- Karabalgasun – Stadt der Nomaden: Die archäologischen Ausgrabungen in der frühuigurischen Hauptstadt 2009–2011by Burkart Dähne
Urbanism has been one of the main topics in the humanities for the past two decades. Today, about 54 percent of the world population lives in cities and more than 80 percent of the populations in highly developed countries is urban. These numbers may explain why urbanism is such an important issue for geographers, sociologists, architects, and urban planners. Early cities and early states, which are connected to 'civilizations', dominate historical and archaeological studies even though they covered only 5 percent of the world. This implies that about 95 percent of the globe remains unconsidered. The steppes of Inner Asia is one of these neglected regions mainly for two reasons: their inaccessibility for researchers from highly developed Western countries and the ongoing focus of archaeologists on pastoral nomadic lifeways and their sometimes monumental burials.
Only very few international teams from Russia, Japan, and Germany have begun to explore urban sites in Mongolia since the 1990s. Burkart Dähne was a member of such a team and presents in this monograph the results of recent excavations in the largest city of the Turco-Mongol era in Inner Asia, the capital of the Uyghur empire ( c.e. 744–840) Ordu Baligh with the modern name Karabalgasun. The city occupies more than 30 km 2and is situated in the Orkhon Valley, a pasture-rich region in the center of modern Mongolia. In 2007, the German Archaeological Institute started to explore Karabalgasun, which was until then only known by a topographic survey carried out by the first scientific expedition to the Orkhon Valley in 1891 and by two small-scale but mostly unpublished excavations by Kotwicz in 1912 and Kiselev in 1947. An airborne laser scan (LIDAR) conducted in 2007 provided a first idea about the extent of the city and an excellent topographic planning guide for further excavations. Together with Ulambayar Erdenebat, Burkart Dähne was the local head of the excavation until the retirement of the responsible director of the mission, Hans-Georg Hüttel, in 2011, which obviously brought a change in staff and excavation strategy. This circumstance may explain why Dähne regrets in his report several times that the excavations in these parts were discontinued. As a consequence, the construction and layout of the building could not be understood in their entirety.
The monograph is Dähne's nearly unchanged dissertation, which was supervised by Ulrich Veit and Hans-Georg Hüttel and completed at the University of Leipzig in 2015. It presents the relevant excavation results from 2009 through 2011, but only the architectural features are discussed and illustrated, not the findings. The author's aims are twofold: first, to introduce the site of Karabalgasun and analyze the excavated buildings and features (pp. 11–135); and, second, to explore the meaning of urban centers and the urbanization of the Inner Asian steppes (pp. 137–153). He thinks that the transition of pastoral nomadism to sedentism is one of the most radical forms of social and cultural changes during antiquity and medieval times (p. 5). This transition, however, would imply that the local herders inhabited the few newly founded cities in the steppes, which is very unlikely. Dähne does not ask the question who lived in the city, however. Summaries in German, English, Mongolian, and Russian are provided at the end of the main text of the book (pp. 155–177). An appendix offers a list of the excavated features (mistakenly labeled as a [End Page 204]catalogue), a transliteration of Mongolian sites and names, and references (pp. 179–235).
Dähne introduces his volume with the general geographic setting of the site. Karabalgasun is situated in the same...