Friday, 30 September 2016

The Blue Wolf: A Novel of the Life of Chinggis Khan

The Blue Wolf: A Novel of the Life of Chinggis Khan 

(Weatherhead Books on Asia) Hardcover – 19 Oct 2016

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Chinese Jews of Ancient Lineage Huddle Under Pressure

New York Times September 24, 2016 by Chris Buckley

People playing mah-jongg in an alley in what was the Jewish neighborhood of Kaifeng, China, next to the site of the old synagogue. CreditAdam Dean for The New York Times 

KAIFENG, China — The rooms where ruddy-faced Chinese men and women once assembled to pray in Hebrew and Mandarin are silent. Signs and exhibits that celebrated centuries of Jewish life have disappeared. An ancient well, believed to be the last visible remnant of a long-demolished synagogue, was recently buried under concrete and a pile of earth.
After locking down Buddhist monasteries in Tibet and tearing down church crosses in eastern China, President Xi Jinping’s campaign against unapproved religion and foreign influence has turned to an unlikely adversary: small group of Jews whose ancestors settled in this now faded imperial city near the banks of the Yellow River more than 1,000 years ago.
A few hundred residents had staged a lively, sometimes contentious rebirth of Kaifeng’s Jewish heritage in recent decades, with classes, services and proposals to rebuild the lost synagogue as a museum. Some residents even migrated to Israel. For years, the city government tolerated their activities, seeing the Jewish link as a magnet for tourism and investment.
But since last year, the authorities have come down hard on the revival, in an example of how even the smallest spiritual groups can fall under the pall of the Communist Party’s suspicion. The government has shut down organizations that helped foster Jewish rediscovery, prohibited residents from gathering to worship for Passover and other holidays, and removed signs and relics of the city’s Jewish past from public places.
“The whole policy is very tight now,” said Guo Yan, 35, a tour guide who advocates a distinctively Chinese strain of Judaism and runs a small museum in an apartment filled with pictures of Kaifeng’s Jewish past. “China is sensitive about foreign activities and interference.

Explaining a Shared Identity 

Only about 1,000 people claim Jewish ancestry in this city — a drop in China’s ocean of 1.35 billion people or Kaifeng’s population of 4.5 million — and only 100 or 200 of them have been active in Jewish religious and cultural activities, experts say.
Nobody outside the government seems to know for sure why this tiny band of believers came to be viewed as a threat. But officials appear to have become alarmed about their growing prominence sometime last year as Mr. Xi’s government demanded that religious groups and foreign organizations bow to tighter controls. Judaism is not one of China’s five state-licensed religions: Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism and Taoism.
“Xi has said that religion is a major issue, and when he speaks, that has consequences,” said a burly local businessman who has supported the Jewish revival and who, like others here, asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation by the authorities. “They don’t understand us, and worry that we’re being used.”
Continue reading the main storyRELATED COVERAGE
He and many of Kaifeng’s Jews, as well as their supporters abroad, said the clampdown did not spring from outright anti-Semitism, which is relatively rare in China. Shanghai and Harbin, a northeast city, have organized displays and events celebrating their role protecting Jews who fled persecution in Europe.
“It’s fear about religion, not just us Jews,” the businessman said.
Until a few decades ago, the Jews of Kaifeng seemed destined to fade away, an obscure memory at the intersection of two ancient civilizations.
Their forebears, possibly merchants from Persia, settled in Kaifeng when it was the vibrant capital of the Northern Song dynasty and built a synagogue here in the 12th century. For hundreds of years, they prospered largely free of persecution, surviving the rise and fall of successive dynasties.


Guo Yan in her private museum near the site of the old synagogue and Jewish neighborhood in Kaifeng. “China is sensitive about foreign activities and interference,” she said. CreditAdam Dean for The New York Times 

But their numbers dwindled as they intermarried with China’s ethnic Han majority. The synagogue crumbled away. By 1851, when European missionaries acquired a 17th-century Hebrew Torah in Kaifeng and later presented it to the British Museum, few if any residents could read it.
Still, even after decades of Communist rule, some residue of Jewish identity survived in Kaifeng. Parents and grandparents told children of their roots and warned them not to eat pork.
The revival here took off in the 1990s as Jewish tourists, scholars and businesspeople from around the world who were curious about this remote outpost of Judaism began to visit and share their knowledge. Several years ago, two organizations, the Sino-Judaic Institute and Shavei Israel, set up offices and offered classes in Hebrew, Judaism and Jewish history, partly to counter Christian missionaries operating in Kaifeng.
“We began with our old generation, which had no foundation,” Ms. Guo said. “But then all these different Jewish groups came in, bringing in different ideas and values.”
The authorities were ambivalent, hopeful that the interest from abroad could help economic development in Kaifeng — a charming yet dilapidated backwater amid China’s frenzied growth — but also wary of foreigners and of Judaism, a little-understood religion here.
“Anytime it seemed to cross the line of publicity, that’s when there always would be a pushback against the Chinese Jews,” said Moshe Yehuda Bernstein, a researcher in Perth, Australia, who has written about the revival in a forthcoming book. “The idea was: We’ll let you do it, but don’t let anybody know about it.”


Tourists in front of a building that housed a display of Jewish history in Kaifeng at the Millennium City Park. The display has been closed during the recent clampdown. CreditAdam Dean for The New York Times 

But the current clampdown has gone much further than previous ones, residents said. Some blamed a report in The New York Times last year in which a city official attending a Passover banquet spoke sympathetically about the revival, apparently violating government guidelines. Others cited accounts through the community grapevine that a Jewish woman from Kaifeng had won asylum in the United States after claiming religious persecution.
“The Kaifeng Jews are in a kind of survival mode again,” said Anson Laytner, a retired rabbi in Seattle and past president of the Sino-Judaic Institute, who has worked with the Jews in Kaifeng and drawn attentionto the clampdown.
The institute pulled out of Kaifeng last year after its community worker there, Barnaby Yeh, came under police scrutiny. “I think it was the actions of a government that’s paranoid,” said Mr. Yeh, a Taiwanese-American convert to Judaism now living in Maryland.
Shavei Israel, which had been helping Kaifeng Jews visit and settle in Israel, was forced by the police to close its community center in 2014. Residents tried to keep the center going in a rented apartment, but that was ordered closed this year, one of them said.
Even signs of the Jewish historical presence have been erased. An inscribed stone marking the site of the old synagogue was removed from the front of a hospital that occupies the grounds, and workers buried the ancient well behind the hospital. Two hospital employees said city officials had ordered the changes.
“All this says that there are no Jews here,” one Jewish man said as he nervously looked around during an interview in a teahouse.


A house construction site in what was the Jewish neighborhood next to the site of the long-demolished synagogue in Kaifeng. CreditAdam Dean for The New York Times 

He was one of several Jewish residents I met in Kaifeng who said they wanted to reassure the government that they were law-abiding patriots. But they also said they were afraid of speaking publicly, even to declare their patriotism.
“Please remember, don’t make us out to be political,” the man said. “We just want recognition as Jews.”
Jews can still gather in small groups in their homes to pray, and there have been no arrests, they said. But many said police or state security officers were monitoring them.
“Before, the Chinese government was very relaxed, but now we’re under more restrictions,” said You Yong, a member of one of the city’s eight historically Jewish clans, who now observes Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, at home.
The local office of the party’s United Front Department, which manages ethnic and religious affairs, referred questions to the city’s state security service, which deals with political threats and espionage. Officials there declined to comment.
Jewish descendants in Kaifeng do not automatically qualify as Jews under Israeli law because their ancestry has been so diluted. But Michael Freund, the chairman and founder of Shavei Israel, said the Israeli government should raise their treatment with Chinese officials.
“It needs to be done respectfully and delicately, but it needs to be done,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Israeli Embassy in Beijing, Efrat Perri, said the embassy “recently became aware of the mentioned developments in Kaifeng” and would “look into it in order to gain a better understanding of the facts.”
The Jewish families I met in Kaifeng seemed determined to preserve their revived identity. Some decorated their homes with traditional candlesticks for Shabbat, grainy black-and-white photos of grandparents, drawings of Kaifeng’s destroyed synagogue, and maps of Israel.
One Friday evening, two couples invited me to join their Shabbat service, for which they had been studying a Torah reading.
“You don’t recognize me as a Jew,” the host said, “but I recognize myself as a Jew, and that’s what is most important.”
He broke bread with his brawny hands, and after ceremoniously drinking homemade wine, his guests shared shots of baijiu, a potent Chinese liquor.
“Judaism,” the host said, “is all about endurance.”

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Climate Change and the Rise of the Mongols

Climate Change and the Rise of an Empire

Did an unusually favorable climate create conditions for a new political order under Chinggis Khan? 
Roy Delgado 
In his recent book Global Crisis: War, Climate Change & Catas­trophe in the Seventeenth Century, Geoffrey Parker states: “although climate change can and does produce human catastrophe, few historians include the weather in their analyses.” This is generally true, and the distance between historians and the weather may not have improved (indeed, may have been underscored) by the evolution of environmental history as a separate branch of historical research. Moreover, while the collection of historical climate data has never been more robust, instances of collaboration between scientists and historians are still very few and far between. In 2006, the National Science Foundation launched a program for research on Coupled Natural and Human Systems, capturing the need to model the interaction between societies and environments. Few of the projects funded so far, however, involve a long-term historical perspective or engage actual historical questions. One of these, funded last year, is titled “Pluvials, Droughts, Energetics, and the Mongol Empire” and is led by Neil Pederson, Amy Hessl, Nachin Baatarbileg, Kevin Anchukaitis, and myself.
Based on data collected in Mongolia over several years by climate scientists, the project aims to study climate change in relation to a particular set of circumstances, namely, the rise to power of Chinggis (or Genghis) Khan and the beginning of one of the most remarkable events in world history. Everyone knows Chinggis Khan but no one has so far been able to clearly explain the process through which the Mongols became so powerful nor why they would feel compelled to move out of Mongolia and conquer most of the Eurasian landmass. All countries from China to the Black Sea, including Central Asia, Russia, Iran, and parts of the Middle East, came to be under Mongol rule for the best part of the thirteenth and a good portion of the fourteenth centuries. The legacy of Mongol rule, however, continued to be felt in all of these regions well into the modern age. Mongol armies reached even beyond these lands: they invaded Poland, Hungary, and central Europe, riding as far as Vienna. Although the memories they left were not altogether pleasant (the Apocalypse was often invoked as a fitting metaphor), Europeans were intrigued and eventually found grounds to look at the Mongols in a more positive light and try to learn more about them. 
The first exploratory contacts were established by Franciscan and Dominican missionaries. They were not necessarily sympathetic to the Mongols, but looked at them in more realistic terms: not as agents of divine wrath, but as a people who were seriously different, and even a little barbaric, but nonetheless human. Ever since their first appearance on the world scene, people wondered about where they came from and how they got there, but academic curiosity about their appearance was soon replaced by more contingent questions about their system of government, religion, habits, and especially the opportunities that their conquest opened to priests and merchants. Popes and European kings were intrigued by the blows dealt by the Mongols to their bitter enemy, the Saracens. Marco Polo and other travelers rendered an otherworldly Catay and the Mongols who ruled it familiar to a wide European public. Trade followed the scriptures and eventually a copy of Marco Polo’s book, still preserved, was attentively read, glossed, and annotated by Christopher Columbus prior to his fateful journey.
The reason why the rise of the Mongols, and their appetite for conquest, has never been explained is simple on the surface: there are no sources that can tell us what happened. Every history book repeats, with greater or lesser accuracy, what we learn from a special Mongol source, the epic saga, orally composed and transmitted sometime in the mid-thirteenth century, known as the Secret History of the Mongols. This marvelous composition retells the story of the rise of Temüjin, raised to be the khan of the Mongols with the title of Chinggis Khan in 1206. Episodes of the life of the Mongol conqueror, from foreordained birth to mysterious death, are narrated in beautiful prose and poetry. The trials and tribulations of Temüjin make it clear that he lived in a time of conflicts and violence. Skills, sagacity, fortune, and perseverance yield their rewards when he is able to unify all the Mongols under a single rule, an accomplishment followed in short succession by the decision to invade first northern China and then central Asia. 
The historicity of the epic rise of Chinggis Khan and the credibility of this account have long been doubted, but even if we were to take the Secret History as fully reliable, actual historical questions would be left unanswered. It has been so far impossible to explain how Chinggis Khan mustered the strength to extend his military operations and his rule so far outside his power base, originally located in northern Mongolia. It is also difficult to argue in favor of any compelling reason why, once peace had been restored among the various warring Mongol clans, more campaigns, as far-flung as Samarkand, the Caspian Sea, and the Himalayas, should be undertaken. Should we pin it on pure hubris, or say that Chinggis went on pillaging and conquering “because he could”? The Mongols did not keep historical records of any kind, and no Chinese or any other written sources provide clues that would allow historians to answer more specific questions: how was a central government and a large army supported? What was the economy of Mongolia after thirty years of civil war? How could the Mongol warriors be so successful in mounting large military operations given that the economy and society were supposedly in shambles? 
In 1950, Owen Lattimore, the renowned historian of Inner Asia, wrote: “As is now generally known, the Mongol eruption, and others of the same kind, were due to political causes, not to desiccation in Mongolia as was once assumed. Within historic times there have been no climatic changes that permanently reduced the amount of grazing necessary to support the population that seems to have lived in Outer Mongolia up to the present day. At times, sudden droughts, or a series of droughts, must have brought about small migrations from the poorer pastures bordering the desert, but with the return to normal conditions the desiccated areas appear to have soon received a fresh population.”1 Lattimore’s reactions to environmental determinism were credible and justified. The notion that Mongol warriors may have poured out of the steppes because worsening climate, marked by extensive droughts and frosts, might have pushed them to seek, literally, greener pastures, was not endorsed by him. Yet the idea that a climate-induced environmental crisis played some role in the general unfolding of events continued to linger. In a short note published in 1974, Gareth Jenkins presented climate data showing that “a steady and steep decline in the mean temperature in Mongolia in the years 1175–1260” could have had sufficient explanatory power to be included together with other factors, since a decline of such magnitude would have certainly had a “profound impact on a pastoral nomadic economy like in twelfth- and thirteenth-century Mongolia.” Jenkins thus argued that “a major climatic overturn did much to encourage the end to the infighting and vendettas among the Mongol clans and make possible their reorganization under Chinggis’s military authority,” and that “their enthusiasm for the task of conquest may well have been fueled by a climatic defeat at their backs.” Jenkins does seem to imply that the end of the civil wars among Mongols as well as their appetite for conquest could have been reactions to a prolonged worsening of the climate and environmental conditions. Still, climatic causes did not get much traction among scholars of Mongolian history, and historical works have remained essentially agnostic on this point, preferring to stick closely to the story presented in the few written sources, and thus privileging, like Lattimore, a political reading.
Pastoral nomadic societies are extremely sensitive to climate changes. Extreme events, such as heavy snowfalls, frosts in winter, or droughts in summer, can, in a very short time span, affect severely the delicate balance between humans, animals, and land. Even in recent times, especially harsh winters have caused the loss of a large portion of the Mongolian livestock. But how should one relate such potential disasters to historical events? Moreover, what happens when the climate becomes unusually favorable to the production of pastoral resources? Historians have overwhelmingly focused on downturns rather than upswings. Based on tree-ring analysis, climate scientists involved in the project in which I am participating have reconstructed the climate of the Orkhon Valley, located in east-central Mongolia, for more than a thousand years.2 This is the locale where the future capital of the Mongol empire, Karakorum, was going to be built, and an important political site for several nomadic empires such as the Turks (sixth to eighth centuries) and the Uighurs (eighth to ninth centuries). 
The data gathered from the tree rings shows an anomaly that caught the eyes of scientists. While the end of the twelfth century (especially the 1180s decade) was marked by prolonged droughts, the period from 1211 to 1225 was instead marked by persistently wet conditions, which would have increased the available pasturage, thus allowing for an increase in livestock. The anomalous sudden transition from a prolonged dry period to a prolonged wet period should indeed create conditions that might have affected the formation of a new political order in Mongolia.
Several studies have attempted, with different degrees of analytical rigor, to link climate change with the emergence of violent conflict. Although such studies are typically based on more-or-less strong correlations, it stands to reason that a reduction of resources may force nomadic groups to move in search of sufficient pasture to feed their animals, thus clashing with other groups over access to grassland. The Secret History of the Mongols describes a bleak world rife with tensions, violence, wars, and poverty. Of course, this could just be a standard literary device to describe a society in disarray, whose salvation would come as it was brought under a novel order by the new leader. This messianic element is necessary to ensure the legitimacy of a new type of sovereignty (supratribal) claimed and constructed by Chinggis Khan. However, surely one cannot exclude that such wars and feuds actually happened. The concomitance between deteriorating climate conditions, tales of violence, and a vast body of literature that tends to link climate and conflict, makes it plausible that Mongolia at the end of the twelfth century was indeed perturbed by winds of war and fierce intertribal conflicts. 
Contrary to Jenkins’s hypothesis, there is no reason to believe that conflict would subside and people would place themselves under someone’s rule because of deteriorating climate conditions. The most likely scenario is that during the time of intertribal wars and declining climate, Mongolia experienced vast loss of livestock, displacement of people, and the rise of military commanders vying for scarce resources. The political process common among ancient nomads eventually would remake the political order either by reconstituting territorially based political nuclei (clans and tribes) in a new equilibrium, or fully redefining it by endowing a supreme leader with exceptional powers, leading to a complete overhaul of the political order, one that went from decentralized to centralized, and thus organized in a new hierarchical pyramid-like structure. As we know, the latter is what happened, as all Mongols were brought under a single ruler thanks to the personal skills of Chinggis Khan in forging alliances, isolating his enemies, and introducing new institutions. 
Military operations against north China began to take place after Chinggis Khan was raised (literally, on a felt blanket) as the ruler of the people. The climate record for the first ten years of the thirteenth century is variable. The first part of the 1200s decade shows an amelioration of the climate followed by yearly fluctuations and a minor downturn. I would not suggest that Chinggis’s military operations were in any way related to climatic changes, but simply note that this period is surely very different from the previous two decades and especially from the very dry 1180s. However, the military operations of Chinggis Khan expanded exponentially from the 1210s until his death in 1227. During his time, the Mongols launched major expeditions in northern China against the Jin dynasty (1115–1234) and in Central Asia against the Muslim kingdom of the Khwarezmshah. The question that a historian needs to ask when climate data is taken into consideration is: what possible effects could a wetter climate have on the type of political structure and on the military operations initiated by Chinggis Khan? 
The most reasonable hypothesis toward which our project is working is that a wetter climate, with an increment of the grassland biomass and increasing levels of energy, could have aided the rise of a more powerful state in several ways. Reasoning hypothetically, we need to consider economic, political, and military aspects. On the economic side, we can infer at least two ways in which a moister climate plays a role. First, it assists the rapid economic recovery of the herds and welfare of the people after many years of privation and uncertainty. Secondly, it is possible that in various locations agriculture may have been stimulated, thus contributing to the net increase of available resources. Finding agriculture in Mongolia in this period would be by no means surprising, given the presence of stable settlements and urban sites at different times in the Mongolian steppes through its history. Some evidence of agriculture has been found in Karakorum when it became the Mongol empire’s capital, under Ögödei Khan. From a political point of view, the increased productivity of the land would allow greater density of people over a given territory. The Mongol court, especially one that concentrated all the power in a single seat, required thousands of servants, soldiers, animals, and, of course, all the families of the ruling elite and aristocracy to be located in a fairly contained area. Even if additional supplies were brought in from the outside, a highly productive area would have guaranteed a steady supply of surplus resources. This particular aspect would also be relevant to military operations, since a considerable number of soldiers, including the imperial bodyguard, would be living in close quarters and under the direct command of Chinggis Khan. Even more important, the Mongol army required a large number of mounts—each soldier would have needed on average five horses—which would not have been available in dry conditions, but would have been plentiful as pasture became more lush and nutritious. These considerations show that the wet environment might have had an important supporting role in fueling military operations and political centralization, sustaining the rapid recovery of the Mongol economy, and creating surpluses critical for the creation of “state-like” institutions and a centralized command structure and administration. 
Yet, there are a number of problems and questions that need to be addressed. For instance, the climate data comes from the Orkhon valley, rather than from the Onon valley, in northeastern Mongolia, where Chinggis Khan was based in 1206. There are indications that Chinggis moved the center of his operations to the Orkhon in the late 1210s, and availability of better pasture may have been a reason for this, but we cannot say that for sure until we have more data for other parts of Mongolia, and in particular the Onon-Kerlen region. Another important question is whether the hypothesis that favorable climate and increased rangeland productivity may have played a critical role in the politics of pastoral nomads should be tested against other historical cases. In historical research it is impossible to replicate exactly the same conditions, but our hypothesis would be strengthened if we were to observe that a rapid change from a period of temperature decline and dry weather, followed by markedly better conditions, coincided with drastic political transformations. No systematic research has been attempted so far. Some positive, if not fully relevant, indications, however, can be registered. For instance, Gergana Yancheva, et al., find that Chinese dynasties were established during wet periods, which may indicate a correlation between military operations and energy levels.3 Closer to our time and problem, a study of paleoenvironmental conditions in the territory of the Golden Horde (Russia–Ukraine) finds that “an increase in climatic humidity within this dry region took place in the period of the High Middle Ages, with a peak in the thirteenth–fourteenth centuries” and that “the favorable climatic, vegetation, and soil conditions in the Lower Volga steppes in the thirteenth–fourteenth centuries were factors that affected the local ethnic and socioeconomic conditions: numerous permanent settlements were established in the regions, and some nomads began crop cultivation.”4 The correlation established in these studies between social development and better climate conditions encourages further probing into the role played by a more favorable environment in the history of nomads. 
Beyond exploring ways in which climate data can open new avenues to explain otherwise irretrievable historical scenarios, coupling scientific and historical research may also produce models for future projects. This is especially important in the study of the history of people who have not left much in terms of documents or written records. Material culture, archaeological research into settlements and urban sites, palaeobotanical and palynological data, and climate science can provide evidence that, carefully examined in a comprehensive manner, may bring new insights into historical problems that would otherwise remain shrouded in mystery.
Nicola Di Cosmo joined the Institute as Luce Foundation Professor in East Asian Studies in the School of Historical Studies in 2003. His main field of research is the history of the relations between China and Inner Asia from prehistory to the modern period. He is currently working on questions of climate change at the time of the Mongol empire, the political thought of the early Manchus, and commercial relations in northeast Asia on the eve of the Qing conquest.
1.    Henry Desmond Martin, The Rise of Chingis Khan and His Conquest of North China, (Octagon Books, 1977), vii–viii.
2.    Neil Pederson, et. al., “Pluvials, Droughts, the Mongol Empire, and Modern Mongolia,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, March 25, 2014, 111 (12).
3.    Gergana Yancheva, et. al., “Influence of the Intertropical Convergence Zone on the East Asian Monsoon,” Nature 2007, 445: 74–77.
4.    V. A. Demkin, et. al., “Paleosol and Paleoenvironmental Conditions in the Lower Volga Steppes during the Golden Horde Period (Thirteenth–Fourteenth Centuries A.D.),” Eurasian Soil Science, 2006, 39.2: 115–26.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Questions around finds from tomb at the Pazyryk burial ground Taldur II

Pair died in 500BC and went to next life in fur coats, but with their heads severed

By The Siberian Times reporter
26 September 2016
Skulls of ancient adult and child pair placed near kneecaps of grown-up, in bizarre burial puzzling archeologists.
'And the heads are not missing at all. They were included in the burial.' Picture: Nikita Konstantinov
The newly-found burial from the ancient Pazyryk culture has produced a sight unknown to archeologists. Two skeletons were found in the riverside tomb - an adult and child, or teenager, but further investigation is needed to understand if they were male or female. 
Remnants remain of fur garments: evidently the dead were dispatched to the afterlife warmly dressed against the Siberian cold in the Altai Mountains. Two small bronze mirrors and parts of a ceramic vessel were also discovered in a 2,500 year old grave that had been partially robbed in ancient times. 
The discovery of this tomb at this Pazyryk burial ground - named Taldur II, close to Old Beltir village - provides some intriguing challenges to scientists.

The discovery of this tomb at this Pazyryk burial ground - named Taldur II, close to Old Beltir village - provides some intriguing challenges to scientists. Pictures: The Siberian Times
Headless burials were a feature of this era, yet this one is completely different to anything seen before from the Pazyryks, a culturally advanced group that held sway at this time in southern Siberia.
Dr Nikita Konstantinov, of Gorno-Altaisk State University who headed the excavations, said: 'Burials without heads are quite common. Usually it is because of war. There was a widespread practice in which bowls were made of the heads of defeated enemies.'
It was the ultimate victor's justice: to eat from the skulls of enemies. 'But this is obviously a different case,' he insisted. 
Skulls of ancient adult and child pair placed near kneecaps of grown-up, in bizarre burial puzzling archeologists. Picture: Nikita Konstantinov
In previous burials, the heads of these enemies were not buried in the same grave. And in this case, care was taken to send the deceased on their way well dressed and with the expected rituals of an honoured death. 
Moreover, among their own people - rather than enemies in war - the Pazyryks generally took care not to distort the bodies of the diseased. 'There are also remains of the child and we have never previously seen burials of children without heads,' he said.
'And the heads are not missing at all. They were included in the burial.'
Burial mound

Two skeletons were found in the riverside tomb - an adult and child, or teenager, but further investigation is needed to understand if they were male or female. Pictures: Nikita Konstantinov
The archeologists have examined whether the grave-robbers in stealing ornaments buried with the dead might have severed the heads and placed them by the knees of the dead for unknown reasons. 
Yet against this is the fact that the 'skeletons remained in anatomical order - which means that if the heads were moved after burial, it must have been when the ligaments had not decomposed' - so very soon post-death. 
'And again there is a question: why would the robbers do this? Perhaps they were afraid that the dead could resurrect and revenge? Or was it an act of humiliation? Or some ritual?'
Bronze mirrors

Golden foil

Remnants of fur
Bronze mirrors, golden foil and remnants of fur clothes were found in the tomb. Pictures: Nikita Konstantinov
Yet it is unique among Pazyryk burials. No such graves have been found before in Siberia, he says. The archeologists say the other version 'is that these people were buried initially with their heads cut off....and placed close to their knees'.
He admitted: 'We have no explanation why this was done so. We have no similar examples.'
The discovery has left 'more questions than answers', he acknowledged. 'We have no similar cases, so we need to investigate this one very thoroughly. We will continue the research of these skeletons. 
'We need to determine their gender and (approximate) age. It is also important to study the traces on their cervical vertebrae to understand how and when the heads were cut off or separated in some other way. We hope to get the first results in December or January.'

The Tomb of Genghis Khan

‘They’re all wrong’: 86-year-old explorer leads new hunt for Genghis Khan’s tomb on ‘Mountain X’

With advancing technology, the race to find the burial place of the Mongolian conqueror is gaining momentum. Former Explorers Club president Alan Nichols is leading a new hunt for Khan’s tomb at a place he calls Mountain X

For nearly 800 years, archaeologists, treasure hunters, scientists, and explorers have been searching for the tomb of 13th century Mongolian emperor Genghis Khan. Many have dedicated their lives to the search, and yet no one has found him.
The problem is, according to 86-year-old American explorer, author and lawyer Alan Nichols, they’re all looking in the wrong place.
A former president of the New York-based Explorers Club, Nichols, who led nine of its flag expeditions – those intended to further the cause of exploration and field science – is an expert in sacred mountains and was the first person to cycle the entire Silk Road from Turkey to China. 

Most previous efforts to find the resting place of the founder of the Mongol empire have concentrated on Burkhan Khaldun, a sacred mountain in the Khentii province of northeastern Mongolia. Khan is believed to have been born near the mountain, which is thought to have served as a spiritual refuge for him.
“That’s where all the modern guys are,” says Nichols. “[National Geographic adventurer] Albert Lin is up there, [archaeologist Maury] Kravitz was there, the Japanese and a whole bunch of smaller searches. They’re all wrong.”
Nichols is confident he has nailed down the location of the burial site, which he refers to as “Mountain X” for reasons of confidentiality. “For now, all I can say is that it’s somewhere within the historical Mongol empire, though the borders of China and Mongolia in those days were non-existent, since he had conquered northern China,” he says.
The search has been gaining momentum, thanks to new technology and easier air travel. Lin, a research scientist at University of California, San Diego has been leading an international crowdsourcing effort to search for the tomb using non-invasive technology such as satellite-based remote sensing, asking people around the world to tag anomalies on images taken from space, which could indicate man-made structures under the ground.
“That’s big money and big manpower,” says Nichols. “Albert Lin, he’s a great guy, he has a lab [that’s] darn near half a block. It’s one huge lab with maybe 10 or 12 graduate students – and he is developing drones, satellite imagery, caves and all this wonderful stuff.
“So I love to tell him, God that’s the most impressive stuff I’ve ever seen. The only problem is, you’re 1,000 miles away.” 

When we speak via video conference, Nichols is about to set off on a flag-bearing expedition to locate the tomb, taking with him a team of experts and the latest underground testing equipment to prove it.
He has been researching and preparing for this trip for the past 10 years, and his theory is based on a set of necessary criteria he has developed for locating the site.
One of the main reasons he’s convinced the burial site is not in the Khentii Mountains is that the Great Khan – who, he claims, was actually called Chinggis Qa’an – was a master of deception.
According to Jack Weatherford, author of Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (2004), one of his most successful war strategies was the “Dog Fight”, whereby his armies would fool his enemies into thinking they were retreating, lure them away from their villages, then surprise them with an attack when they were tired, weak and dispersed.
Nichols says: “He was a genius at deception; you don’t think he’s going to use it? And being as wonderful as he is, he’s managed to deceive all these fabulously smart people – including Marco Polo.”
Whether measured by the number of people defeated, countries annexed or total area occupied, Khan conquered more than twice as much as any other man in history, according to Weatherford. Many differing legends surround the burial of Khan, who died in 1227, in Western Xia (in today’s northwestern China) in his mid-60s. There are different stories about how he died; some say he was killed in action, others suspect it was from a wound, and one rumour spread by his detractors even suggested that a captured Tangut queen inserted a contraption into her vagina that ripped his sexual organs, causing him to bleed to death.
According to popular belief, a cortege of soldiers escorted the body back to Mongolia for a secret burial, killing every person and animal they met along the way. Eight hundred horsemen then trampled the area to obscure its location, and then they too were killed so they couldn’t reveal the grave’s location, as were the soldiers who killed them – and the soldiers who killed them.
“It’s not possible that it’s in the Khentii because Chinggis Qa’an and his family made a big deal out of taking a casket up there,” says Nichols. “It’s the first place that everybody would think of. ”
The Mongols believe a body should not be disturbed. Every warrior had a spirit banner, made by tying strands of hair from a warrior’s best stallions to his spear, and that’s where the spirit went when they died. “Dying? That’s something the Mongolians didn’t even think about. You transisted; you changed states.”

Many people have claimed to know the location of Genghis Khan’s tomb, but none have been able to prove it. One website reported a couple of years ago that construction workers in Khentii had stumbled upon the royal burial site. However, another article says they’ve found proof that Jesus was an alcoholic.
Nichols is well aware that the Mongolians want the body to be left in peace. He says his fellow researchers there have told him they hope he doesn’t find it; they don’t want anybody to find it, let alone a foreigner.
“So, why would we look for him? We know Genghis Khan didn’t want it, and I have absolute respect for him,” says Nichols. “The answer is this: I have a list, and there’s at least 70 separate important things on that list that I can find about Genghis Khan and his people from what I know is in his tomb. I can tell you about his religion, his clothes, his nutrition, his war strategy, and of course race – where the Mongols came from. So it gives you unbelievable information.” 

The second reason, he adds, is that if he doesn’t find him, somebody else will, and part of his objective is to protect and conserve the site. “The fact is, everybody who’s looking for him has got some axe to grind: you want to find him to get all the glory? Because you want the gold and silver? Or because you’re a professor and you want to be a big hero in the academic world?”
Nichols has been to the site three times and has already detected anomalies. This time he’s returning armed with the latest non-invasive equipment: an advanced form of magnetometer and ground piercing radars. Among the pieces of proof he’s looking for are a silver casket, horses, bones, gold and silver, weapons and siege machinery. 

“Let’s say I’m wrong. Let’s say I get under there and I find sheep bones. But – and this is true of all science – the guy who finds the cure for cancer, or immunisation for this or that, he’s dependent on all the other brilliant guys who tried something else and were wrong. I don’t have to bother with Burkhan Khaldun, because Lin’s up there, and he’s as sophisticated as you can get.
“And will I take a chance? I’m not insane – it could be a failure, you always have to face that chance. But if I don’t find it, hopefully somebody is going to find it in my lifetime. Or maybe not. This Chinggis Qa’an was a really creative guy.”
To be continued: the South China Morning Post will be following Alan Nichols’ expedition closely, and providing updates on his progress.