Crowdsourcing a Secret… That’s More than 800 Years Old

Maybe it’s just the Indiana Jones fan in me, but one of my favorite crowdsourcing projects lately is Dr. Albert Yu-Min Lin’s Valley of the Khans project. I talked about it in an earlier post, but researching more about the legend and the history of Mongolia has re-awakened my enthusiasm. The Valley of the Khans is a digitally-guided archaeological exploration of Mongolia – by the crowd. Using satellite photos of the Valley of the Khans (Genghis Khan’s homeland) uploaded to the National Geographic site, users can log in and view each photo in turn and flag roads, rivers, buildings, and potential archeological dig sites with the overall goal of locating the tomb of Genghis Khan. Everyone can receive two-minutes of training on this how-to video and be off and tagging in no time.

The number of aerial, space, and remote-sensor imagery that must be reviewed is way more than a single person could get through, so Lin’s solution was to reach out to the crowd. He continues to use other nontraditional and noninvasive methods of archeology in order to respect the values of the culture that he’s looking to know more about. In fact, Mongolians believe that disturbing Genghis Khan’s tomb would unleash a world-ending curse that has already claimed the lives of numerous would-be discoverers of the tomb. Exceptionally high stakes.

According to the National Geographic site, Lin says, “Using traditional archeological methods would be disrespectful to believers. The ability to explore in a noninvasive way lets us try to solve this ancient secret without overstepping cultural barriers. It also allows us to empower Mongolian researchers with tools they might not have access to otherwise. Today’s world still benefits from Genghis Kahn’s ability to connect East with West. He forged international relations that have never been broken. By locating his tomb, we hope to emphasize how important it is for the world to protect such cultural heritage treasures.”

A man led by the crowd… as well as shamans. He’s not the only one with the idea of looking to the crowd for help in a very challenging field. Louise Leakey plans to crowdsource potential fossil sites. Alun Salt wants to use flickr photography to chart historical museum light levels.

According to legend, the tomb will never be found. But Lin’s new approach is definitely a great test for that myth.

Is crowdsourcing truly a noninvasive approach to archeology? What are some other ways to participate in specialized fields  from your armchair?

One response to “Crowdsourcing a Secret… That’s More than 800 Years Old

  1. Kirei Kireev

    Unfortunately, in the official history there are many pro-Chinese falsifications about the “wild nomads”, “incredible cruelty of nomadic mongol-tatar conquerors”, and about “a war between the Tatars and Genghis Khan” etc.
    So probably not there looking for the tomb of Genghis Khan – that’s it, and can not find it. Very most likely, it is in other part of Eurasia. As a matter of fact, most of the descendants of Genghis Khan and hisnative nation, living now among the Bashkirs, Kazakhs, Tatars, Uighurs and other Turkic peoples. Read a book “Forgotten Heritage of Tatars” (by Galy Yenikeyev) about the hidden real history of Tatars and their fraternal Turkic peoples. This e-book you can easily find on Smashwords company website: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/175211
    There are a lot of previously little-known historical facts, as well as 16 maps and illustrations in this book.
    On the cover of this book you can see the true appearance of Genghis Khan. It is his lifetime portrait, which is very little known.
    Notes to the portrait from the book says: “…In the ancient Tatar historical source «About the clan of Genghis-Khan» the author gives the words of the mother of Genghis-Khan: «My son Genghis looks like this: he has a golden bushy beard, he wears a white fur coat and goes on a white horse…» [34, p. 14]. As we can see, the portrait of an unknown medieval artist in many ways corresponds to the words of the mother of the Hero, which have come down to us in this ancient Tatar story. Therefore, this portrait, which corresponds to the information of the Tatar source and to data from other sources, we believe, the most reliably transmits the appearance of Genghis-Khan…”.