Studies on handicraft and trade in the old Mongolian capital Karakorum

→  Susanne Reichert

The construction of large cities is not an integral part of nomadic culture and economy and yet, Karakorum is not a unique example as at a mere distance of 30 km there is Kharbalgas, the Uighur capital. Genesis and development of Karakorum are closely tied to the political history, the city was planned and constructed at Great Khan Ögödei’s behest. Which factors or rather the loss of which led to the demise of the urban infrastructure? Which structures lead to the absence of continually settled cities in Mongolia as we know them from Europe? The reasons for this phenomenon are likely to be found in differing economical systems. The economic basis of nomadic pastoralism is known, although the peculiar relation between assumed non-agricultural pastoralists and sedentary cultures is still a matter of debate. Particularly of production in nomadic societies only little is known. The archaeological record of Karakorum offers for the first time the opportunity to depict a new picture.

Probably founded 1220 by Dschinghis Khan and developed as a city under his successors since 1235 Karakorum had been capital until 1260 and was administrative and fiscal center of the empire. From historical sources it is known that production and trade were supported if not even initiated in the case of special goods by the Mongolian rulers. Foreign workers were translocated from all over the growing empire in order to meet the new challenges with which the Mongolian elite was faced. All these cultural influences are reflected in the archaeological record of Karakorum. From 2000 to 2005 archaeologists of Bonn University in cooperation with colleagues from the Archaeological Institute of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences exposed several workshops in the city center of Karakorum. The core of this Ph.D. dissertation will be the analysis of these handicraft workshops that used iron, non-ferrous metals, gold, silver, precious stones, glass and bones. Aside from half-finished items and production materials (tools, crucibles) the workshops can be identified via characteristic technical features like furnaces and wooden stands for anvils. Through the combined methods of conventional antiquarian analysis and material analyses of artifacts, questions concerning the nature and scope of production in Karakorum, manufacturing techniques and technical transfer, its cultural relations as well as agents and recipients of the produced goods can be answered in a diachronic perspective. This archaeological record is in its scope unique in Mongolia and offers detailed insights into the everyday life in the middle of the city in the thirteenth and fourteenth century when the Mongolian Empire was at its height. Finally, not only the history of these workshops will be reconstructed on the basis of archaeological and historical sources but also interactions between thepolitical system and economical structures of Karakorum will be discussed.


Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Jan Bemmann, Prof. Dr. Bethany Walker