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

October 23, 2023
Olsen accepting his award
John Olsen / Johannes Setzer

University of Arizona Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Anthropology John W. Olsen (Ph.D. 1980, Anthropology) has received the Order of the Polar Star, the highest state 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.”

Former 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.

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