Somewhere beneath the wind-swept deserts of Mongolia lies the body of one of the most enigmatic warlords in history, a ruthless but brilliant leader who united his people and built the largest empire in the world. Nearly 800 years after Genghis Khan died, the legends continue to grow, as do the mysteries.
Now, a young scientist at the University of California, San Diego, is hoping to succeed, where others have failed, and answer a question that has puzzled historians for centuries: Where, precisely, is the tomb of Genghis Khan?
Albert Yu-Min Lin doesn't plan to search for his answer with the traditional tools of archaeology, a small pick and good brush. Instead, he will rely on high-tech, and if he is successful, he will find the long-sought tomb without turning a single space of dirt.
"We're trying to locate the tomb, not dig it up," said Lin, who lived for awhile in Mongolia with a family of horsemen.
Lin's tools will be "non invasive" implements, ranging from satellite photos, ground-penetrating radar, and sensitive devices that can detect clues that the ground was disturbed hundreds of years ago.
It's an ambitious goal, and the embryonic "valley of the Khans project" is a long way from fruition. Lin must first obtain permission from the government of Mongolia to study a region that has been off limits to foreigners for many years, and he needs to build a strong relationship with potential collaborators in Mongolia, and, oh yes, he needs to secure funding to the tune of about $700,000. So, this is not a done deal, but Lin has the backing of several major research institutions.
And his timing could be perfect. There is a resurgence of interest in Genghis Khan, the subject of an Oscar-nominated film, "Mongol." Lin hopes to use this project to focus western attention on the enormous contributions of Asia to global culture, and where better to begin than with a ruthless warlord who built a 13th century empire that stretched from Asia to Europe and as far south as India and the Himalayas. It was the largest contiguous empire in history. All that's left of that today is the independent country of Mongolia, about the size of Alaska and sandwiched between Siberia and China. And it wouldn't be there if there had never been a Genghis Khan, according to some historians.
"What we know about the modern world today was shaped by what we know of the European conquerors," Lin said. "The history of Asia and it's impact on the world is rarely discussed, at least from a western point of view."
Khan, who died in 1227 from injuries suffered when he fell off his horse, was buried with such secrecy that anyone who happened to run into the funeral procession was immediately executed, according to accounts that may be as mythical as the man himself. What is known, however, is that he was a brilliant military tactician who united warring factions to create his empire, but probably not the kind of chap you would like to have over for dinner.
Modern Mongolia is still a land largely of nomads who roam across its mostly-desert lands, and much of it has changed since the days of Genghis Khan. How does one even begin to search for his tomb?