Ruins of the capital of the Mongol empire

Researchers have for the first time created a detailed map of the capital built by Genghis Khan in central Mongolia 800 years ago.

The Buddhist monastery was built above the ruins of Karakorum. Photo: Aloxe/Wikimedia

The ruins of Karakorum, the 13th-century capital of the Mongol empire, still exist on the surface of the Earth. However, descriptions of the capital located in the center of present-day Mongolia are largely in the records of European travelers. In a study published in the journal Antiquity on November 4, researchers used advanced geophysical methods for the first time to create a detailed map of Karakorum, helping to expand understanding of the forgotten city. This.

Karakorum was formed around 1220 when Genghis Khan set up camp where the Orkhon River valley met the flat grasslands. As a veteran leader, he found the location of the tent to be of strategic importance. After Genghis Khan died in 1227, his son Ogedai also chose this place as the capital of the empire. At Karakorum, Ogedai and subsequent great khans built a magnificent palace to receive envoys, merchants, craftsmen, and travelers along the Silk Road.

Research team leader Jan Bemmann, an archaeologist at the University of Bonn, and his colleagues spent 52 days surveying a 465-hectare area using a SQUID (superconducting quantum interference device). This is a technology that specializes in measuring underground terrain and magnetic fields to map unexcavated ruins below the ground. The team then combined the data obtained with aerial photos, historical records and previous survey results to create detailed images of Karakorum's density and structure.

According to Bemmann, the new map allowed researchers to identify the locations of large brick buildings and roads running through the terrain. They were also able to determine the residences of the upper class within the city walls. Bemmann's group discovered the capital of the Mongol empire spread out much further in the Orkhon River valley.

William of Rubruck, a Franciscan monk, visited Karakorum in 1254 and recorded the trip. According to the University of Washington, his manuscript is one of the oldest and most thorough descriptions of the Mongol empire from a Western perspective. The monk was fascinated by the splendor of the grand palace at Karakorum.

Bemmann explains that Mongol soldiers captured the most skilled workers in Central Asia and brought them to central Mongolia to build the capital. The Mongols were nomadic and not good at developing cities, so they had to rely on prisoners. In the 15th century, Karakorum was abandoned. Experts discovered the exact location of the city in 1889, but over the next few decades archaeological work here was sparse.

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