Mongolia has plenty of Bronze age weapons that are found on the territory of Mongolia. These two, I think are the most beautiful. This bronze age helmet was found in the burial chambers in Bulgan Province, Mongolia.
Further laboratory tests revealed that both of these weapons were made from bronze that was mined in northern parts of Mongolia. The same copper is being mined, albeit on a larger scale, today. The area is called Erdenet, home to one of Mongolia’s largest copper pit mines in the world.
Our ancestors knew very well what minerals were abundant in what areas and they gave names to highlight that. For example, an area rich in copper was called Oyu Tolgoi, Turquise hills, because of copper leaching to the surface and looking turquoise blue. There were many others:
- Tumurtei-area rich in iron
- Erdenet-treasure, rich in minerals and precious stones
- Khuut-black with soot, area rich in coal
Being a craftsman (darkhan) was a highly regarded profession among Mongols. They were invaluable in all aspects of life: from making nails to creating weapons. Therefore, it is not surprising that we valued them a lot.
Some of the earliest evidences of our ancestors extracting iron ore comes from Hunnu (Xiognu) times. Around 1st century BC our ancestors produced, smelted and made weapons themselves from iron.
There is this research going on between Mongolian and Japanese researchers on Mongolian metallurgy. One of its studies focused on Hunnu iron smelting sites which were discovered recently. They found a site where iron ore was mined, and iron smelting and pottery making were done. Also, two small fortresses were discovered in the same vicinity (check the pic above). The area is more like a valley, surrounded by trees. It has access to coal and water.
The iron ore site was used to smelt iron only. The forging, purifying and making of the weapons were not done over there. The research is still ongoing, so we will probably know more in the future how many people worked, what was the capacity of their mines and how much iron did they produce.
I think this place makes perfect sense as the blacksmiths lived with their tribes. So there were people who would take care of the mine, transport the ore, smelt the iron, and bring it to the blacksmiths for making tools and weapons. I am guessing the iron ore was dag up by the slaves and/or prisoners.
Being a blacksmith was a highly prestigious occupation. We believed that blacksmith’s talent was inspired by God. (дархан хүний бурхан ухаан). During the Mongol empire period, it was a custom for one of the sons to become a warrior, another a blacksmith (darkhan). So blacksmiths were not something rare or unusual. Every tribe had blacksmiths. For every conquests, they had several dozen blacksmiths traveling with the warriors to make arrows, sharpen the swords and fix the armor.
After Chinggis khan started the conquests, they brought in artisans and craftsmen from the conquered territories. They were regarded as people blessed by god and therefore very valuable. After the conquests of Xia, they brought back to Mongolia 30,000 artisans to help build new capital, Karakorum. 30,000 skilled artisans came from Samarkand etc.
In the vicinity of Kharakorum walls there were whole districts of artisans and their workshops. Since the artisans were foreigners, they introduced their own methods. For example they found a large metal smelting kiln that was of Chinese origin. During the archeological digs they couldn’t find iron ore mines and iron smelting facilities. The smelting facilities were close to the mines as was the case with Hunnu mines. After the ore was crashed, melted, the iron was sent to the black smiths.
The research on iron metallurgy is still ongoing but I think it is already clear that Mongols, Hunnu before them, and the deer people from bronze age, extracted ore and smelted the metals for their needs. These metals were further refined by the blacksmiths and made tools and weapons.
Some of the unusual armor from Mongol Period:
armor hidden inside the deel
armor plated boots.