After a hiatus of nearly two years due to the global Covid-19 pandemic and consequent international border closures and quarantines, two collaborative multinational archaeological expeditions have resumed working in Mongolia. A research team from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, SB RAS, arrived in Ulaanbaatar on 14 July 2021 after a challenging two-day journey from Novosibirsk via Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
Our Novosibirsk-Bishkek flight aboard S7 Airlines was just great and we spent a pleasant evening in Bishkek’s inviting city-center. However, we began to encounter problems the next day at the Air Astana registration desk at Manas International Airport when we tried to check in for our flight to Almaty. Unbeknown to us, Kazakhstan and Mongolia now require reciprocal visas, and Air Astana didn’t want to allow our Mongolian doctoral student to register for their flight to Almaty. They needed to see her Almaty-Ulaanbaatar onward ticket in order for her to board the plane. But, interestingly, none of us had those tickets! We were traveling to Kazakhstan’s commercial capital, Almaty, without any confidence in our next step. The Mongolian carrier, Hunnu Air, was not certain that Kazakhstan would let them fly. But, thanks to our Mongolian friend and colleague, B. Gunchinsuren, we got our tickets and arrived at Almaty International Airport without delay. Unfortunately, Hunnu Air couldn’t check us in for the final leg of our journey to Ulaanbaatar, because nobody knew when that flight would leave, if at all… They were very helpful and prepared boarding passes for us by hand and left us languish in the ALA transit lounge. Finally, at 19:00, we were able to board the 3.5-hour Ulaanbaatar flight. Looking on the bright side, a complicated two-day trip is nothing compared to an unplanned two-year break in the expedition! And all airline personnel were incredibly helpful at every stage of the journey.
The research agenda for summer and fall 2021 is challenging:
July 21 – August 25: Mongolian-Russian expedition to the Tolbor and Kharganyn Gol Valleys, led by Evgeny Rybin, B. Gunchinsuren, T. Bolorbat and D. Bazargur (funded by Russian Science Foundation project #19-18-00198, “The formation of Initial Upper Paleolithic culture in eastern Central Asia and South Siberia: polycentrism or transfer of cultural traditions along the northern route of Homo sapiens dispersal in Asia” and Russian Foundation for Basic Research, Russian-Mongolian project #19-59-44010).
August 26 – October 10: Joint Mongolian-Russian-American Archaeological Expedition in the Gobi Altai region, Tsagaan Agui Cave excavations, led by Arina Khatsenovich, John W. Olsen, B. Gunchinsuren, D. Bazargur and Ya. Tserendagva (funded by Russian Science Foundation project #19-78-10112, “Human adaptations in arid and high-altitude regions of eastern Central Asia in the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene”; Leakey Foundation project, “A Levallois refugium in Central Asia: chronology and causes of conservatism”; and the Je Tsongkhapa Endowment for Central and Inner Asian Archaeology at the University of Arizona).
Plus, of course, plenty of reconnaissance and survey work!