On January 12, 2024, the American Center for Mongolian Studies celebrated the conclusion of the "Conserving and preserving Mongolia's endangered textile collections and traditions" project. The project was selected by the U.S. Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Preservation in 2019 and was proposed for a two-year duration with the aims of conserving and recovering historically significant archaeological textiles vulnerable to rapid deterioration. Additionally, the project aimed to professionally develop the textile conservation skills of Mongolian museum professionals.
Textiles prominently feature in Mongolian tangible heritage objects. This project focused on the deel, the distinct caftan-like garment that has, for millennia, been the most iconic visual expression of Mongolian identity and culture.
Seventeen conservators, curators, treasurers, and directors from six Mongolian organizations, including the Institute for Archaeology of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, the National Center for Cultural Heritage, the Chinggis Khaan Museum, Museum of Dornod, Museum of Khovd, and Museum of Umnugovi, actively participated.
The project team consisted of Colleen O'Shea (Leader), Objects conservator of the Smithsonian Institute, Angaragsuren Odkhuu, PhD (Fellow), conservator, and Kristen Pearson (Fellow), a PhD candidate at Harvard University.
From 2019 to 2023, the project team organized 17 virtual lectures with accompanying Q&A sessions and two in-person workshops in Mongolia. These covered essential topics in textile conservation, spanning from material science, craft, damages, cleaning, repairs to the display, and storage of textiles made of different materials. In 2023, the team conducted an outreach program in the Dornod province of Mongolia, educating school children and local community members about making and conserving textiles.
In the latter part of the project, the team carried out the conservation on fragments of a 13th-century deel, left behind by grave robbers. These fragments had been exposed in the wilderness for two years before being found at Ikh Nartiin Balariin Khad II by archaeologists funded by the U.S. Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Preservation in 2012. The conserved fragments were then stored in a box made of non-acidic and non-basic material, specially ordered from the U.S. for this project, and given to the Institute for Archaeology for safekeeping or display.
The closing ceremony does not mark an immediate closure of all activities. A couple of activities remain. We are delivering textile conservation/treatment supply and tools packages to each institution, amounting to nearly $1,000, as well as a textile conservation handbook to serve as reference and training material for new staff at each institution. Pending lab results on the conservation treatment will provide a technical analysis summary of the fragment to the Institute for Archaeology, as a reference for further treatment and research on the fragments.
The implementation of this project did not, however, go as planned due to the Covid-19 global pandemic. Nations across the world closed their borders and instituted strict quarantines to prevent major outbreaks. In a matter of days, international travel came to an abrupt stop, save for essentials, students, and stranded people. Under these circumstances, ACMS, under the oversight of the U.S. Embassy in Ulaanbaatar, chose to complete this project while adapting to the changing global circumstances. Over a four-year period, $90,000 was granted from the Ambassador's Fund, in accordance with the initial draft of the proposal despite changes.
We take this opportunity to express our deepest gratitude to the U.S. Embassy in Ulaanbaatar, which not only funded this project but also allowed us to carry on with the project in uncertain times. We also extend our appreciation to the Project Team, our partners, and participating organizations: Institute for Archaeology of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, the National Center for Cultural Heritage, the Chinggis Khaan Museum, Museum of Dornod, Museum of Khovd, and Museum of Umnugovi. Special thanks to the former Executive director of ACMS, Dr. Bolortsetseg Minjin, and though she could not be with us to finish the project, the former project team leader Sandra Vanderwarf.