For most of us, the name Genghis Khan conjures up visions of marauding hordes of barbarians swooping down from the Asian steppes on some hapless village. To the contrary, a special exhibition at Fernbank Museum of Natural History shows that, while his army was certainly marauding, the Mongolian empire that Genghis Khan and his descendants ruled for more than two centuries during the Middle Ages was far from barbarian. “Genghis Khan” reveals a civilization, largely misunderstood today, that was both technologically and culturally advanced for its time.
Our family, including two teens, visited the exhibit on a recent Saturday. Within it are alternating stations depicting both life in the Mongol empire and weapons of war. Among the cultural exhibits is an impressively decorated recreation of a ger (yurt), the portable Mongol home. Many artifacts dating back to the 13th century are displayed as well, including vases, cups and other everyday items showing a high level of craftsmanship and artistry. Replica examples of elaborate silk clothing worn in the era of Genghis Khan are also on view. 
Most interesting are the numerous weapons throughout the exhibit. There are several authentic and beautiful swords, notable for their metalwork and decorative handles and scabbards, as well as spears, tridents, and longbows. Replicas of larger war machines, such as a trebuchet (a type of catapult) are also on display. The Mongol army was noted for its use of mounted warriors, and equipment such as saddles can be viewed as well.
At its height, the Mongol empire controlled a vast land area through which ran many trading routes. To manage and control its far-flung empire, the Mongols developed innovations such as a pony express and a passport. Several of these heavy bronze medallion passports are included in the Fernbank show and are a bit more impressive looking than our booklet passports of today. Genghis Khan also developed a standardized legal code, which is explored throughout the exhibit.
“Genghis Khan” boasts an impressive collection of artifacts and replicas that paint a rich picture of a great civilization. This is chiefly a “look but don’t touch” experience. There are no interactive features, so very young children will probably not find a lot to interest them here, unless they have a particular fascination with, say, swords. Older children (ages 10 and up) will find more to interest them, especially those studying world history in school or who have an interest in either historic Asian culture or military weaponry. There is also a mummified skeleton on display, which may alarm some children – and maybe some adults, too.
Some videos in the exhibit depict Mongol warfare. While most are not graphic, one is a bit violent.
“Genghis Khan” doesn’t take too long to view – definitely worth a visit.
– Dan Ward

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