The Art of Metalworks
Mongolian nomads have been crafting peculiar style of jewelry with precious metals and gemstones for thousands of years. To talk about Mongolian iron craft, we must first talk about ancient iron craft. Humans have been using stone and wood tools until they advanced into bronze age and then metal.
It is common to find ancient ironwork artifacts from Mongolia. Biggest example is the number of iron artifacts found in Pazyryk nomad graves located in the Mongol Altai region, dating back to the early iron age.
A joint team of Mongol-France, researchers have been studying the Pazyryk culture for the last 20 years. Most of the artifacts found near Mongol Altai region have Scythian style. For example, tools such as bronze dagger and bronze needle and cast bronze statues of horses, deer, eagle, swan, moose, wild goat, Saiga, wolf and leopards with golden decorations were found.
Iron works decorated with copper, bronze and gold are commonly found in archeological expeditions. The ironwork of Hunnu craftsmen reached its peak at some point and techniques of embossing, plating iron or bronze with gold have been used widely.
A prime example of Mongolian iron smelting is masterpieces of Ondor Gegeen Zanabazar in the 17th century. Zanabazar made statues of god with paper mache, applique, ceramic, gold and copper embossing techniques. His craft is considered invaluable in modern times. Zanabazar’s gold, silver, copper crafting techniques spread throughout Mongolia and evolved into various different forms. Aside from the works he made, his tools are the envy of every smith. Japanese researchers found out that Zanabazar’s anvil, carving tools such as steel knife and chisel have been made with top quality steel with folding nine times and air quenching.
The making of such quality tool requires crafting at certain times of the day to get the most out of air quenching, mixing the right ores and folded many times to purge impurities from the material. For example, silver crafts made by renowned smiths of Dariganga, iron crafts of Khuvsgul smiths, metal and steel carving of Uvurkhangai smiths are different from one another and cannot be replicated by any other smith from different regions.
Mongolian steel smithing have a unique characteristic. A knife made with Mongolian steel and smelting technique does not get tainted as easily, retains the edge very well. A stirrup made with steel processed by Mongolian technique is called “Jiijuu stirrup” and is decorated by carving the steel then casting precious metals into the grooves. A product made with such technique retains its decorations for a long time.
Mongolian Smiths say that iron hearth can withstand up to 1000 Celsius because the steel is folded many times over to purge impurities and tempered by special air quenching technique.
Mongolians make a branding iron with the hardest steel, which expresses longevity of the herd. The state seal is never replicated again, it is to be made once and used for generation to generation. Nowadays, smiths trying more to craft modern design jewelry and tools with special regional patterns and crafting techniques.
Dariganga region is famous for its skilled smiths. In only 170 years, from 1800 to 1970, over 20 renowned smiths were born from this region. Smiths from Dariganga region have a unique technique and patterns which cannot be replicated by even skilled smiths of other regions. Silver saddle decorations, bridle, knife and cups made by Dariganga smiths are priced among Mongolian people and unique patterns which looks like the great mountains of Dariganga land can be seen from their crafts.
Silver works of Dariganga smiths stand out from other products. Women of Dariganga region wear highly decorated silver and gemstone jewelry, all made with that special technique of Dariganga smiths.