Conserving and Preserving Mongolia’s Endangered Textile Traditions and Collections

Archaeologists in a remote region of northern Mongolia reached the top of a ridge only to be confronted with dozens of looted graves. The sight is disturbing: looters have taken unknown objects from the burials and left bits of metal, bone, and wood scattered on the surface of the ground. The experienced archaeologists are most alarmed at the numerous remaining silk and woolen textiles that they know will deteriorate rapidly now that they are exposed to a changed environment. With intricate embroidery, delicate pleating, and complex golden threaded patterns, it’s a near miracle that these unique and priceless textiles have survived in the ground since the time of the Mongol Empire nearly eight hundred years ago. While the archaeologists are compelled to collect these fragments as part of a salvage effort to counteract the irreversible harm done by the illegal looters, the safety of these items is far from assured due to the as yet limited development of textile conservation practices in Mongolian institutions.

Our AFCP project, “Conserving and Preserving Mongolia’s Endangered Textile Traditions and Collections”, aims to improve the outlook for these and other archaeological textiles held in Mongolian institutions by providing specialized training and mentorship to the conservators, collections managers, curators, and other museum professionals responsible for the day-to-day preservation of Mongolia’s rich textile heritage. In addition, our team will undertake conservation treatments on some of the most vulnerable textile artifacts in Mongolian collections, helping to preserve Mongolian cultural heritage. By relying as much as possible on locally available resources and infrastructure, we aim to provide a sustainable model for Mongolian conservation initiatives going forward.

In response to the pandemic, our project has adopted a hybrid model combining remote instruction and mentorship with in-person workshops, research, and conservation treatments. US-based Project Leader Colleen O’Shea will deliver a comprehensive textile conservation curriculum through the ACMS’s custom online learning platform before visiting Mongolia in 2023 to meet with participants in person as they begin implementing their own conservation treatment plans. Meanwhile, Textile Archaeology Fellow Kristen Pearson will gather data on current textile conservation practices and resources in Mongolia, document the project’s in-person activities, and conduct trainings on the archaeological excavation, documentation, and analysis of ancient textiles. Conservation Fellow O. Angaragsuren will carry out treatments on selected textile artifacts and conduct hands-on trainings to complement participants’ online coursework.

About the Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Preservation

Our project is funded by the U.S. Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation, which provides grants to support the preservation of archaeological and historical sites and collections around the world.  In Mongolia, AFCP has given 1.3 million USD in funds and supported twenty different heritage preservation projects.

Our Team

Odkhuu Angaragsuren, Conservation Fellow: Odkhuu Angaragsuren is a conservator and fine artist with particular experience in the areas of painting, textile, and paper conservation. He completed his Ph.D. in Human and Environmental Studies at Kyoto University in 2021. He received his B.A. in 2005 and his M.A. in 2014 from the University of Arts and Culture in Ulaanbaatar and has participated in conservation training workshops in Mongolia, Germany, and Korea.

Colleen O’Shea, Project Leader:
Colleen O’Shea is an Associate Objects Conservator at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. She brings experience conserving archaeological materials in the field and museum settings. She received her M.A. and Certificate of Advanced Studies in Art Conservation from SUNY Buffalo State College in 2015, and her B.A. in Russian and East European Studies from the University of Michigan in 2007.

Kristen Pearson, Textile Archaeology Fellow: Kristen Pearson is a PhD Student in Anthropology and Inner Asian Studies at Harvard University. She received her B.A. in Mediterranean Archaeology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2018 and spent the following year conducting research on archaeological textiles as a Fulbright Student Research Fellow based at the National Museum of Mongolia. Her research focuses on organic material culture among ancient and contemporary mobile pastoralists.

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