Throwing it Way Back

It’s a new year, but we’re not looking to the future. Nah. We are looking into the past–going way back in history–to 1000 BCE (or thereabouts) to talk about deer stones. Also called reindeer stones, these carved megaliths can be found throughout Mongolia and Siberia, remnants of Bronze Age nomadic peoples. Over 1500 of these deer stones have been located in Eurasia, with around 1300 being found in Outer Mongolia.

Deer stones range in height from 3-15 feet high and highlight carved sides that typically face east. These carvings are intricate depictions of animals, Bronze Age tools and armor, and (rarely) human faces. The animals are mostly reindeer or deer, although some of these megaliths also contain imagery of typical livestock. The difference between these depictions is that the livestock are carved in a natural style whereas the reindeer are drawn more fantastically, with ornate antlers. Scholars attribute this difference in style to the reindeer holding more religious significance. (In this case, it would be tied to shamanism.)

There are a number of academic theories as to the origins and purposes of these stones. Some believe the style originated in Mongolia before spreading to Tuva and Baikal, whereas others see a clearer connection to Scythians. While some view them as religious site markers, others see them as possible tribute to famous persons like a warrior or leader, which would explain the different carvings as being representative of these various individuals’ stories. One thing for certain is that these stones do not function as gravestones (human remains have never been found buried nearby).

If you travel to Mongolia, there are examples of deer stones in the National History Museum in Ulaanbaatar. If you travel to the countryside, you will likely come across these stones–or other petroglyphs from ancient times.

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