Tumen Dashtseveg - Chair, Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, National University of Mongolia and Research Professor of Anthropology, Department of Anthropology, University of Arizona
Sandwiched between Russia and China, Mongolia is land-locked country of 1.5 million square kilometers. Mongolia has a complex geography with four major zones: the famous Gobi Desert located in the South, the Steppe in the East, mountainous regions in the west and north central parts of the country and the taiga zone in the northwest of the country, with an average altitude of 1.500 meters above sea level. The population size of Mongolia is 2.6 million. More than 20 ethnic groups speaking Mongolian and Turkic languages of the Altaic linguistic family inhabit contemporary Mongolia. Linguistically, the ethnic groups of Mongolia are divided into two language subfamilies (Mongolian and Turkic) of the Altaic linguistic family. There are three main hypotheses (Poppe, 1960: Ramstedt, 1912 and Street, 1962) on the origin of Mongolian language and its relationship with other branches of Altaic linguistic family. The ethnohistory of some ethnic groups (Uriankhai, Torguud and Derbet) was described in historic sources as “The Secret History of the Mongols” written in the 13th Century. Based on ethnohistorical data all ethnic groups speaking Mongolian are divided into three cultural subdivisions such as Oirad-Mongolians or Western Mongolians, Central Mongolians, and Eastern Mongolians. During the historical periods, Mongolians developed a typical pastoral nomadic civilization. In the modern period, there are classical pastoral nomadic, semi-nomadic and urban aspects of civilization in Mongolia. The main religion of the Mongolians is Buddhism which was adopted from Tibet in 17th Century and theologically is closely linked to Tibetian Lamaism. Shamanism is practiced among such ethnic groups as the Darkhad, Tsaatan and Buriads.