Published online by Cambridge University Press: 26 January 2010
The potential for monumental structures to convert, transform, and communicate has been explored extensively in the archaeological literature (Trigger 1990; Sherratt 1990; Bradley 1998) and, most recently, with regard to social memory and its potential for re-invention through monumental re-use (Williams 2003; Van Dyke and Alcock 2003). The reuse of monumental sites in the eastern steppe region of Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, southern Siberia, Xinjiang, and eastern Kazakhstan (referred to here as Inner Asia), very likely dates back more than 3,000 years and persists in certain forms even today. While creating spatial and stylistic associations with former monuments of grandeur is a common method for bolstering political legitimacy in complex societies, especially in states and empires (Sinopoli 2003), understanding the role such practices play in the formation of initial socio-political complexity is a more subtle task.
In this chapter, we examine the remains of monumental activities in a northern Mongolian river valley over a period of 1,000 years during the first and second millennia bce. Our study focuses on the question of what stone mounds and prominent burials might tell us about the character of political change in this local area and, by extension, across the eastern steppe. In the long process of building lineage-based institutions of inequality, local valley groups utilized monuments from their own past while simultaneously creating new monumental forms and associated activities.