Cast Your Vote: OS-Tienshanica: Rethinking Mapping Expeditions, Past and Future

Rachele Amerini recently participated in an expedition to Kyrgyzstan that her team documented in a video submitted to the Geography in a Clip contest.  

In the late 19th century Baron Osten-Sacken, geographer, naturalist and explorer, made an epic quest crossing the Tien Shan, the Celestial Mountains, in a lost country know today as Kyrgyzstan. He explored and observed unknown landscapes, collecting new specimens, scientific samples and geomorfological measures to describe and paint a hidden and mysterious world. 150 years after that exploration, a new expedition has retraced some important parts of that journey in the Naryn region, in order to re-measure, map and report in a modern perspective and with new technologies, the celestial Tien Shan.

Karte der Neuesten Russischen Forschungen im Tian Shan System - Osten Sacken&Ruprecht, Sertum Tianshanicum, 1869.

Karte der Neuesten Russischen Forschungen im Tian Shan System – Osten Sacken&Ruprecht, Sertum Tianshanicum, 1869.

Many of the most remote rural areas of Kyrgyzstan are still under-mapped and updated maps are not easy to find either printed from local stores or digital from the online market. Several villages are still only a gray spot in the map without detailed informations about buildings or services. The aim of OS-Tienshanica expedition was to map the villages, roads and waterways along the way, choosing OpenStreetMap as a perfect base to share the results making them available to everyone in the world and contributing as much as possible to improve the knowledge of the area and to update the map.

The expedition was carried out on horseback and by car

The expedition was carried out on horseback and by car

Remote mapping rural areas of Kyrgyzstan can be difficult due to the particular structural patterns of the traditional Kyrgyz houses, composed by many elements assembled with different functions. For this reason, during the expedition we collected as much information as possible about the traditional types of buildings and their shapes.

Settlement at Kyzart Pass

Settlement at Kyzart Pass

The expedition was a good opportunity to share the project with locals and to debate about mapping as a chance to improve the knowledge on their country and get involved in the mapping communities.

Exchanging information with local community

Exchanging information with the local community

Osten Sacken wrote Expedition to the Trans-Naryn Country in 1867, reporting his considerations in the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London. With his knowledge on botany and natural sciences, he also collected hundreds of specimens and described many new species. In our expedition we also collected botanical specimens and we are now studying the landscape changes and the natural ecosystems of the Naryn region. Some amazing findings on the tracks of the steppe wolves, lynxes and snow leopards as well as in the widely unknown fauna of the Kyrgyz insects are now leading us to complete Osten Sacken’s great work to reveal and describe the natural wonders of the Tien Shan.

Awaiting for the release of the complete documentary of the expedition, we have made a short trailer for the Geography in a Clip contest that you can watch at this link:

If you liked it, you can vote for it, as a recognition of our work, made on a completely voluntary basis, and to our passion:

Statistics From the OS-Tienshanica Expedition

OS-Tienshanica expedition has mapped until today on site and remote (data from, hastags #OS-Tienshanica, #Os-Tien2, and

  • Nodes: 8.229
  • Buildings: 1.761
  • Highways: 29
  • Ways: 1.803
  • Land-uses: 11

Expedition Team: Rachele Amerini (cartographer), Roberto Battiston (naturalist), Tilek Zhetigenov (local guide). Feel free to contact us via the links in the author information below.

OS-Tienshanica is a Geograficamente Association and Pegas Adventure project.

About the Author

Rachele AMERINI is a Geographer/cartographer who graduated in Italy from the Department of Geography of the University of Padua and works in GIS mapping. She collaborates with museums and institutions to promote mapping projects. As a GIS specialist she is involved with mapping biodiversity and promoting conservation. Currently Amerini is the president of Geograficamente Association and she is a volunteer mapper for OpenStreetMap.


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