Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Travel to Mongolia and Find the Khan's Tomb

A few weeks ago the National Geographic project was highlighted in some newspaper articles.  But they only touched the surface and didn't describe how to get involved...so that's where OpenScientist comes in!  We'll explain what it's all about and show you how to join up with the expedition crew.

Genghis Khan and three of his sons, as depicted on a fifteenth century illustration.

Over 800 years ago Genghis Khan united the nomadic tribes of Mongolia and set off in conquest to found the Mongol Empire.  He conquered and ruled an empire larger than any other in history, but upon his death he faded from history and left no trace of his burial.  His tomb has been lost with no expeditions successful to date in finding it.

The "Valley of the Khans" project is now the latest expedition to search for his tomb using satellite imagery taken of the entire country.  Other expeditions have tried this but the sheer amount of imagery and inability to identify promising sites have led to failure.  But this project is different.  The team is asking citizen scientists like us to analyze the data for them, betting that the human eye can identify interesting sites much more quickly and efficiently than computers can.

But that's not the best part.  The field team is often actively searching in Mongolia as users analyze the images...allowing a real-time investigation everyone can be involved in.  So we can just follow them on their expedition blog.  Of course the field team is back in the States as I write this but will be returning in the future.

The site also provides a great tutorial for new users just learning the system.  Users are shown a series of images and asked to tag all the major items they see (such as rivers, ancient structures, etc.)  The early ones have already been well analyzed by the research team and will help show you things you may have missed.  In some, a khirigsur can be seen (a bronze age rock formation used to indicate ancient tombs), and in others a well-trained eye can even spot the expedition team traveling the countryside!  As you get more proficient, the expert level increases and you continue tagging images, but are then shown results from other users so you can compare answers and re-evaluate any potential sites you may have missed.

So what are you waiting for?

Getting Started is Easy:
  • Visit the Field Expedition: Mongolia web page and watch the video tutorial describing the project and how volunteers can help.
  • Click on the Register tab and provide some brief name/password information to sign up.
  • Once registered you will automatically be taken to the image analysis screens.  Just provide up to five markers (road, river, modern structure, ancient structure, or other) and compare how your results measure up to everyone else's.  Also, here are some quick tips...
    • Be sure to scroll through all parts of the image.  Often things are hiding outside your browser's viewscreen.  
    • Take your time analyzing each picture.  The site waits a while before offering new images so patience is rewarded with a new image instead of repeating the previous one.
That's all there is to it.  The more you practice and compare your answers the better you will get.  Soon you can help find 3,000 year old burial mounds like the team did in this field posting, or better yet, find the Khan's tomb itself!

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