Mongolia is a Central Asian country of 1.56 million km², with a population of 3.2 million and about 70 million head of livestock, where half of its population depends directly or indirectly on the pastoral economy for their livelihood. The climate is extreme continental with droughts being common in the cold desert and semi-desert steppe areas. In addition, the dzud phenomenon (severe periodic winter storms that occur approximately every five years) can decimate up to one-third of the herds in a given region.

Thus, the nomadic strategy of Mongolian herders is an adaptation to these extreme seasonal and inter-annual environmental variations. The usual pattern of pastoral land use in Mongolia involves a minimum of three seasonal movements each year between different grazing areas. The distance and frequency of nomadic movements and access to ecological resources have gradually decreased over the past century as a result of shifting political-economic boundaries and accelerated climate change in the region. Despite the long-term decline in nomadic mobility, seasonal displacements remain the basic strategy of Mongolian herders, a lifestyle that, with the exception of the period of Soviet collectivization (between 1924 and 1990), has remained unchanged for at least five millennia.

Naadam is a national festival whose activities are closely linked to the nomadic way of life of the Mongols, who have long been engaged in herding cattle on the vast steppes of Central Asia. The rituals and customs of Naadam also emphasize respect for nature and the environment.Inscribed in 2010 on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, this celebration takes place every year from July 11 to 13 throughout Mongolia. It focuses on three traditional sports, the so-called "three games of men", although nowadays some women also participate: horse racing, wrestling and archery. Also prominent in Naadam are oral traditions, performing arts, preparation of national dishes, handicrafts and other cultural expressions.

Mongolian shamanism, broadly understood as Mongolian folk religion (sometimes also called tengrism) refers to the ethnic religion of animistic and shamanistic nature that has historically been practiced in Mongolia. In its earliest stages, this folk religion was in a complex interrelationship with all other aspects of Mongolian social life and tribal organization. Thus, tengrism is an all-embracing (absolute, total) belief system encompassing religion, medicine, nature and ancestor worship. Mongolian shamanism is based primarily on the veneration of the various tengri (pantheon of Mongolian gods) and mainly Tengger or Tengri, the great celestial god or "God of Heaven".


This project was born from the collaboration between two National Geographic Explorers, archaeologist Natalia Éguez and photographer and director of OAK, Javier Corso.In the summer of 2022, Corso is invited to participate in a survey expedition to the Mongolian steppe together with the team of archaeologists led by Dr. Égüez, which seeks to generate new data records to answer crucial questions about the development of social complexity in the nomadic herder communities of Mongolia. The motivation stems from the research that Natalia has been conducting uninterruptedly in Mongolia since 2015, first with the University of Kiel in Germany and then as head geoarchaeologist with the Western Mongolia Archaeological Project (WMAP), an initiative of the National Museum Of Mongolia and Western Kentucky University (USA).

  Team lead by Natalia Éguez, National Geographic...
Team lead by Natalia Éguez, National Geographic Explorer. 
Mongolia, 2022 © OAK STORIES

In recent years, WMAP work has focused on the Altai (2012-2014), Züünkhangai (2015-2018-2022) and Khanui Valley (2019) regions. Initially the work focused on the exploration of burial contexts and excavation of gravesites, but in order to understand the complex processes associated with cultural change and ecological adaptations, the information on the daily life of pastoralists is also needed. Therefore, as part of the project, guided interviews with modern-day nomadic families are conducted to obtain comparative data on their way of life and activities which can be supported by the archaeological record.

Javier Corso

Javier Corso is a photographer based in Barcelona, founder and director at OAK STORIES (documentary agency and production company), and National Geographic Explorer.
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