Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 149–187 | Cite as

Mongolian Deer Stones, European Menhirs, and Canadian Arctic Inuksuit: Collective Memory and the Function of Northern Monument Traditions

  • William W. FitzhughEmail author


Northern peoples and those living in the Arctic and environments with broad vistas created cultural landscapes with distinctive monument traditions that supported their cultural and political systems. This paper explores three societies in different geographic regions and time periods during the past 10,000 years that used stone monuments to humanize their landscapes and invoke or honor gods or spirits, mythological ancestors, or deceased leaders. Canadian and Greenland Inuit and their predecessors of the past thousand years marked their lands with abstract human figures known as Inuksuit; Neolithic and Bronze Age Europeans built megaliths, henges, and passage graves; and Mongolian Bronze Age nomadic pastoralists populated the central Asian steppe with burial mounds (khirigsuurs) and anthropomorphic deer stone monuments. Each tradition contributed in different ways to shape and perpetuate the society’s values by invoking spirits, ancestors, or heroic leaders. The enduring presence of these creations reinforced cultural or ethnic identity through ritual, group ceremonialism, landscape values, communal enterprise and labor, and collective memory. This paper identifies commonalities and differences between these traditions and how they functioned. We also see how successive societies perpetuate, change, reinterpret, or invent new uses and meanings for ancient monuments and their landscape settings to create new ethnicities and histories for their own times.


Bronze Age Megalith Deer stone Inuksuk Menhir Collective memory Landscape 



The Mongolian research reported here has been conducted in collaboration with Dr. Jamsranjav Bayarsaikhan of the Mongolia National Museum in Ulaanbaatar since 2003 and Dr. Richard Kortum of East Tennessee State University since 2009. They, their institutions, and the Smithsonian made intellectual, material, logistical, and in-kind contributions to our joint research. Within the Smithsonian, support was provided by Dr. Paula DePriest and Harriet (Ray) Beaubien (Museum Conservation Institute) and Dr. Bruno Frohlich (Anthropology). Funds were provided by Smithsonian, National Endowment for Humanities, ETSU, and a U.S. Department of State Mongolia Ambassador grant. The American Center for Mongolian Studies’ Ulaanbaatar office provided a congenial support network. Fieldwork was conducted with Mongolian and American field crews who deserve much credit for the cumulative results chronicled in yearly field reports at Much of the artwork used here has been produced or facilitated by Marcia Bakry. This manuscript has been greatly improved by insightful comments of several reviewers and by symposia organizers David Mixter and Edward Henry.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York (outside the USA) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anthropology MRC 112Smithsonian InstitutionWashingtonUSA

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