Mongolia Expedition Taps the Crowd for Imagery Interpretation

by Matt Ball on August 11, 2010

A large-scale archaeological survey of parts of Mongolia sponsored by the National Geographic Society is making use of online imagery analysis from the crowd in order to help pinpoint possible locations for the tomb of Genghis Khan. As of today, the ongoing “Field Expedition: Mongolia — Valley of the Khans Project” has drawn 5,614 online explorers that have processed 342,675 images provided by the GeoEye Foundation to help direct on-the-ground fieldwork.

A small team of researchers and explorers is being led by UCSD researcher Albert Lin. By using this crowdsourcing method, the team has effectively grown to thousands. The volunteers comb through the imagery to point out readily decipherable man-made disturbances on the ground that could be possible tomb locations. This information is then cataloged to inform the expedition’s exploration.
This exploration from above is sensitive to the cultural beliefs of the Mongolian people who view the tomb of Genghis Khan as sacred, and believe that any digging or disturbances in the area would unleash a curse to end the world. Lin and his team are augmenting this less invasive exploration techniques with other high-tech tools, such as thermal imaging systems, magnetometry and ground-penetrating radar.
Lin is also the program manager of the UCSD-NGS Engineers for Exploration program, that is giving graduate and undergraduate students hands-on experience in developing new imaging software and hardware for explorers.

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