Central Mongolian Nomads Project



Dates of Project: June 21 – July 7, 2016

Application Deadline: April 1, 2016

The “Central Mongolian Nomads Project” is a 17-day archaeological field school and research project conducted in Ulaanbaatar, Ar Janchivlan Valley (located in Tuv Province), and the western portion of Khentii Province. Archaeologists from the University of Chicago and the Mongolian University of Science & Technology will give lectures, lead seminars and lab practica, and provide hands-on instruction in core field methods through original research and visits to sites of archaeological significance in rural Mongolia. The field school aims to provide students of all ages and backgrounds with a rigorous, well-rounded introduction to archaeological research in Mongolia through intellectual and practical engagement with Mongolian history, prehistory, and culture. Our team of students and staff will live, learn, and adventure together for two weeks in late June and early July through the steppe, river valleys, and forested zone of Central Mongolia after three intense days of classroom learning in Ulaanbaatar. Archaeologists always conduct their field research within a specific cultural context; thus, our team will engage with individuals, communities, and institutions that have a stake in Mongolia’s cultural heritage. Our students of all ages and backgrounds will practice their new language skills with Mongolian staff, visit with a nomadic family, and attend a local naadam festival as part of their education on Mongolia.



The “Central Mongolian Nomads Project” is a joint endeavor of the Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads (CSEN) and the Department of Humanities at the Mongolian University of Science & Technology (MUST). The CSEN executive director, Dr. Jeannine Davis-Kimball, first collaborated with Dr. Lhagvasurengiin Erdenebold (now professor at MUST) in 2001 on an archaeological expedition in the Mongolian Altai. 15 years later, the “Central Mongolian Nomads Project” will inaugurate its first season as an archaeological field school and provide international students of all ages and backgrounds with archaeological field experience in the Mongolian context through original research, multidisciplinary learning activities, and cultural immersion.



Field school instructors will give lectures and lead seminars in Ulaanbaatar and in rural Mongolia, tailoring these activities to the practical work and original research of each portion of the program. Students will learn research methods in the lab (zooarchaeology, bioarchaeology, archaeological drawing, and ceramic analysis) and field (mapping, data recording, and pedestrian survey) under the guidance of experienced American and Mongolian archaeologists. The “Central Mongolian Nomads Project” will also provide instruction on Mongolian language, history, and cultures through a combination of classroom lessons and instructor-guided site visits in two regions (Ar Janchivlan Valley in Tuv Province and the western portion of Khentii Province). Students will receive a program syllabus detailing required readings and classroom activities via e-mail after they are officially enrolled in the field school (i.e., after they have submitted all materials listed in the handbook – see below).



Ar Janchivlan Valley is a locus of long-term cultural activity in Central Mongolia located near a modern shamanic center, the monumental Genghis Khan equestrian statue complex Tsonjin Boldog, and one of Mongolia’s most famous sites belonging to the Turk Empire. Ritual and mortuary sites from Bronze Age, Xiongnu, Turk, and Mongol periods dot this valley and nearby hills in Tuv Province, where local nomadic families herd animals through steppe pastureland and raptors fly overhead. Archaeologists from the Mongolian University of Science & Technology have conducted numerous field expeditions to Ar Janchivlan Valley in recent years to lay the groundwork for more targeted investigations. The research goals for the “Central Mongolian Nomads Project” in Ar Janchivlan Valley are:

1. Map the Xiongnu cemetery at Bishreltiin Am in order to understand the chronology and spatial organization of the site

2. Conduct pedestrian survey of the bordering slopes and southern portion of the valley in order to assess the presence of ancient herder campsites in close proximity to the highly visible ritual and mortuary sites

3. Contextualize the long-term cultural landscape of Ar Janchivlan Valley through recording visual and spatial data of sites discovered through reconnaissance and pedestrian survey in the northern floodplain and nearby hilltops



The famous Kherlen River separates Tuv Province from Khentii Province, the birthplace of Genghis Khan and the location of many Mongol imperial archaeological sites. Near Tuv Province’s eastern border, deep in the Khan-Khentii Protected Area, lies the sacred legendary burial ground of the Mongol imperial family at Burkhan Khaldun Mountain in the dark mountains of western Khentii Province. Elsewhere in western Khentii Province our team will conduct archaeological reconnaissance in a number of remote and/or rugged locations, pedestrian survey to record sites and monuments from a broad timespan, and critically compare the effectiveness of different methods of data recording and survey. The primary objectives for this second portion of the program’s field component are:

1. Expose students to the main types of archaeological features and significant time periods to broaden their perspective on Mongolian prehistory and history, creating a functional frame of reference for any future archaeological research in Mongolia

2. Test the appropriateness of data collection methods learned during survey in Ar Janchivlan Valley for use in a different region of Central Mongolia

3. Learn and compare survey methods for ephemeral site discovery in challenging ecological and topographical settings

4. Characterize the eastern margin of the “Central Mongolian Nomads Project” research area (western Khentii Province) from a long durée perspective



In addition to these activities, students will have opportunities to learn about and understand the broader cultural context in which our team’s research will take place. The “Central Mongolian Nomads Project” in particular and archaeological fieldwork in Mongolia in general operate within the current Mongolian socio-political climate, where cultural heritage preservation efforts, spiritual traditions, and indigenous understandings of history are negotiating the trials raised by a turbulent national economy and a rapidly-changing environment. Thus, students will broaden their view and expand their experience of Mongolian archaeology through other practical activities, including a visit to the home of local herders living in the traditional dwelling (ger), observing shamanic and Buddhist religious sites, and attending the annual summer naadam celebrations (one of the most important events of the Mongolian calendar) in a local community in Central Mongolia.



For complete archaeological field school program information, please consult the Archaeological Field School Handbook

To apply, please complete and submit the Application


CSEN Program Director