Archaeological Dimension of the Xianbei Problem

Olga Dyakova

Archaeological Dimension of the Xianbei Problem

(53rd Annual Meeting of the PIAC, St. Petersburg 2010)

The Xianbei tribes played an important role of principle in the history of East Asia. They are associated with formation of many ethnos within the Altai language family. The ethnogeny problem of Xianbei tribes, which is quite complex and not free from contradictions, is under exploration. Chinese scholars (Ma Chanshou, Lin Gan, Mi Wenping), basing on written sources, identify such groups within the Donghu tribes as: Wuhuan, earlier Xianbei, Eastern Xianbei, Toba Xianbei and Western Xianbei. By the end of the Yan Xi period, Tanshihuai divided the Xianbei tribes by three — eastern, central, and western groups. These Xianbei tribes inhabited various geographic zones of Manchuria and Inner Mongolia. With the current level of the collected material, we may trace three lines of development in ethnogeny of Xianbei: proto-Mongolian Shegen, proto-Mongolian Burhotui, and proto-Manchu Mohe.

Proto-Mongolian Shegen line was identified in 1981 by Zhang Baizhong, a Chinese archaeologist. Having explored the eastern Xianbei monuments around the aimaks of Zherim and Zhaowuda, Zhang Baizhong found the ground to link the eastern Xianbei culture with archaeological materials of Shegen and Kidan cultures, classified as proto-Mongolian. Therefore, the archaeological context offers sufficient ground to draw the proto-Mongolian (Kidan) line of ethnogeny: eastern Xianbei -> Shegen culture -> Kidans.

Proto-Mongolian Burhotui line was identified by the author of this article in 1979. The archaeological materials of early Xianbei (Zhalainoer) are connected directly with the materials of the burhotui culture in Trans-Baikalia, qualified by researchers as proto-Mongolian. So, the archaeological context allows us to draw the second proto-Mongolian (burhotui) line of ethnogeny: eastern Xianbei -> Burhotui culture.

Proto-Manchurian (Mohe) was identified by the same author in 1979. Analysis of early Xianbei archaeological monuments in Inner Mongolia and West Manchuria (Zhalainoer, etc.) plus archaeological monuments of Mohe culture and culture of Amur Zhorzhens in the Maritime Territory, Amur area and Manchuria serve enough reason to discuss their genetic interconnection. So, the archaeological context reveals such ethnogeny line as early Xianbei -> Mohe -> Zhorxhen -> Manchurians.

Conclusions: The proto-Manchurian (Mohe) and proto-Mongolian (Burhotui) lines originated from one and same source (root) i.e., early Xianbei tribes, but underwent different development. Under the Hunnu pressure, they split apart and proceeded along different directions northward (Burhotui line) and North-Eastward (Mohe line). Hunnu tribes evidently did not push East Xianbei tribes from their first-home territory, as Eastern Xianbei, Shegen culture and Kidans shared the geographic area of habitation and formed a separate and autonomous line of development. Certainly, this problem is not yet closed and the offered pattern requires more supplements, specification and detailed argumentation. However, the collected archaeological material being stored in museums of China and Russia provides a good ground to start exploration of such complex problem as ethnogeny of Xianbei.