This place of land-locked deserts and formidable mountains has seen some of the earth’s oldest cultures. Homo erectus lived here in the crystal-lined White Cave 800,000 years ago and in a canyon in the Gobi there are rock engravings dating back to at least 3000 BCE which depict men riding horses. Other human-like forms with greatly enlarged hands and ears seem even older — so strange the local people regard these as the work of aliens. Evidence of the use of horses and wheeled vehicles dated earlier than 2000 BCE have been found at the Bronze Age Afanasevo sites. Wooden tools there have been carbon dated to 3700 BCE, and there is evidence of the early use of metals and herding of cattle and sheep by a people some anthropologists believe might have been white Caucasians. While little more than this is known of this early society — and some of it is disputed — the horse-riding nomadic lifestyle that became typical of Mongolia, and persisted for thousands of years, seemed first to appear at this time. This society evolved through several later cultures — the complex of second millennium BCE cultures loosely described as the Andronovo is typical. These people mined copper in the Altai Mountains, lived in log cabins partly underground, and buried their dead with ornamented pottery. They are widely credited with having invented the spoked-wheel chariot.
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