In Search of Genghis Khan
The Valley of the Khans project is an international collaboration between the University of California, San Diego, the Mongolian Academy of Science and the International Association for Mongol Studies, and the National Geographic Society. In July 2011, for the third year in a row, an expedition led by Calit2 research scientist Albert Yu-Min Lin is headed for the Mongolian steppe, to perform a high-tech, non-invasive remote sensing investigation, hopefully to bring back digital evidence of the tomb of Genghis Khan or other potentially important cultural heritage sites.
The expedition on the ground in Mongolia does not involve digging or excavating. Instead, IGERT-TEECH Trainees learn to use technologies including aerial and satellite imaging, ground-penetrating radar and other non-invasive geophysical surveys, magnetometry and electro-magnetometry to examine the terrain. During the 2010 expedition, the project staged a large-scale demonstration of human computation - popularly known as crowdsourcing - allowing the public to interact with a National Geographic website, download part of super-high-resolution satellite images of Mongolia, in order to tag parts of the terrain that could feature a possible man-made burial site (e.g., ground indentations in rectangular shapes that may indicate a structure underground). The Valley of the Khans Project, in partnership with National Geographic Digital Media and the Geoeye Foundation, launched the human-computation effort to enable real-time ground truthing and feedback to users online. Nearly 10,000 'online explorers' contributed their efforts in viewing and tagging more than 637,000 satellite image.
The Valley of the Khans project is funded in part by the NGS/Waitt Institute for Discovery, the National Geographic Expeditions Council, UC San Diego, GeoEye Foundation, and other industry and private support.
The story of Genghis Khan has until now been spliced together through a collection of almost entirely secondary source text. It has become understood that throughout his rule, he introduced an alphabet and central currency, united a kingdom of warring tribes, and conquered the majority of the known world - creating an influence that stretched from Poland to Japan and leaving a legacy of unsurpassed proportions. The mystery surrounding his death and burial in the summer of 1227 still eludes scholars, and his tomb remains undiscovered, a time capsule into the days of birth of the modern world. Yet Genghis Khan's long-term legacy is almost unfathomable: a large-scale genetic study showed that roughly 16 million people today carry unique Y-chromosome markers that likely originated with the 'Great Khan', as he is known in Mongolia.
By using non-invasive tools to pinpoint a physical location for the site where Genghis Khan was buried, the Valley of the Khans project hopes to trigger worldwide support for protective measures, including official status as a UNESCO World Heritage site for long-term, sustainable conservation efforts.