December 04, 2012

Tomb of Genghis Khan found?

Newsweek has a story on the purported finding of the tomb of Genghis Khan. An excerpt:

A multidisciplinary research project uniting scientists in America with Mongolian scholars and archeologists has the first compelling evidence of the location of Khan’s burial site and the necropolis of the Mongol imperial family on a mountain range in a remote area in northwestern Mongolia. 
Among the discoveries by the team are the foundations of what appears to be a large structure from the 13th or 14th century, in an area that has historically been associated with this grave. Scientists have also found a wide range of artifacts that include arrowheads, porcelain, and a variety of building material. 
“Everything lines up in a very compelling way,” says Albert Lin, National Geographic explorer and principal investigator of the project, in an exclusive interview with Newsweek.
Whether this is the real thing or not, you gotta love that this has been made possible:
In a laboratory at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology at University of California, San Diego, Lin and his team combed through the massive volumes of ultrahigh-resolution satellite imagery and built 3-D reconstructions from radar scans in their search for clues to where Genghis Khan may be buried. As part of an unprecedented open-source project, thousands of online volunteers sifted through 85,000 high-resolution satellite images to identify any hidden structures or odd-seeming formations.
Apparently there is concern of the local authorities about grave robbing, so it does not seem that the site will be excavated anytime soon. And, perhaps, the central position of Genghis Khan in modern Mongolian culture might make the disinternment of any human remains from the area a difficult proposition politically.

In any case, it would be great to read the headline "Genome sequence of Genghis Khan"  in your Nature or Science news feed one fine evening a few years down the road, so let's keep our fingers crossed that it may yet happen.

PS: On an unrelated topic, I sometimes wonder why there has not been more work on "famous DNA"? This would provide an incredible way of involving the public in cutting edge science. It might also help historical research, and while the location of Genghis Khan's tomb is obscure, those of other famous potentates like Tamerlane, or the Ottoman Sultans, or a good number of European royals are not.

Of course, there may not be much scientific interest in many such persons, but if Einstein's brain continues to be the subject of reputable studies in good journals, why isn't Einstein's genome so studied? Or Newton's, Darwin's, Beethoven's, or any other intellectual giant's whose burial place is known? I'm not naive enough to think that such an approach would reveal a "genius gene" they all possessed, but still, it is not inconceivable that something of interest about their origins -if not their genetic predispositions- might turn up.

7 comments:

shenandoah said...

I would be ~very interested in learning more about Einstein's (and other great thinkers') genomes!

shenandoah said...

"I'm not naive enough to think that such an approach would reveal a "genius gene" they all possessed, but still, it is not inconceivable that something of interest about their origins -if not their genetic predispositions- might turn up."

Deinekes, I bet they don't want us to know that those geniuses had or have 24 pairs of chromosomes (instead of 23).

Mongoose said...

I don't know about a "genius gene", but I think it would be interesting to find the "douchebag gene" that a lot of "great" leaders may have had in common... like say, Alexander the Great. Now THERE is a douchebag, right?

But then again, if we find the douchebag gene, it would still be unethical to screen out babies that carry it, so maybe there's no point in it. I'm just thinking out loud here.

watchinit said...

Continuing the unrelated topic - another ignored area is the DNA of the European tribes known to the Romans. Many of us likely have ancestors among those groups. It is odd to me that the tribal level of analysis is largely absent from within haplogroup evolutionary analyses. I believe this is not from lack of material - there seem to be lots of specimens (including untouched ones) that could provide DNA. I've been looking for papers on European tribal DNA and not found much except the Roma and Basques. If I am misinformed, I'd love to be corrected. Perhaps this situation is similar to DNA studies of paleontological specimens - it takes a while for the technology to trickle in, either by osmosis or by different humans with the molecular toolkit entering the field.

Athena said...

Many of these historical well-known figures with known birth places have descendants currently alive. Publishing the genomes of, say Einstein, could potentially have ramifications for descendants or relatives (eg, Beethoven had the BRCA1 mutation - might people interpret that his descendants do too, whether they do or not?). The dead person can't give permission, either. At least with unnamed historical or prehistorical genomes, you are using an anonymous source of data to infer about the general population, rather than revealing potentially very personal details about a real person. Plus, with European royals - the risk of non paternity/maternity exposure is a problem!

Dienekes said...

Many of these historical well-known figures with known birth places have descendants currently alive.

If they are from the last few generations, this might play a role, but the probability that any one mutation would have been inherited by one's ancestors becomes very small for people who lived a few centuries ago.

I also don't think that this argument holds much water. Many people have released their genome data online, without presumable seeking the consent of their first or second cousins, so I can't see how people who have an equivalent (or more distant) degree of genetic relationship ought to have any say on the release of data from people who lived a couple or more centuries ago, unless, e.g., they have legal ownership of their remains.

Rais Karauchy said...

Probably, not there looking for the tomb of Genghis Khan - that's it, and cannot find it. Very most likely, it is in other part of Eurasia. However, like most of the descendants of his own people, living now among the Bashkirs, Kazakhs, Tatars, Uighurs and other Turkic peoples, related to them.
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.
Well, perhaps you know, that a famous Tatar historian-scientist D. Iskhakov wrote in 2000: “the real history of Tatars, of the people in every respect historical, is not written yet”.
However, recently was published a book by Galy Yenikeyev (Galy Rashid uly Yenikey) about the unwritten (hidden) real history of Tatars.
There are a lot of previously little-known historical facts, as well as 16 maps and illustrations in this book, and well-grounded rebuttal of the chinese-persian myths about "incredible cruelty of nomadic mongol-tatar conquerors", and about "a war between the Tatars and Genghis Khan” etc.
This book presents a new, or rather "well-forgotten old" information about the true history of the medieval Tatars – the native nation of Genghis-Khan.
On the cover of this book you can see the true appearance of Genghis Khan. It is his lifetime portrait. 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...".
This e-book you can easily find in the Internet, on Smashwords company website.