Last week, in our series on the 10 Cultural Universals, we talked about how shelters are illustrations of culture.
A shelter’s attributes inform you about the area’s climate, the structural materials inform you about the type of resources available in the region, the layout informs you about the social elements of the culture, and the home’s architecture and design inform you about the culture’s aesthetic sensibilities.
To put it simply, structures are incredibly informative in the study of culture.
In today’s post, we’ll take a virtual walk-through of one of these shelters and learn a little about the culture within.
The Yurt is a circular home in Central Asia, emblematic of nomadic Mongolian tribes.
In the 13th century book Travels in the Eastern Countries, Guillaume de Rubrouck wrote of the yurt:
“They [the nomads] put their houses on wheels, and woven rods are used as walls for their homes. The walls are enclosed on the top forming the roof of the house. They are covered with white felt and it is often coated with lemon or bone powder to make it sparkle.”
Rubrouck goes on to say that the black felt opening in the rooftop is designed elaborately with themed illustrations.
A felt wall hanging at the home’s entrance is also a norm. These wall hangings are usually colorfully artistic renderings of birds and other animals, trees, and vines, revealing the importance of nature to the Mongolian nomadic tribes.
As forever-travelers, nomads need a home that can spring up out of transportable materials, which the yurt can do, although it’s also used as a more permanent structure.
The wooden frame of a yurt is collapsable and is often draped in animal skins or wool felt, which keeps the cool in during summer and the heat during winter. The wool felt is obtained from sheep often shepherded by the nomadic pastoralists, while the timber to form the structure cannot be found on the steppes, which don’t have trees, and must be sourced through trade in the nearby valleys.
Modern yurts also have a double layer of canvas to protect from the elements.
The structure includes three to five orange mesh walls, depending on the size of the yurt. The sloped roof with a hole in the center is a primary feature, allowing for a chimney when cooking or heating the home.
The yurt also has a wooden floor, covered by carpets, again for insulation.
As you virtually walk through the yurt and learn of its build and design, what do you learn about the nomadic Mongolian peoples who inhabit these structures?
Tell me in the comment section.