Bogdanov E.S.The Origin of the Tamgas of the Xiongnu

Evgeniy S. Bogdanov, Candidate of Sciences (History), Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Siberian Branch of RAS
Prosp. Akademika Lavrentyeva, 17, 630090 Novosibirsk, Russian Federation,  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Abstract. The article analyzes the whole corpus of sources on the tamgas of the Xiongnu. The author reveals the reasons for the emergence of tamga-like symbols in the culture of nomads, based on a circle. Analysis of the available material made it possible to suggest that the tamgas of the Xiongnu could appear on the basis of Chinese traditional symbols and hieroglyphs. The process of the birth of ancestral signs took place on the background of fundamental changes in the hieroglyphic writing in the Chinese empire, therefore each tamga was actually an ideograph expressing the basic idea, the concept. The end discs of the shingles of the Han epoch, especially from the territory of Mongolia and Inner Mongolia, represent the most important key to understanding the principles of tamgas emergence. The Xiongnu leaders’ need to have their own signs, reflecting the solar symbolism and emphasizing the original connection of nomadic families with the Sky – was a historical necessity as opposed to Han China. In the future it was the movement to the West of the Xiongnu tribes – adopters of the Han traditions – that influenced the emergence of such tamgas in the Sarmatian world. Such a powerful “transmission” in regions took place only when the power was seized by a “military group”, which had its own powerful ideological foundation based on mythological postulates, which of course could change over time. For the ordinary Sarmatian population, the “transmission” of the main mythologemes passed through sacral objects, in particular through mirror-pendants with ideographs of hieroglyphic origin) – the copies of ornamental patterns from Han tiles and mirrors. The article clearly traces the change of the tamga formation principle in the process of penetrating the Sarmatian milieu. Each “additional element” could become an “independent unit”, showing “the growth of the genealogical tree”.
Key words: Sarmatian cultures, tamgas of the Xiongnu, Han epoch, ideograph, mirror-pendants.
Citation. Bogdanov E.S., 2017. The Origin of the Tamgas of the Xiongnu. The Lower Volga Archaeological Bulletin, vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 5-32. (in Russian). DOI:
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The Origin of the Tamgas of the Xiongnu by Bogdanov E.S. is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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