Where We Work: About the Darkhad Depression

Ovoo's before Ulaan Uul (3).JPG

The Darkhad Depression in northern Mongolia is a stunningly beautiful landscape in one of the most remote regions of the least densely populated country in the world. The impressive Horidol Saridag mountains rise up on the southeast side of the basin, while the high altitude Ulaan Taiga comprises the western border, and the Khog, Shishged, and Tengis rivers cross the basin, eventually emptying into the Yenisei River in Siberia. At the intersection of the great boreal forests of the Siberian Taiga and the grassy plains of the Mongolian Steppe, the Darkhad is at a literal crossroads for both nature and culture. A mix of traditional hunting and herding lifeways sustain the nomadic Tuvan reindeer herders and Darkhad sheep-yak-horse-camel herders that live there.


Around 20,000 years ago this was a glacial landscape covered in ice and a glacial fed lake – the signs of this still evident in the landscape to be deciphered by geologists. More than 10,000 years ago, the first human hunting-gathering-fishing inhabitants settled in the Darkhad leaving behind stone tools, pit houses, and other artifacts and features that are just now being discovered by archaeologists. Only in the last 3,000-5,000 years have the inhabitants turned to the herding of domesticated animals – an activity that has irrevocably shaped Mongolia’s culture, history, national identity, economy and environment. This transition changes not only what people are putting in the cooking pot, but also their nomadic movement patterns, their social and political structures, and their religious and ritual activities – a suite of changes that transform small groups of egalitarian hunter-gatherers into the later hierarchical, powerful empires that Mongolia, and Chinggis (Genghis) Khan, are known for.