One of the things that’s easy to take for granted is that everyone has access to the same information we do. With more and more people gaining access to the internet around the world, it’s becoming more and more true.
But there are still places in the world where access to the internet, not to mention specialized forms of education, can be a bit behind. For one scientist, it was imperative that someone fight to educate and inspire the youth of her nation.
Featured photo credit: www.indiegogo.com
Papa Was A Scientist
When Bolortsetseg, Bolor for short, was a kid, her father was a paleontologist. She found his work studying animal and plant fossils fascinating, especially the bones and eggs of ancient dinosaurs.
Secrets of the Past
Through the study of those fossils, Bolor’s father was helping to uncover secrets about the Earth from a time millions of years before human beings began to wonder about the world around them. It was no surprise that the father’s wonder about the prehistoric world was passed on to his daughter…
Test of Time
Unlike many kids who grow out of their love of dinosaurs, Bolor’s interest in them didn’t fade at all with age. In fact, her sense of wonder grew deeper as she focused her education on paleontology, eventually earning her doctorate in the United States from the City University of New York in 2007.
That accomplishment made Bolor one of the first Mongolian women in history to hold a PhD in paleontology and as it would happen, put her in an enviable position.That was because her east Asian home country, roughly twice the size of Texas, was home to the Gobi desert, which was the richest fossil bearing area in the world…
Where the desert is now, there was once a vast system of lakes and rivers that were a prehistoric paradise for plant life and dinosaurs. As a result, large caches of dinosaur’s eggs and some of the most complete fossilized skeletons were uncovered beneath the desert sands.
Decades of Dedication
For a 20 year span of time before, during, and after she earned her doctorate, Bolor worked the Gobi desert, gradually adding to our accumulated knowledge of the giants that came before us. But for all her efforts, there was one thing about her quest for knowledge that frustrated her…
The Dinosaur Phase
If you’ve got children, they probably went through a phase where dinosaurs were their favorite thing in the world. But even though Mongolia had a wealth of fossils, Bolor noted that such a fascination with dinosaurs was very rare among Mongolian children.
“Despite so many fossils in their backyard, dinosaurs are more of a mythical creature to kids in my country,” Bolor said, “because there have been no resources to learn about them.” Mongolia is a middling country, economically speaking, and with little governmental support for paleontology, there just wasn’t much opportunity for kids to learn…
Founding the Institute
Bolortsetseg Minjin wanted to change that. After her doctorate was complete, she established the Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs in Ulaanbaatar, her hometown and Mongolia’s capital.
Doing the Work
The Institute’s mission was “to strengthen geosience education in Mongolia, conserve Mongolia’s fossil heritage, promote Mongolian paleontology, and edify the next generation of Mongolian paleontologists.” In real terms, that meant organizing digs, holding “dinosaur workshops” for kids, and repatriating fossils that were illegally taken from Mongolia. Still, that wasn’t enough in Bolor’s eyes…
Of the 3 million people who live in Mongolia, it is estimated that as many as 40% of them live as nomadic herders as their ancestors had for thousands of years. Bolor wanted a way to bring dinosaurs to those shifting, hard to reach populations so when she learned that the American Museum of Natural History was willing to donate an old mobile dinosaur museum, she jumped at the opportunity.
The mobile museum used to travel around New York City, inspiring kids with educational displays of dinosaur bones. In order to ship the unique 10-year-old retrofitted vehicle to Mongolia, Bolor raised $30,000 through an Indiegogo campaign and through private donations…
Still More Work
Once the funds were secured the disused vehicle still needed a lot of work before Bolor could take it out to the countryside. She would ultimately spend thousands more dollars on necessary repairs, including $3,500 just to buy and ship specialized tires from New York that couldn’t be found in Mongolia.
In the end, all the funds were raised, the repairs were made, and the bus began its first of many month-long tours of the Gobi and western Mongolia. While the mobile museum is great, Bolor believed her work wasn’t yet done. She wanted to establish more lasting solutions…
She began to raise money to fund 7 permanent dinosaur museums, one for each region where fossils have been found. While some of that money would come from donations, some of the cost would be borne by host communities. Some people would think that the cost wouldn’t be worth it but Bolor disagrees.
More Than a Price Tag
“We don’t want people thinking of these only in terms of a price tag,” she said. “Local communities need to realize the educational and economic benefits a museum could bring. Tourism. Knowledge. Opening the door of science to kids.” When looked at in that way, the money spent would be an investment, rather than a cost…
The first of the museums would go up near the gobi’s Flaming Cliffs site in southern Mongolia. It was there that the first dinosaur eggs were discovered in the 1920s during an expedition led by the American paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews.
While educating future generations of potential paleontologists and encouraging tourism would be great, the museums would also serve another purpose. They would hopefully inspire local communities to help in the fight against fossil poaching and black market sales…
The theft of dinosaur bones from Mongolia is a decades-old problem that isn’t easy to stop. Despite international efforts to criminalize illegal sales, “there’s a market still out there for fossils that won’t disappear,” Bolor said. “It’s important that fossils be repatriated because they are part of our natural and cultural heritage.”
Not only has Bolor’s work added to our scientific knowledge, she’s reached thousands of kids who otherwise would never have learned about dinosaurs, inspiring an entire generation. If you’d like to learn more about Bolor’s efforts, you can visit the Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs’ website at mongoliandinosaurs.org.