest Xiongnu tomb that has ever been excavated. This tomb yielded same artefacts that were uncovered from other tombs in Mongolia but, there are some unique artefacts such as ancient Roman glass bowl.

4. Funeral site of the Xiongnu Elite at Duurlig Nars
The site of Duurlig Nars is located 500 m from the southern bank of Onon River, in a pine forest south of the soum centre of Bayan-Adarga, Khentii province. This cemetery consists of approximately 300 elite tombs of the Xiongnu – the biggest Xiongnu cemetery in Eastern Mongolia. It was discovered in 1974.

Since 2006, joint Mongolian and Korean team has been excavated 3 elite tombs uncovering a considerable number of artefacts. Tomb-100 has the longest entrance way that is measured at 61.5 m in length.

5. Funeral site of the Xiongnu Elite at Takhiltyn Khotgor
This site is located in a sandy channel named Takhiltyn Khotgor in Mankhan soum territory of Khovd province. It is the biggest elite Funeral site of the Xiongnu in the western Mongolia. Over 130 tombs have been registered.

The site of Takhiltyn Khotgor was firstly discovered in 1961. Researchers have been excavated three elite tombs, 9 satellite burials and 2 sacrificial features between 1961 and 2010. Hundreds of important objects were recovered among which sun and moon shaped golden flakes distinguish from other objects.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Funeral sites of the Xiongnu Elite in Mongolia are cultural heritage sites with outstanding universal value in terms of historical, cultural, ethnographical and anthropological studies and meet Criteria (ii) and (iii) for inscription on the World Heritage List. Descriptions of the criterions are in the following.

Criterion (ii): These funeral sites and their design, structure, technology and accompanied deposits and artifacts are a testimony to an important interchange of human values on the development in construction, technology and landscape design of the tombs over the time from 4th century BCE to 2nd century CE within a cultural area of Central Asia. By examining Elite Xiongnu tombs, researchers recognize that these monumental burial tombs were made and protected by the Xiongnu people themselves, however, the influence of foreign settled cultures among which culture of Qin and Han Dynasty of China, is seen in them.

Also, according to the research results on artifacts recovered from elite tombs, the Xiongnu people had a broad cultural interchange with other neighboring countries. Several artifacts came from the western and central Asian countries have a special value to prove the range of cultural exchange of the Xiongnu Empire. For example, archaeologists suggest that embroideries and knitting with images of humans – uncovered from tomb-6 of Sujigtiin Am at Noyon Uul - were brought to the Xiongnu across Scythia and Central Asia an embossed silver object is from Graeco-Bactria, and a portrait of a child holding a spear is an art work of Greece and Persia. Many more objects from the west have been recovered, including a delicate glass bowl (Gol Mod II, satellite burial 30, Tomb 1), a silver decorative object with Grecian mythic gods (Noyon Uul, Tomb 20) and a decorative golden pin with turquoise inlays (Gol Mod I, Tomb 20), which similar ones were found in Afghanistan.

These facts show that the Xiongnu people had trade and cultural relations with many western and eastern countries and this is a tangible example of a broad cultural interchange of human values.

Criterion (iii): These heritage sites truly demonstrate unique Xiongnu cultural tradition, including Xiongnu burial tradition and customs, which has developed between 3rd century BCE – 2nd century CE and gradually disappeared and did not reach to us. 

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Authenticity: The first archaeological study on the Xiongnu sites was initiated about a hundred years ago.  Information was limited to what could be gained from Chinese written sources until 1924, when the archaeological study of the Xiongnu was begun at Noyon Uul. This research made Xiongnu sites popular around the world drawing attentions of scholars. Funeral sites of the Xiongnu elites in Mongolia have been studied intensively since 2000. For example, entire distribution maps and several excavations were made at Noyon Uul, Gol Mod I, Gol Mod II, Takhiltyn Khotgor and Duurlig Nars. As a result of these studies many important academic publications, exhibitions and documentary films have been made available to the public. Archaeological study was conducted by specialists of professional archaeological and scientific research institutions, strictly following the heritage protection laws and regulations on field of Archaeology of Mongolia. Archaeological excavations and studies by Mongolian and foreign scientists have proven that the age and value of these funeral sites are credible and generally acknowledged in the World. Archaeological survey, investigation and excavation show that there are still many funeral sites within the nominated areas. These funeral complexes are well preserved with little human intervention by successive Empires afterwards and till now.

Integrity: Since all of these complex sites remained beneath the ground for over two millenniums their original integrity has never been threatened. 

All the elements necessary to express outstanding universal value of the property are included in its component parts: elite tombs, small and sacrificial features and others. These funeral complexes and archaeological findings and artifacts showing the value are well preserved and principal parts of the property have good condition of integrity. All the components of the property are under protection of the Law on Protecting Cultural Heritage of Mongolia and protection zones of the Funeral complex sites of the Xiongnu Elite at Noyon Uul and Gol Mod II were established by the Resolution 104 of the Government of Mongolia.


Comparison with other similar properties

The “Funeral sites of the Xiongnu elites” have no direct analogues among the World Heritage List and Tentative List. Similar heritag, which is not inscribed on WHL, have been found in Tuva and Buryatia in Russia. For example, Xiongnu elite tombs at Ilimovaya Pad and Tsaram of Buryatia and at Baidag II of Tuva. No any Xiongnu elite tombs have been found from China.

The most important and the biggest Funeral sites (Noyon Uul, Gol Mod I, Gol Mod II) of the Xiongnu are located in the central Mongolia, which is a demonstration of the Central division of the Xiongnu Empire. The site of Duurlig Nars in eastern part of Mongolia is suggested to the tombs of the rulers of its Eastern division. The biggest elite tomb site in the Western Mongolia is Takhiltyn Khotgor. This site is considered to be the cemetery of elites of the Western division of the Xiongnu Empire. According to excavations, elite tombs in the central Mongolia have more tombs, bigger in size and artifacts of better quality and sophistication.

Quantity of the tombs, size and findings recovered from excavations demonstrate that those funeral complexes (Noyon Uul, Gol Mod I, Gol Mod II) in the central Mongolia are largest in comparison with other funeral complexes.

Comparative analyses can be done with same time period tombs of aristocrats and royals of the Chinese Han Dynasty, the Korean Nannan and the Pazyryk culture of Altai. The Xiongnu elite tombs have similar burial sections with Pazyryk burials while their burial pits similar to pits of the Han tombs.

Almost all of the tombs constructed before and after the Xiongnu have external stone covers (relatively small) but, in fact, there have never been found tombs compared to the Xiongnu tombs.

General structure of the Xiongnu tombs could be seen as an upside down pyramidal space. While ancient Egyptians built the pyramids, tombs of their pharaohs, on the ground surface, the Xiongnu people made tombs with vaults digging pyramidal pit down 20 m below the surface. This shows that the elite tombs of the Xiongnu are one of the magnificent tombs with glorious architecture and sophisticated structure. 

There are several of tomb sites inscribed in World Heritage List. For example, Tomb of Askia of Mali, Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty of South Korea and Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties of China. Western Xia Imperial Tombs (China), Thracian Tomb with Wall Paintings beside Alexandrovo village (Bulgaria) and few more tomb sites are in the Tentative List.

The proposed Funeral sites of the Xiongnu Elites are relatively bigger than the sites inscribed in the WHL. Those tomb sites in China cover big areas with a single imperial tomb while the Xiongnu Funeral sites also cover a larger area but contain a significant number of burials. Most of the tomb sites in WHL are younger than the nominated Elite Funeral sites, except Yin Xu.