Check out this 1700-year-old Mongolian saddle which was found in the Urd Ulaan Uneet burial cave — the only burial cave in the region from this era. Every long time reader of this blog knows how much I love saddles and this one is amazing — it’s so perfectly preserved that it’s hard to comprehend it’s age. The saddle is beautifully constructed, although I’m not so sure it would be comfortable. I’ve read that these “hard saddles” were designed because Mongolian horses are quite small, but had to carry adults. The high pommel and cantle kept the rider secure but also keep the footprint of the saddle small enough to not put weight on the horses’ loins. Because the small Mongolian horses carry heavier riders, riders typically swap out horses many times in a day.
This beautifully-preserved saddle was found along with iron bits with horn cheekpieces, a compound bow, arrowheads, a leather quiver with an iron hook, and a wooden container. The finds from this important site have given researchers valuable information about the lives of the people who lived in the area. Plus, the fact that a horse and its belongings was included in the burial site is unique to this cave.
Until this burial site was located, the study of “hard” wooden saddles used by the peoples of Eurasia has been complicated by the poor preservation of these products in archaeological sites dating from the middle of the 1st millennium AD. This saddle appears to be in the same tradition as Yaloman and East Turkestan patterns.
The first saddles with wooden trees appeared in the early part of the first millennium CE in the area of Xiongnu and Xianbei confederations in the Northern part of Central Asia. In comparison to “soft saddles”, this innovation was driven by military purposes as the saddles were more stable and secure for the riders, especially those equipped for battle. This design gave mounted soldiers a considerable advantage and was widely adopted by the Old Turks. They brought the wooden saddle design with them and introduced it to the nomadic cattle-breeders of the region. Interestingly, anthropologists use different saddle designs to track ethnogenetic processes and show the stability of ethno-cultural ties within the societies using the different types of tack.