I am forced to write a wordy post about the Genghis Khan exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, because no one was allowed to take photographs. Some materials in the exhibit were contributed by private individuals, including the body of a Mongolian woman. The emphasis on showing respect for the human remains struck me as unnecessary and odd. Perhaps there was a museum incident I missed?

My only photographs come from the approach to the exhibit, which was on the third floor. Going upstairs in the DMNS always activates my fear of heights; on Sunday I told Todd it felt as if my whole body was fizzing, starting in my belly and going out from there.

This fin whale hangs in the back of the museum: its head points toward the front of the museum, and its tail reaches out to Genghis Khan on his throne, right next to the group of red hat ladies who came to visit.

And here’s a closer view of the entrance to the Phipps Special Exhibits Gallery, which was rebuilt in 2009. Genghis Khan is the first exhibit in the remodeled gallery.

The Museum is seeking LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for the Phipps Gallery project. Construction crews used low-emitting materials in construction, and the gallery is designed to consume less power overall. In addition, 17,254 pounds of materials from the old gallery were reused in the new gallery, saving tons of trash from the landfill. The terrazzo floor covering outside the gallery includes 4,000 pounds of recycled crushed beer bottles.

Getting into the exhibit was a slow process. First we waited outside for the vestibule to clear, and then we waited inside the vestibule. Even so, there were people 2 and 3 deep around each exhibit.

In the vestibule, we received cards printed with a name: mine was Börte, the first wife of Genghis Khan (then called Temüjin). As the mother of his four heirs, she became a powerful woman in her own right, as did her daughters.

Kiosks throughout the exhibit gave snippets of information about each character. Todd complained that his character was just some guy and that the same thing had happened at the Titanic exhibit as well: he was a third-class passenger who drowned, whereas I was rich enough to get a seat on one of the boats.

Whoever designed the exhibit had taken care to promote the contributions of women. Höelün, Temüjin’s mother, survived ejection from her husband’s clan after his murder and kept her 7 children alive on the steppes until Temüjin could begin his ascent.

And one of Genghis Khan’s daughters led an attack in Central Asia.

I had mixed feelings, however, about the note that women played an important role in battles: they killed the wounded and collected the arrows.

Hmm, killing the wounded. Now there’s a noble profession. Yanking arrows out of dead (or dying) bodies is right up there too.

This exhibit rekindled my ambivalence about force. I had a great time taking Krav Maga self-defense classes for 2 years. I still dream of being a modern-day freelance warrior, but then reality, in the form of my inability to do even 1 pull-up, does intrude.

The larger the scale of force, the more it bothers me.

I admire Temüjin for uniting clans who were continually attacking each other; they repaid the favor (which involved killing the clan leaders and promoting their subordinates) by declaring him Genghis Khan, or sovereign ruler. But why should I admire Kublai Khan, his grandson, for uniting China? Why does China need to be united? Why must empires expand? No matter how far we push out the borders, there will always be an enemy on them. Why not just live with it?

I also admire Genghis Khan for supporting all religions and encouraging the arts and sciences.

All that conquest, though, past the point of uniting the Mongols? Pure ego.


The exhibit ends by showing us modern-day Mongolians. The population in Denver, 2,500 to 3,000, is the largest in the United States; Mongolians like Denver’s climate. Denver has been Ulaanbator’s sister-city since 2002, and there is a City of Ulaanbaatar park near Lowry.

Leave A Comment

  1. Heather February 4, 2010 at 12:14 pm - Reply

    Beth – Thanks for your blog post and review of Genghis Khan! Very interesting points. I’m sorry you were unable to take photos. If you are interested in visiting in the future, please contact me and I can arrange for media/blogger access, which would allow you to get images.

  2. Beth February 4, 2010 at 1:16 pm - Reply

    Heather, I didn’t think of asking for “blogger” access. I’ll have to remember that one in the future.