It was late March, after a great snowstorm, and the morning sun was shining in the clear blue sky of Bulgan sum. The ISMD team was ready to head to the Flaming Cliffs – except for one person, me.
I am Binderiya Munkhbat, educator and translator for the Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs. My task on this day was to stay in the village and survey locals about building a dinosaur museum nearby. We wanted to learn how the local people felt about building a dinosaur museum near their village, and gauge their desire to learn more about Mongolia’s own dinosaurs. Munkhsaikhan, the ranger of Bulgan sum, found a volunteer from Altain Khoilog, a local kid’s nature club, to help me to go around and meet people.
It was Sunday morning around 9 am – still early for Arvijikh, our teenage volunteer, who was barely awake when I went to her home. She offered to be our first survey respondent, and I interviewed her as we walked to our first family house. She was so excited when she was answering my questions, because she had participated in our dinosaur workshop at the Flaming Cliffs in 2015.
Not far, we stopped in front of the door of the first family ger. Surprisingly, Arvijikh pulled the door and stepped into the ger directly. I stood still for a moment then followed her to get in. An average Mongolian ger (or yurt) is not that big. However, 6-8 people can sleep over. In the ger, everyone was getting up. Probably we woke them up. Sleepy eyes looked at me with wonder. I greeted everyone, and introduced myself by explaining why I was there. A man, who might have been the householder, sat down, and agreed to take a survey. When I was asking questions and talking to him, his family members were giving their own opinions too. For instance, they would like to learn about Mongolian dinosaurs that were found near where they live, because sometimes they hear that expeditions find things, but they never get detailed news. One respondent showed interest in helping researchers to find fossils in the field, and asked if there will be some paid jobs.
Then we headed to the next family. We visited 5 or 6 houses, but all the adults weren’t at home. After the tough snowstorm – the most severe in 20 years – everyone was trying to support herders outside the village. Later, we hit some empty doors, so we went to Arvijikh’s friend’s house. There I met two men who’d helped us on the road getting through this massive snow to come in Bulgan. One was a professional wrestler named Sumiya and the other was his friend. They were waiting for the family elders when I came.
My time was running out, so I asked the wrestler to be our next respondent while we waited. Even though he lives in Ulaanbaatar city, he originally came from Bulgan village. He visits his home town every summer, he said. He and his friend really appreciated the idea of building a museum of dinosaurs from the Flaming Cliffs.
When we were talking about what they know about dinosaurs generally, the householders came in. It was a nice chance for me to take another survey from an elder person. I surveyed the husband, who was 76 years old and had never been in school. Also he said he had never visited a museum. He shared his opinion and said that having a museum is good, but it’s important that the museum and its exhibits should be the property of the local community.
After we had a nice talk with these elders and city people, we went to the small shops in the area. The main street of the village has four small shops, and three of them sell food. The shops are all run by women in their 40s. I surveyed all four in their shops. All the ladies were positive about the museum and keen to visit it with their families when it opens.
One woman saw me in the last two shops, and she came up to me when I finished surveying the owner of the last shop. She was a teacher in secondary school, and she wanted to fill out the survey, even though I hadn’t asked her, which was really nice of her. She was watching me in each shop when I was surveying the owner lady. She said, she would like to volunteer to run a workshop or be a guide for others who visit the museum. Also her children run a small booth selling things to tourists at the Flaming Cliffs during summer time, so she would like to let her children be a guide at the dinosaur museum, if there will be any open recruitment for jobs.
By the time she finished filling out the survey, I could see the car the ISMD team took to the Flaming Cliffs driving back into town. My work was finished with the teacher’s response. I was pretty satisfied with all those responses and comments even though I surveyed only a few people.
Now we know that locals are somewhat enthusiastic about learning about Mongolian dinosaurs, and they feel positive about having a real dinosaur museum near their hometown which can protect their heritage and environment.