Ordos culture was a culture occupying a region centered on the
Ordos Loop (modern Inner Mongolia, China) during the Bronze and early
Iron Age from the 6th to 2nd centuries BCE. The
Ordos culture is known
for significant finds of
Scythian art and is thought to represent the
easternmost extension of Indo-European Eurasian nomads, such as the
Scythians. Under the Qin and Han dynasties, from the 6th to 2nd
centuries BCE, the area came under at least nominal control of
contemporaneous Chinese states.
3 Contact with neighbouring peoples
4 Appearance of the Xiongnu
7 External links
Equestrian nomads occupied the area previously settled by the
Zhukaigou culture from the 6th to the 2nd century BCE before being
driven away by the Xiongnu. The Ordos Plateau was covered by grass,
bushes, and trees and was sufficiently watered by numerous rivers and
streams to produce rich grazing lands. At the time, it contained
the best pasture lands on the Asian Steppe. However, it has now
mostly turned to the
Ordos Desert through a combination of overgrazing
and climatic change.
The Ordos are mainly known from their skeletal remains and artifacts.
Ordos culture of about 500 BCE to 100 CE is known for its "Ordos
bronzes", blade weapons, finials for tent-poles, horse gear, and small
plaques and fittings for clothes and horse harness, using animal style
decoration with relationships both with the
Scythian art of regions
much further west, and also Chinese art. Its relationship with the
Xiongnu is controversial; for some scholars they are the same and for
others different. Many buried metal artefacts have emerged on the
surface of the land as a result of the progressive desertification of
According to Iaroslav Lebedynsky, they are thought to be the
easternmost people of Scythian affinity to have settled here, just to
the east of the better-known Yuezhi. Because the people represented
in archaeological finds tend to display
Europoid features, also
earlier noted by Otto J. Maenchen-Helfen, Lededynsky suggests the
Ordos culture had "a Scythian affinity". Other scholars have
associated it with the Yuezhi. The weapons found in tombs
throughout the steppes of the Ordos are very close to those of the
Scythians, who known on the Asian Steppes as the Saka.
Contact with neighbouring peoples
While the ethnolinguistic origins and character of the Ordos culture
are unknown, the population appears to have been significantly
influenced by Indo-European cultures. However, the art of the Ordos
culture appears to have influenced that of the
Donghu people (Chinese:
東胡), a Mongolic-speaking nomadic tribe located to the east,
suggesting that the two had close ties. (The Donghu may also have
been connected to a people known as the Northern Di in Chinese annals.
The Ordos population was also in contact – and reportedly often at
war – with the pre-Han and Han peoples. The
Ordos culture covered,
geographically, regions later occupied by the Han, including areas
just north of the later Great Wall of
China and straddling the
northernmost hook of the Yellow River.
To the west of the
Ordos culture was another Indo-European people, the
Yuezhi, although nothing is known of relations between the two. (The
Yuezhi were later vanquished by the
Xiongnu and Wusun, who reportedly
drove them westward, out of China; a subgroup of the
Yuezhi is widely
believed to have migrated to South Central Asia, where it constituted
the ruling elite of the Kushan Empire.)
Appearance of the Xiongnu
Horse attacked by tiger, Ordos, 4th-1st century BCE
In Chinese accounts, the
Xiongnu first appear at Ordos in the Yi Zhou
Classic of Mountains and Seas
Classic of Mountains and Seas during the Warring States period
before it was occupied by the states of Qin and Zhao. It is generally
thought to be their homeland; however, when exactly they came to
occupy the region is unclear and archaeological finds suggest it might
have been much earlier than traditionally thought.
Xiongnu expanded southward into
Yuezhi territory around 160 BCE
under Modun, the
Yuezhi in turn defeated the Sakas and pushed them
away at Issyk Kul. It is thought the
Xiongnu also occupied the Ordos
area during the same period, when they came in direct contact with the
Chinese. From there, the
Xiongnu conducted numerous devastating raids
into Chinese territory (167, 158, 142, 129 BCE).
Xiongnu War began with Emperor Wu of Han, and the Han
colonized the area of the Ordos as the commandery of
Shuofang in 127
BCE. Prior to this campaign, there were already earlier commanderies
established by Qin and Zhao before they were overrun by the
Ordos bronzes from the
British Museum (Asian Gallery):
Bronze pole top, Ordos, 6th-5thCentury BCE.
Silver horse, Ordos, 4th-1st century BCE.
Belt buckle, Ordos, 3rd-1st century BCE.
Ordos bronze horses, 5th-3rd century BCE.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ordos culture.
^ a b Maenchen-Helfen 1973, pp. 369–375
^ Lebedynsky 2007, p. 131
^ a b Hanks & Linduff 2009, pp. 284–286
^ Beckwith 2009, p. 71
^ Compare this and this account, both from the 1970s. Bunker, 200,
sees them as the same, or rather the Ordos people as a subgroup of the
^ Bunker, 200
^ Lebedynsky 2007, p. 125 "The Mongoloid types of the Transbaikal
area and Central and Eastern Mongolia are strongly contrasted with the
Europoid type displayed at the same time by the Scythian nomads
occupying Western Mongolia and their predecessors of the Bronze age."
^ Lebedynsky 2007, p. 125 "
Europoid faces in some depictions of
the Ordos, which should be attributed to a Scythian affinity"
^ Lebedynsky 2007, p. 127
^ Lebedynsky, p.124
^ Ma 2005, p. 220-225
^ Lebedymsky p131
^ Ma 2005, p. 224
Beckwith, Christopher I. (16 March 2009). Empires of the Silk Road: A
History of Central Eurasia from the
Bronze Age to the Present.
Princeton University Press. ISBN 1400829941. Retrieved February
Bunker, Emma C. (2002). Nomadic art of the eastern Eurasian steppes:
the Eugene V. Thaw and other New York collections (fully available
online). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Hanks, Brian K.; Linduff, Katheryn M. (August 30, 2009). Social
Complexity in Prehistoric Eurasia: Monuments, Metals and Mobility.
Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521517125. Retrieved March 13,
Lebedynsky, Yaroslav (2007). Les nomades. Éditions Errance.
Maenschen-Helfen, Otto (1973). The World of the Huns: Studies in Their
History and Culture. University of California Press.
ISBN 0520015967. Retrieved February 18, 2015.
Ma, Liqing (2005). The Original Xiongnu, An Archaeological Exploration
of the Xiongnu's History and Culture. Hohhot: Inner Mongolia
University Press. ISBN 7-81074-796-7.
The Relief Plaques of Eastern Eurasia and
China - The Ordos Bronzes -
video by Sir John B