The Deer Stones of Mongolia

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Throughout the grasslands of northern Mongolia and southern Siberia lay scattered hundreds of megaliths bearing mysterious carvings that seems to depict flying reindeer. Known as deer stones, these upright stone slabs measure 3 to 15 feet tall and occur in small groups, or concentrated in larger groupings, often in association with stone burial mounds, called khirigsuur. There are over 900 deer stones in Central Asia and South Siberia, of which 700 are in Mongolia alone. These monumental features is believed to be erected by Bronze Age nomads, approximately 3000 years ago.

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Deer stones are usually constructed from granite or greenstone, depending on which is the most abundant in the surrounding area. Reindeer feature prominently in nearly all of the deer stones. Early stones have very simple images of reindeer, and as time progresses, the designs increase in detail. A gap of 500 years results in the appearance of the complicated flying reindeer depiction. Reindeer are depicted as flying through the air, rather than merely running on land. Sometimes the reindeer hold a sun disc or other sun-related image in their antlers.

Reindeer and the sun is a very common association in Siberian shamanism. Tattoos on buried warriors contain deer tattoos, featuring antlers embellished with small birds' heads. This reindeer-sun-bird imagery perhaps symbolizes the shaman's spiritual transformation from the earth to the sky: the passage from earthly life to heavenly life. As these deer images also appear in warrior tattoos, it is possible that reindeer were believed to offer protection from dangerous forces. Another theory is that the deer spirit served as a guide to assist the warrior soul to heaven.

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