Geological and archaeological exploration of caves in Mongolia

Goro Komatsu, John W. Olsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Mongolia is a country with great cave potential. Carbonate rocks are widely distributed all over the country. With the advent of satellite remote sensing, their distribution can now be mapped in detail and access to the sites assessed before field investigations are initiated. Khovsgol aimag, one of Mongolia's northern provinces bordering Russia, has the most extensive carbonate outcrops. Many caves exist in these carbonate rocks but there are also caves in granitic intrusive rocks in this region. The majority of known caves in Khovsgol aimag are less than 10m long and 10m wide. The general absence of known large caves can be attributed to deformation of host rocks, blockage of passages and entrances by ice and/or water, burial, the reluctance of local residents to inform foreign visitors about caves, and the scarcity of speleologists in Mongolia. It is also rare for these caves to contain evidence of prehistoric and historic occupation by humans, despite the fact that there are many open-air Palaeolithic and Neolithic sites in the area. This is hypothesized as being due to caves' locations with respect to sources of high-quality raw materials for stone tools, and the general lack of access to water. Investigation of caves in Khovsgol aimag is in its infancy, and it is quite possible that large caves of scientific importance will be discovered in the future. The situation is very different with respect to caves in the Gobi-Altai ranges of southern Mongolia, where large caves containing rich archaeological assemblages are known. Among them, Tsagaan Agui and Chikhen Agui in Bayan Khongor aimag have been the most intensively studied, yielding evidence of human occupation at least as early as the Mid Palaeolithic. The palaeoenvironment of the Gobi-Altai region must have been ameliorated to have allowed occupation by human ancestors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-86
Number of pages12
JournalCave and Karst Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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