Category Archives: culture

A Dream Becomes Reality

It has been a while since we last updated this blog. The reasons are many. The primary reason for the delay is that we have had singular focus in launching our next project, a project that for many is a dream come true.

Before we launch into that and officially start the 2013 field season, let’s do a quick recap of our team’s efforts since last August.

Our academic year started with a bang: our new research project, which was an unexpected off shoot of our efforts to study climate, fire, and forest ecology, was funded by the National Science Foundation in September 2012.

Since then, our team has spent much time presenting prior results, new preliminary results and processing samples. Many, many samples.

Acres and acres of treats: xylemite that might as well be gold. Photo: N. Pederson

Acres and acres of treats: xylemite that might as well be gold. Photo: N. Pederson

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The Meaning of Water

In Mongolia, water is energy. Photo: A. Hessl

What is the meaning of water? In my everyday life, water is a given.  Even this year, when at least one quarter of the US has been stricken by drought, water continues to flow from the tap and my family is unaffected by its scarcity.  I remember the California droughts of the 1970s, when my brother and I shared bathwater, I learned not to flush so much, and water was rationed.  Even still, our very sustenance, our wealth was not threatened by the lack of water.  In Mongolia, as in many other developing countries, people depend on water not just to slake their thirst but to sustain their livelihoods.  Mongolian herders must bring their animals to a water body daily.  In times of drought, most lakes dry up, leaving only a few “permanent” lakes available to dozens of herders and thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of animals.  Steppe lakes also serve as virtual “gas stations” for migratory birds and waterfowl – they are hotspots of diversity. Without water, animals perish, food disappears, and people and ecosystems suffer.  In a semi-arid region like the steppe, water allows people and ecosystems to transform solar energy into a mobile and flexible product via photosynthesis and primary consumption by livestock. In Mongolia, water is energy.

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Chasing Ghengis Khan

People have been looking for 800 years. Looking for Chinggis Khaan, né Ghengis Khan. From the people searching for his birthplace to the people searching for his last resting place. After more than 800 years since his rise from the mountains of Mongolia, Chinggis lives on as a charismatic and almost mythical person. He seemingly rose from obscurity, quelled feuds between tribes, and created the largest land empire in world history. If you read beyond what you likely learned in high school or college, you will see his leadership skills were progressive and exceptional. You will learn that Chinggis has an influence on our world nearly 800 years after his death. From paper money to the pony express, from war strategy to the structure of the human genome, his life has touched generations of humans over the centuries.

The new Chinggis Khaan statue, Photo: U. Aria

When you begin working in Mongolia it is absolutely essential that you learn the importance of the man. Soviet communism attempted to quell his spirit and his importance in Mongolian culture. Mongolians were not allowed last names so everyone could be equal, so no one could trace their family history to the royal family. This, of course, did not work. In a culture that has songs and stories dating back centuries, if you, a native Mongolian, meet a stranger in the woods on the other side of the country and drink tea, break bread, and just lounge, you will soon break into a song that you and the stranger know from the depth of your soul. You will sing, smile, and enjoy a wonderful afternoon with this once distant, now close cousin. That kind of cultural bind does not break under any kind of political pressure. Perhaps it only made it stronger? See, in the late-1990s, soon after the fall of communism, Chinggis essentially rose from the ashes. He was everywhere in Mongolia – TV commercials for cell phones or a brand of vodka. And once you, as an outsider, spend considerable time in Mongolia, especially during Naadam and especially in the open Gobi steppe with people who still live as their ancestors did centuries ago, you understand the importance of the man and you will also begin to chase Chinggis. And, it is with this new project that our group of geographers, paleoclimatologists, ecologists, historians, and ecosystem modelers begin our pursuit of Chinggis Khaan.

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Transitions: Climate, Fire, and Forests in Mongolia

The silence you may have heard since our last post was the sound of microscope lights flickering, measuring stages gliding, brains grinding, numbers crunching, and poi dogs pondering. We wrapped up all planned field work last summer for our research grant on climate, fire, and forest history in Mongolia. We have transitioned from the field-intensive portion of the grant to the data and publication phase of the scientific process. We have presented research in various meetings and settings and have earnestly begun to put our findings to our peers to begin the publication process. We are also transitioning to a new vein of research in Mongolia that gets to the title of this blog. It has been a long time coming.

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Scenes from Xanadu, our lovely valley camp

We’ve realized that we have yet to document a bit of our day-to-day lives in the field. Below are some scenes from the valley we nick-named  ‘Xanadu’ (before we knew it’s proper name). We learned from the man who uses the valley as his winter pasture that it is called ‘West River Valley’. It is definitely a happy valley.

The valley is narrow and natural. You can see below how limited access is to this valley, save horses.

the mountain pass into our little Xanadu

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Mongolians on Bananas (or, from old skool to kicking it in the modern era)

By Neil Pederson

We, Amy and me, have finally made it to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (UB) to start the 2011 field season. It was a long journey getting here. We went through China because I have a conference to attend after fieldwork in Xi’an, China. This made the purchasing of tickets easier and would give us time to work on the plane and in transit.

China is not the preferred path to get into Mongolia. That would be South Korea. This trip underscored that point. We flew Air China, which is a fine airline. But, with no outlets for power to run our laptops and no individual TV screens, this old-skool plane would test us by taking us back in time. We got some work done, slept a bit, saw a low-resolution Asian karate/kung-fu flick and slept. Continental or Korea Air are much better.

a 3D pan of the insides of an old-skool jet

The good thing about flying through China is that, for me, the airport is a marvel. It is huge, airy and just beautiful to stare at over Thai food while enduring jet buzz following a 12 hr trip. However, the wait ended up being much less comfortable – we pretty much spent too many hrs on the floor of the airport; there was no place to crash. China needs to rectify this! It is a lovely airport, though.

This year’s trip started in a way that last yr’s trip ended, but, in reality, how all trips to Mongolia should begin: meeting the panhandler of all panhandlers in Mongolia. Continue reading

major discovery in Mongolia

Recent research has discovered a major settlement of the Uigher empire dating to the 8th and 9th century in the Orkhon Valley [full text of link password protected].

image of ancient settlement adapted from Science Magazine -