Monday, October 20, 2008

The Search for Chinggis' Tomb Continues

A colleague at University of Redlands brought an article at Science Daily to my attention over the weekend about a new attempt to locate Chinggis Khan's tomb using the latest in "non-invasive techniques" which include ground penetrating radar. The most interesting aspect of the article for me is a line which reads, "Lin says he's hoping to collaborate with the Mongolian government and national universities, through the help of Amaraa and Bayarsihan Baljinnayam — siblings from what he endearingly calls his 'Mongolian family.'" I may be misinterpreting this line, but it suggests to me that the researchers may be mistakenly assuming that involving a couple of Mongolians in the research team who will rationally and logically explain the project to people in Mongolia is the same thing as involving the nation of Mongolia in the project.

There is a significant number of people in Mongolia who do not want the tomb to be found, and each expedition has been wrought with political rows over whether anyone should be given permission to make the search. For some the tomb is a sacred place that Chinggis' followers went to great lengths to hide. They believe no one has a right to find it, least of all non-Mongolians. To others, the whole search smacks of tomb raiding premised on the flimsiest of scientific pretenses. Would finding the tomb provide enough scientific and historical illumination to justify the cost of desecrating a sacred place and alienating a large swath of the Mongol population? This is a question very much open to debate, especially and ironically without knowing what is contained in the tomb.

The methods employed by the researchers as described in the article should raise some new controversies. After all, they do not need to come Mongolia to conduct their search, which means that the Mongolian government and Mongolian people are somewhat limited in what they can do to influence the search. In a situation like this I can see where the politics involved could potentially become even more intense than seen in the past as the methods might seem to some as completely side stepping the sovereign rights of Mongolians to decide who searches for what buried in Mongolian soil. I hope for Dr. Lin's benefit that his "Mongolian family" is astute at the fine art of politics, because I could foresee this project angering many more people than it pleases, especially if they reach their goal of identifying a possible location for Chinggis' tomb without ever stepping foot on Mongolian soil.

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