John Olsen’s Research Leads to Mongolia’s Highest Honor

Sept. 5, 2023
John Olsen holding award

Credit: Johannes Setzer

University of Arizona Regent's Professor Emeritus of the School of Anthropology in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, John W. Olsen, has received the Order of the Polar Star (Mongolian: Алтан гадас одон Altan Gadas Odon), the highest civilian award Mongolia can present to a foreign citizen.  Created in 1936, the Order was bestowed upon Olsen in acknowledgment of his contributions to Mongolian science and society extending back over three decades.

Olsen first visited Mongolia in 1991 and, since 1995, has co-directed the Joint Mongolian-Russian-American Archaeological Expeditions that have conducted excavations at many sites, especially Tsagaan Agui Cave in the Gobi Desert where several hundred thousand years of human cultural evolution are recorded in the cavern’s layers.

On accepting the award at a ceremony in Ulaanbaatar on August 25th, Olsen said: “I am delighted and humbled to have received this recognition of my efforts to work collaboratively with Mongolian colleagues to advance archaeology in the country.”

Mongolian Ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Yondongiin Otgonbayar, noted the award was equivalent to the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom and is not often given to non-Mongolians.

Previous American recipients of Mongolia’s Order of the Polar Star include President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Arizona Senator John McCain.

Olsen is currently conducting archaeological fieldwork in Mongolia through the end of September.