From the early twentieth century, the so-called “animal style” art in ancient Central Asian nomadic culture has been studied by many scholars mainly focusing on Scythian cultural artifacts. Although the animal style art has been regarded as the representative and prevalent art style in many ancient nomadic cultures that originated in their natural environment, many scholars have contradictorily wanted to interpret the meaning of their characters and the manufactural regions as a result of the advanced cultural influences from the giant neighboring imperial states like ancient Persia or China. However, there are many disputes on the meaning and stylistic features of the “animal style” art in ancient Eurasian continent. In this paper, I classified the animals in the ancient Central Asian artifacts into two basic categories: animals that exist in the real world and fantastic animals that exist in the imaginations of the humans. In my opinion, the imaginary animals are more significant as those creatures might be the hybrids envisioned from varied features of several real-life animals to visually represent special, invisible, supernatural, or mythical existences.
In this paper, I will research on the iconographic features and cultural meaning of the fantastic animals in ancient Xiongnu artifacts, which were made in the later period of the ancient Central Asian animal style arts. These fantastic animals can be classified into four groups according to their zoomorphic features. The first group is related to the so-called Chinese dragon or serpent. The second group is related to the griffin or a monstrous vulture. The third group is related to feline-like beasts. The last group is related to the animal with one horn, or so-called unicorn. However, every fantastic animal in ancient Xiongnu artifacts reveals varied appearance and it is difficult to find similarities between them. Additionally, there are diverse visual transformations among the same groups based on the excavated regions. Many fantastic animals in Xiongnu artifacts are represented as a part of the “animal combat” scenes, but several examples are represented solely as themselves. The most important sole iconographic image is the winged animal with a horn, which was a new fantastic animal in Xiongnu culture excavated from Gol Mod II site in 2011. In Mongolia, this fantastic animal is called “Bers,” a kind of mythical animal in ancient Xiongnu culture. This fantastic animal is an original Mongolian creature in ancient Xiongnu period.
In the previous studies on the fantastic animals portrayed in ancient Xiongnu period, many scholars have strictly focused only on the influence of Han Chinese culture, disregarding the cultural and regional originalities of Xiongnu people and the traditionalism in the ancient nomadic culture. However, the material culture of Xiongnu people shows the diverse and vast interrelationships and exchanges across the entire Eurasian continent to the contemporary Egypt in the north of Africa. It means that the cultural interpretation on the Xiongnu culture must be a much wider view of the ancient nomadic culture than the narrow view of the ancient Chinese historical records written by the Chinese who might have been complete outsiders among the Xiongnu and ancient nomads. The famous fantastic animal from Gol Mod II site bears no relationship to the contemporary Han China, but it might have originated from the ancient Near East and Persia. According to the zoomorphic features, the animal iconography might be related to the ancient Near Eastern fantastic animal named “Lion-Griffin,” but the style is originally created in ancient Mongolia with many eccentric variations. In my opinion, this newly created fantastic animal of Gol Mod II site might be the antecedent model of “Simurgh,” the famous fantastic animal in the late Persian myth and culture.
The fantastic animal in the ancient Xiongnu period in Mongolia had represented diverse artistic styles according to the diverse regional culture and society. The ancient Xiongnu people communicated with and accepted many diverse neighboring cultures, simultaneously and creatively integrating them into their own culture. The fantastic animals in Ancient Xiongnu artifacts might have been recreated into new forms according to the original nomadic Mongolian lifestyle and myth. These imaginary representations of ancient Mongolian sites might be reinterpreted and reevaluated as the cultural historical material objects and mythical authorities originally created by the ancient Xiongnu people in their own regions.
: 사회과학분야 > 인문지리
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