The Hidden Gems of the Mongolian National Museum

We are all visual creatures and harness a multitude of mental imagery and associations with pretty much any term stored among our vast, dusty memories. If I asked you to think about London, you would probably immediately see the Big Ben clock tower before your very own eyes, shortly followed by Tower Bridge or, perhaps, the London Eye or St Paul’s Cathedral. If I asked you to think about Mongolia, you would probably see a horse, maybe a steppe or eagle hunters but I could bet my life on it that the first person that would float out of your subconscious would be Genghis Khan.

I am so certain of it because this is pretty much the only historical context that we, Europeans, tend to have about Mongolia. Feeling a little inadequate with my meagre history attainment, I made it my point of honour to visit the National Museum of Mongolia, located just off the main parliament square, in place of the former Museum of the Revolution.

I was very glad to discover that, although very important to Mongolia’s status and national pride, Genghis’s era is only one of the very many fascinating chapters of Mongolia’s history. It was also a joy to find a plethora of artefacts in the museum’s collection, starting from the Stone and Bronze Age, all the way through the Turkish tribe rule in Mongolia and ending in the familiar Soviet and, more recent, democratic period. Here is a selection of my favourite exhibits.

A number of stone statues has been recovered in various parts of Mongolia, including burial and worship-related figures. This one depicts one of the 8-9th century Mongolian rulers.
A statue typical of the Genghis era.
For centuries Mongolians have developed an astonishing number of toys and games. The ankle bones (here put together as a tortoise-shaped puzzle) are used in the famous shagai game as well as in fortune-telling.
The most impressive costume collection I have ever seen. They not only include beautifully printed deels but also very elaborate headwear and jewellery.  
The accountant in me (and the calligraphy aficionado) just had to marvel at the meticulous debt accounts of a Chinese merchant.
The most amazing stationary set, property of one of the Mongolian presidents.
During Soviet times, the well-deserving herdsmen used to receive this beautiful figurine set, depicting the typical Mongolian livestock.
A calculator dating back to the World War II. Whilst Mongolia took a limited part in direct combat, Mongolians supported the Soviet army by providing them with winter clothes, food and hundreds of the great Mongolian horses. Some of the positive legacy of the Soviet era in Mongolia is the universal literacy, Cyrillic transcription of the Mongolian alphabet and provision of public healthcare in the metropolitan area.




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