Sunday, 1 April 2012

Relive Genghis Khan’s dark past at a new exhibit

David Nelson and Kristen Kellar / MEDILL
Field Museum presents artifacts from the reign of Genghis Khan.

Relive Genghis Khan’s dark past at a new exhibit

MARCH 07, 2012

Courtesy of the Field Museum.
Genghis Khan's Mongolian Empire consumed a majority of Asia and parts of Europe.

A new Field Museum exhibit brings the infamous, bloodthirsty Genghis Khan back to life.

The exhibit, named for the warrior, runs through September 3 and brings together weapons, clothing and even a mummy, called the “giant princess.”

“There are a lot of cultural artifacts from 13th century Mongolia, but also from today. So there’s kind of a broad history of Mongolia,” said Tom Skwerski, project manager at the Field Museum.

Other show-stoppers on exhibit include replicas of a trebuchet (a catapault) and giant crossbow, silk clothing, musical instruments and diplomatic passports.

Skwerski said what people know of Genghis Khan might only come from movies, which depict him as a bloodthirsty warlord, but there is a lot more to him than that.

"I knew he was a great warrior and I knew that the Mongolian empire had spread. I didn’t know much else about him,” said Kathy Hawkins, a math teacher from Houston who was visiting at the museum.

One of the things Hawkins said she liked most was learning that Genghis Khan was responsible for innovations such as libraries, minced meat and forks, among other things. “I didn’t realize his empire was the one that introduced money to the Europeans and the express ponies, like the postal service. It’s interesting to me,” said Hawkins.

“He wasn’t a creator, he was an adapter. He took the best parts of a lot of the cultures he conquered and adapted them into the Mongol empire,” Skwerski said. “The concept of diplomatic passports, he took the idea from the Chinese and said ‘hey, this is a really good idea. Let’s not kill all the envoys that come, let’s give them immunity when they come to visit.’”

“I like to know about the expansion and how the [mongol] empire grew and then collapsed,” Jamie Shick, a science and math teacher, added. Shick said she liked that the exhibit was able to tie-in history as well as science through artifacts and videos.

There is also a full-size “ger,” or a tent used by people travelling with herds, for people to explore. Even though gers were used in the time of Genghis Khan, Skwerski said one third of the people in Mongolia still reside in them.

Prior to working on the exhibit, Skwerski said he didn’t know much about the warrior, but he now knows a lot and hopefully the exhibit will do the same for people.

He said: “It’s interesting to learn the real story behind it and what he was able to do in a very short time. Twenty-five years to create an empire twice the size of the Roman Empire is just really amazing.”

In order to preserve the artifacts, the museum uses both high and low-tech options. The gallery is temperature and humidity controlled, said Skwerski. And, filters also cover the lights within the exhibit so the objects don’t deteriorate from the light. But, to control the humidity in the mummy’s case, silica gel packets are placed within the case.

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