Mongolia: Steppe Back in Time

Geographical, January 2006 | Go to article overview

Mongolia: Steppe Back in Time


During the 13th century, Genghis Khan created Mongolia by unifying the nomadic tribes of the Gobi Desert. Under his rule, the country built the largest land empire in history. Eventually absorbed into the ManChu Quing empire, Mongolia then remained under Chinese rule until 1911. This month's collection of images from the RGS-IBG archives examines life in Mongolia as it regained its independence

Right: a nomad plays a Morin Khuur, Mongolia's national instrument, while his companion makes felt. Also called the horse-head fiddle, the Morin Khuur has two strings. The thinner one, often called the female string, contains 105 hairs from a mare's tail, while the thicker, male string is made from 130 hairs from the tail of a stallion. The fiddle is thought by some musicologists to be the ancestor of all European bowed string instruments. The woman in the background is preparing skeins of wool to be made into felt. Layers of wool were laid out on a linen sheet then dampened and compressed. The whole sheet would then be wrapped around a wooden pole and dragged by horsemen until the fibres matted together. Felt was waterproofed with tallow or milk and was used to make everything from clothing to gers--the nomads' circular tents

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Left: a woman rides a reindeer in the upper Yenesei Basin. Reindeer have been vital to the livelihood of the Tsaatan, a nomadic Mongolian people, for centuries. Sadly, disease and inbreeding are threatening Mongolia's reindeer--according to the Mongolian Reindeer Fund, the domestic population has halved since 1990;

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Right: a golden wooden hat, as worn by lamas

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Above: a statue of Buddha, Inner Mongolia. Buddhism was officially established in Mongolia in 1586, following the foundation of the first Mongolian Buddhist monastery. …

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