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Valley of the Kings of Tuva

Date of Submission: 30/11/2021
Criteria: (i)(iii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of the Russian Federation to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Republic of Tuva
Coordinates: N52 05 45 E93 42 39
Ref.: 6583

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The territory of the "Valley of the Kings of Tuva" is located on the Turan-Uyuk mountain steppe basin in the Piy-Khem district of the Republic of Tuva of the Russian Federation. The total area of the Turan­Uyuk Valley is approximately 130,000 hectares. Here, in the vast valley of the Uyuk River, there are a thousand large earthen or stone-built mounds. Some of them reach more than a hundred meters in diameter at a height of up to 6 meters. Usually the mounds form chains, which probably means the blood relationship of the people buried in it. Mounds are especially numerous in the depths of the valley, where the ridges - Kurtushibinsky in the north and Uyuksky in the south - converge. Locals call this territory the "Valley of the Kings" (tuv. Khaannar shynaazy). Here the archaeological sites belong to the I millennium BC - the Bronze and Iron eras.

The archaeological study of Tuva began with this valley. ln 1915-1916, A V. Adrianov conducted the first scientific archaeological excavations here. ln the late 1920s, the famous Leningrad archaeologist S. A. Teploukhov conducted a study of the mounds of the Scythian period in the Turano-Uyuk basin. A.D. Grach, A.M. Mandelstam, M.P. Gryaznov, M.H. Mannai-ool, V. A. Semenov, M.E. Kilunovskaya, L. S. Marsadolov carried out excavations in the "Valley of the Kings” in different years.

The staff of the "Artifact" laboratory of Tomsk State University (TSU), together with specialists of the Hermitage, with the support of the TSU Scientific Foundation, explored the territory of the "Valley of the Kings" in Tuva using the technology of remote search of archaeological sites using aerial photography. The total area of the survey conducted in the Turano-Uyuk basin was about 200 sq. km. During the study, an unmanned aerial vehicle of the Geoscan-201 aircraft type was used. For Russia, this is the largest project to document archaeological sites using a drone. Over ten flights, more than 20 thousand images were taken. The search for archaeological sites was carried out using the QGIS software. With the help of aerial photography, scientists managed to map more than 1 thousand archaeological sites, previously only 265 of which were known. The number of these objects also included those that were invisible and inaccessible for fixing from the ground, for example, plowed mounds.

These features explain the exceptional attractiveness of this place for the emergence of elite burial mounds in ancient times, and intensive research that is being conducted to this day.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The territory of the Valley of the Kings of Tuva of the Piy-Khem district of the Republic of Tuva with grandiose archaeological monuments has grounds to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage List as an example of ancient elite burial and memorial complexes of early nomads, the ancestors of the Scythian culture formed at the dawn of the I millennium BC on the territory of modern Tuva. Almost the entire territory of the Valley of the Kings of Tuva is an accumulation of a huge number of funeral and memorial and ritual complexes. Not only burial mounds are combined here, but also rock art monuments. It is safe to say that this territory has been revered by the locals for more than 3 millennia. The tradition of veneration of this valley has been preserved to this day among modem Tuvans.

The most famous to world science is the Arzhaan-1 mound (original diameter 120 m, height 4 m), the research results of which fully changed the scientists’ idea of the ancestral homeland of the Scythian culture and became an invaluable. scientific source for studying the civilization of the early nomads. A wooden structure made of more than 5 thousand logs was hidden under the stone platform. lt consisted of numerous rectangular and square-shaped log chambers arranged in rows around the center of the mound, which gave the whole structure the image of a wheel. ln the middle there was the log chamber of the central grave. Arzhaan-1 mound had in total of 29 complexes (a central grave, 15 accompanying graves, as well as 13 horse burials with the remains of more than 200 horses). Seems like the central burial of Arzhaan-1 was very rich. lt is impossible to say anything definite about the quantity and significance of the inventory, since the most valuable objects were stolen by robbers. Only 2 mounds with such a layout are known in the world, and both date back to the border of the IX and VIII centuries BC and are located in the Valley of the Kings of Tuva.

The study of the royal burial mound Arzhaan-2 (the second half of the VII century BC) with an undisturbed royal burial discovered became the world sensation. Before the work began, the monument looked like a fiat, blackened stone "platform" with an embankment diameter of 75-80 m and a height of 1.5-2 m. Here, in the north-western outskirts of the mound, the burial of two people with a large amount of high-grade gold jewelry was discovered. The whole number of gold objects found in the Arzhaan-2 totals more than 11 thousand units, most of which (8224 units) are in permanent storage in the funds of the National Museum of the Republic of Tuva. The remaining 3331 items are in permanent storage at the State Hermitage Museum. Gold products from Atzhaan-2 amaze with the craftsmanship and high artistic taste of ancient jewelers, they testify to the highest level of jewelry art, which was achieved by this lime by the tribes inhabiting the territory of modern Tuva. These masterpieces of ancient masters have become the property of world culture forever.

Criterion (i): The gold findings from the Arzhaan II mound were recognized as true masterpieces of jewelry art. It is still unclear how the nomads of those times were able to master, for example, the production of gold beads less than 1 mm in diameter with a hale to create the famous trousers of the Scythian ruler. The elegance of the jewelry forms mesmerizes people from all over the world even after three thousand years. Innovative methods of working with gold for that epoch make Scythian treasures from Arzhaan II absolute unique.

Criterion (iii): Investigations in the Valley of the Kings of Tuva caused cardinal changes in scholars' opinion on the history periodization, place of origin, $spiritual and material culture of the Scythians. Arzhaan I, Il and the number of other mounds of the Valley are the oldest monuments of Scythian culture in the world.

Criterion (iv): More than 5000 logs and beams were used in the construction of the Arzhaan I mound. It consisted of more than 100 chambers, its height was 5 m and it was 120 m in diameter. This kind of construction breaks the stereotype that nomad people couldn’t be the creators of original monumental objects.  And by the same time the shape of mounds and other features tell us a lot about the regions and more common spiritual culture aspects.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The authenticity of monuments on the territory of Kings of Valley of Tuva in Piy-Khem district, Republic of Tuva is proved by documental (written) and material evidence. After almost 3000 years the basic amount of burial mounds keeps its historical appearance, opening brand new pages in the history of nomad civilizations of the whole Eurasia. The unity of Kings of Valley of Tuva territory is provided by the fact that in Turan-Uyuk· basin of 130 000 square hectares all the variety and richness of an ancient nomad civilization is presented, it helps to introduce ritual, sacred and other processes that impacted the history of Eurasia.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Valley of the Kings of Tuva has no analogues in the UNESCO World Heritage List. ln semantic sense this kind of great monuments of ancient civilizations besides Russian Federation are presented in the Arabian Republic of Egypt - Memphis and its necropolis - the district of pyramids from Giza to Dahshur. On the other hand, from the informative point of view monuments much differ from each other.