Smithsonian scientists are working with local communities and scholars to protect and preserve endangered archaeological and modern cultural heritage in Mongolia. The Mongolian-Smithsonian Deer Stone Project is documenting and studying Bronze Age deer stones and the cultural history of the Dukha reindeer herding communities of northern Mongolia. The Dukha are commonly known in Mongolia as the Tsaatan. These studies are monitoring how global climate change is threatening both archaeological sites and the Tsaatan way of life.
A team of Mongolian and Smithsonian anthropologists, archaeologists, conservators, ethnobotanists, and technicians have been excavating, scanning, and cataloguing deer stones across northern Mongolia for more than 15 years. Led by Smithsonian anthropologist William Fitzhugh, director of the Arctic Studies Center at the National Museum of Natural History, the Deer Stone Project has documented many of the 550 deer stones in Mongolia’s grassy northern steppe region since 2001.
Deer stones are some of the most spectacular expressions of Late Bronze Age (1400-700 BCE) art anywhere in the world. Working against time and the ravages of the Mongolian climate, the Deer Stone Project is documenting these Bronze Age masterpieces. Today the project is working with colleagues in Ulaanbaatar to compile this research and documentation into a new catalogue of Mongolian cultural heritage, connecting documentation from archaeological sites, ethnobotanical field reports, digital images of the stones—including hundreds of 3D digital scans—and site surveys into a new virtual database of cultural heritage. This will be a resource for all, to combat trafficking in cultural heritage, and to preserve deer stones and Tsaatan culture for posterity.