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?