Saturday, March 15, 2014

Mini Golden Eagle Festival

On March 5th, a smaller version of the Golden Eagle Festival usually held in Western Mongolia took place at a large ger camp about 20km south of Ulaanbaatar.  The regular Golden Eagle Festival occurs every year during the fall in Bayan-Ulgii (Баян-Өлгий), the westernmost province or aimag of Mongolia.  Bayan-Ulgii is notable because its population is predominately ethnic Kazakh rather than Khalkh Mongol, which is the ethnic majority throughout the rest of Mongolia.  Kazakh culture and language are markedly different than Khalkh Mongol language and culture.  One particularly show-stopping display of Kazakh culture in Mongolia are the burgedchid (plural: бүргэдчид, singular: бүргэдчин/burgedchin), hunters who raise and train golden eagles to hunt with them.  This is where the Golden Eagle Festival comes in, as burged (бүргэд) is "golden eagle" in Mongolian.

Chinggis Khuree ger camp, approximately 20km south of Ulaanbaatar.
The March festival brought the top golden eagle hunters from the far west to just outside of Ulaanbaatar for presentation of honors, photo ops, demonstrations, and a competition.
The procession of golden eagle hunters lead by riders bearing the Mongolian national flag and the Bayan-Ulgii provincial flag approaches the main stage

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Tsagaan Sar: it's the most wonderful time of the year!

This post is long overdue, as Tsagaan Sar ended over a month ago and we're well into the Year of the Wooden Horse by now.  But as I prepared this post, I realized that I had a lot to say about Tsagaan Sar, and that almost everything I wanted to mention required more rumination in order to provide a coherent explanation.  With that in mind, better late than never!


Literally translating into 'White Moon' (although the Mongolian word for 'moon' is the same as the word for 'month'), Tsagaan Sar/Цагаан Сар is the Mongolian Lunar New Year festival.  Tsagaan Sar is one of the two most significant and widely-celebrated holidays in Mongolia, along with Naadam/Наадам in mid-July.

I feel extremely lucky to have been in Mongolian for Tsagaan Sar and to have been invited into the homes of so many wonderful people.  The entire city of Ulaanbaatar changed for Tsagaan Sar.  After a long, slow build up of 'holiday spirit' that started before the Western New Year began, Tsagaan Sar felt like a burst of warm and fuzzy collective effervescence across a frozen, glittering city.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Words and music: a brief interlude

It was Christmas in March here in Ulaanbaatar.

I received "Sarnii Ayalguu", a collection of the songs written by one of Mongolia's most renowned writers, lyricists, essayists, and poets, Professor Dolgoriin Tsendjav.  The title means "Lunar melody (or melodies, maybe)".  Professor Tsendjav presented me with the CD himself!

Professor Tsendjav (Цэнджав багш) on the cover of his latest CD
 The tracks were recorded by highly celebrated Mongolian singers, and include one of my personal favorites, "Bi jargaltai" (transl. roughly as "I'm lucky/delighted/over the moon").  I can't think of any prestigious professors, who also write novels and poetry, with best-selling CDs in America. That's not only hard to imagine, it's a true testament to the prodigious talents of Professor Tsendjav.

The rest of March 'Christmas' was a shopping spree at Internom, a major book store chain in Ulaanbaatar.  My haul was split between archaeology books, dictionaries, and books for learning the traditional Mongolian script, Mongol bichig (Монгол бичиг). 

The brown book below contains collected analyses of all of the finds from the long-term, multidisciplinary archaeological project at Baga Gazryn Chuluu (BGC), Middle Gobi, Mongolia.  

Finally, a copy of the BGC book!
  I worked in the field at BGC in 2007 and 2008, and in 2009, I worked with my colleague, Deegii (Delgermaa), on all of the zooarchaeological materials in the laboratories at the Institute of Archaeology at the Mongolian Academy of Sciences.  Our chapter in the BGC book is short but sweet.  Thanks for all your hard work, Deegii egch!  Congratulations to everyone on the BGC team who did such a great job over the years, especially to our fearless leaders, Bill and Amraa bagsh nar.

Julian is overwhelmed: so much collected knowledge and scholarship in one hefty stack of paper.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Past and future archaeological fieldwork at Baruun Mukhdagiin Am

Back in September I posted some pictures from archaeological fieldwork at Baruun Mukhdagiin Am (Баруун Мухдагийн Ам) with promises of more pictures and information to follow.  It's taken me longer than anticipated to prepare the follow-up post but, as a result, this post not only discusses the 2013 fieldwork but looks ahead to the 2014 field season.  The 2014 field season is still in the planning stage.  My Mongolian colleagues and I, however, are optimistic and are taking steps to insure that the 2014 field season of the BMA Archaeological Project is a success.  To that end, we have been working hard on securing funding and permits, as well as opening our project to paying volunteers who are interested in joining us in the field.  But first, there's still plenty about the 2013 to share, including some wonderful photos.  My colleagues Dr. Batsaikhan and Galdan brought high-quality cameras with them on the 2013 project.  Their photos do better justice to the beauty of the BMA landscape and the experience of fieldwork there.

The central section of the main Xiongnu/Hunnu cemetery at BMA (taken facing east/northeast).  So far it's been impossible to capture all of the burial surface features at BMA in one photo frame.  Each tan circle above is a burial surface feature; at this distance, it is difficult to discern the variety of sizes and shapes these features take.  The black dot on the right edge is a Range Rover.  Photo courtesy of Dr. Zagd Batsaikhan

Saturday, March 1, 2014

(Really) old news is good news!

Back in October 2013, two seminal agreements were signed between the National University of Mongolia, the Institute of Archaeology at the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, and an American university: one contract with Yale, one with the University of Chicago.  Below is my less-than-perfect translation of the original press release published on the website of the School of Social Sciences at the National University of Mongolia:

"On October 21st, 2013, the School of Social Sciences at the National University of Mongolia drafted and signed joint contracts to work collaboratively with the archaeological departments from Yale University and the University of Chicago, respectively.  The aforementioned contracts stipulate that universities from each of the two nations will collaborate with the Institute of Archaeology at the Mongolian Academy of Sciences to carry out separate projects of detailed survey, excavation, and research at two sites: Delgerkhan uul (Tuvshinshiree county, Sukhbaatar province) and Baruun Mukhdagiin Am (Mogod county, Bulgan province).

"In addition to composing a regional archaeological site database in the course of the aforementioned research and conducting scientific research, the agreement stipulates the archaeological, paleoanthropological (biological anthropological), paleozoological (zooarchaeological),  genetic, and isotopic analysis of materials yielded through excavation.  Likewise, the collaborative work of these universities and research institutions will have great significance in terms of overall scholarly enrichment, as seen in increasing the benefits that result from developing the practical skills of archaeology majors and training young scholars and students in modern methods of archaeological research.

"Dr. G. Erdenebayar (director of the School of Social Sciences at the National University of Mongolia), Dr. U. Erdenebat (chair of the Department of Archaeology & Anthropology), Dr. William Honeychurch (professor at Yale University), Emma Hite (doctoral candidate at The University of Chicago), Dr. Ch. Amartuvshin (professor and department head of the Institute of Archaeology at the Academy of Sciences) participated in the signing ceremony.  Yale University and the University of Chicago are amongst the top five universities in the world in terms of humanities and social sciences, especially in studies of Asian art and archaeology."

Certain sentences in my translation are pretty shaky, so I encourage you to check out the original article.  For that and pictures from the signing event, check out the National University of Mongolia page.

Out of hibernation

I can't believe my last post was in September! 

What month is it?!?

Apologies for the multi-month gap in posting.  Numerous issues kept me from regularly updating this site but the pay-off should be a series of interesting posts within a relatively short period of time.

Since this blog's last post was about a newly-acquired kitten, it's only right that the first update should be about him.

Julian is technically no longer a kitten.  But he is still my kitten!

Julian went from a starving, limping street kitten found freezing and screaming in a stairwell in Sansar district to feisty, athletic king of the castle in just a few months.  When deciding on a name, I was very aware that many (if not most) Mongolians dislike cats and that the Mongolians I know who own cats usually, although by no means exclusively, give them Western-style names (like Missy, Max, or Micky).  I went with 'Julian', which is appropriately glamorous.

Still glamorous 5 months later
He braved his vet visits gracefully, leaps effortlessly onto the highest surfaces in the apartment, and has disemboweled every toy he's ever received.  Due to his rough start in life, I don't think he'll ever grow to be particularly large or particularly fond of strangers.  He's my sweet boy, though, and he'll be coming to the US with me.

Stay tuned for more posts.  Happy Year of the Wooden Horse from Ulaanbaatar!