Field Expedition: Mongolia, Valley of the Khans Project

The Valley of the Khans Project is a nondestructive archaeological survey utilizing modern digital tools from a variety of disciplines, including digital imagery, computer vision, nondestructive surveying, and on-site digital archaeology. The goal of the search is to identify archaeological sites without disturbing them–in the area of Mongolia's most sacred heritage–Genghis Khan's homeland. This maintains respect and reverence for local customs while enabling protective measures through organizations such as UNESCO. With the growing trend of rogue illegal mining in the region, such protective measures will be critical in the preservation of this iconic symbol of world cultural heritage and the rich cultural patrimony throughout Mongolia.

This project would not be possible without the help from the following partners:

University of California, San Diego
UC San Diego is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through excellence in education and research at the undergraduate, graduate, professional school, and postdoctoral levels.

Waitt Foundation
Ted Waitt established the Waitt Foundation in 1993 to reflect his family’s heartfelt commitment to give back to the community by “helping good people do great things” through research and education.

Calit2 is taking ideas beyond theory into practice, accelerating innovation and shortening the time to product development and job creation.

GeoEye Foundation
The Foundation provides satellite imagery to students and faculty at select educational institutions to advance research in geographic information systems and environmental studies, and it also offers select imagery to support non-governmental institutions in their missions of humanitarian support.

Mongolian Academy of Sciences
In the 13th century, Mongolians, in particular the Great Khaan Khubilai, established the first academic organization of the nation, “The Academy of Worthies," now know as the Mongolian Academy of Sciences.

International Association for Mongol Studies
The International Association for Mongol Studies is an international non-governmental scholarly organization uniting Mongolists and Mongolian studies centers in various countries on a voluntary basis.

Trimble is transforming the way work is done through the application of innovative positioning. Trimble uses GPS, lasers, optical, and inertial technologies, as well as wireless communications and application specific software to provide complete solutions that link positioning to productivity.

Satcom Direct
Satcom Direct sets the standard in technical support for satellite communications in explorer, business and government applications. Our goal, since 1997, is to ensure our customers stay connected and that we continue to provide the highest level of service and support available in the industry.

Since its origins in 1985 Minelab has been, and still is, the world leader in providing metal detecting technologies. Through devotion to research and development and innovative design, Minelab is today a major world manufacturer of hand held metal detector products.


Dr. Albert Yu-Min Lin
National Geographic Emerging Explorer; CISA3, UCSD; Principal Investigator

Albert Yu-Min Lin’s explorations are groundbreaking, because they never break ground. He uses noninvasive computer based technologies to gather, synthesize, and visualize data without disturbing a blade of grass.

“Exploration has always been about going where we haven’t been able to go before,” Lin notes. “Environmental, cultural, or political obstacles may have prevented us from exploring certain places. Today technology helps us navigate past those old barriers.” For Lin, cutting-edge tools such as satellite imagery, ground-penetrating radar, and remote sensors permit him to make archaeological discoveries while respecting the traditional beliefs of indigenous people.

Today Lin and other researchers from a cross section of fields have at their fingertips a veritable high-tech toy store. It’s called the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2). Created by the University of California to foster interdisciplinary collaboration, it allows Lin to access an unparalleled array of digital 3-D immersive technologies and then link his efforts to those of other scientists.

A case in point is Lin’s search for the tomb of Genghis Khan, a quest that has eluded scientists and historians for centuries. Many Mongolians consider the tomb an extremely sacred place and believe any desecration of it could trigger a curse that would end the world.

“Using traditional archeological methods would be disrespectful to believers," Lin says. "The ability to explore in a noninvasive way lets us try to solve this ancient secret without overstepping cultural barriers. It also allows us to empower Mongolian researchers with tools they might not have access to otherwise. Today’s world still benefits from Genghis Kahn’s ability to connect East with West. He forged international relations that have never been broken. By locating his tomb, we hope to emphasize how important it is for the world to protect such cultural heritage treasures.”

Lin’s passion for exploring and preserving “our collective cultural heritage” was inspired by his last ten adventurous summers spent trekking solo through Pakistan, Cambodia, China, Tibet, Mongolia, and other remote regions.

Pondering the power of new technologies, Lin offers, “Exploration is part of it, but another big aspect is conservation. In many ways technology has created problems for our planet. One of the greatest things we can do is better use these tools to actually give back to the planet—preserving wildlife, cultures, history, and habitats. I think we have to decide why progress is important. Is it just to become faster, better human computers—or to become more human?”

Lin was named Adventurer of the Year last year, and also has been inducted into the Explorers Club.

To contact Albert directly please e-mail him at: or visit his web site at

(More about Albert Lin)

Dr. Shagdaryn Bira
Co-Principal Investigator (Mongolia)

Professor Shagdaryn Bira, secretary general of the International Association for Mongol Studies, Labor hero of Mongolia, and laureate of the state prize of Mongolia for his scholarly work on the history of the country, is a historian who has won international acclaim for his multifaceted research examining the history, culture, religion, and languages of the Mongols. This research covers a wide cultural area, including India and Tibet. He also has made noteworthy contributions to the organization and spread of Mongol research on an international level.

Dr. Fredrik Hiebert
National Geographic Archaeology Fellow; Co-Principal Investigator

Archaeologist and explorer Dr. Fredrik Hiebert has searched for human history in some of the world’s most remote and romantic places. An expert on the ancient Silk Road, he has excavated sites along this millennia-old link between Europe and East Asia from Egypt to Mongolia. Following this most famous of trade routes led him to Afghanistan, where in 2004 he helped inventory the hidden national treasures of Afghanistan—a trove of Silk Road-era artifacts lost during Afghanistan’s decades of political upheaval. He has played a key role in recovering that country’s endangered cultural heritage, most recently by curating a traveling exhibition of treasures from the National Museum in Kabul. Hiebert is also a pioneer of underwater archaeology, having searched for evidence of ancient settlements in the Black Sea (with Titanic discoverer Robert Ballard), and in South America’s Lake Titicaca. As National Geographic’s archaeology fellow, he extends his infectious enthusiasm for archaeology to the public through speaking engagements, film, and other media.

(More about Fredrik Hiebert)

Professor Tsogt-Ochiryn Ishdorj
Co-Principal Investigator (Mongolia)

Deputy Director of the International Association for Mongol Studies; Co-Principal Investigator, Mongolian Expedition Leader

Professor Tsogt-Ochiryn Ishdorj is the Mongolian expedition leader for the Valley of the Khans Project, having several decades of expertise in cultural heritage research of Mongolia.

Luke Barrington
Basecamp Support

Luke Barrington adds computer intelligence to the team’s field wisdom. An expert in machine learning and signal processing, he develops algorithms that learn to automatically detect relevant information from image, audio, and video data. Luke’s experience with online data mining, human computation games, and crowdsourcing will take the Valley of the Khans Project online and engage participation from thousands of armchair explorers around the world.

Mijiddorj Enkhbayar
Archaeologist, Doctorate

Enkhbayar Mijiddorj (Misha) is from the Department of Archaeology at Ulaanbaatar State University. Dr. Mijiddorj has performed archeological field research throughout Mongolia and is an expert in Mongolian history and archeological techniques. His expertise has been a critical component throughout the Valley of the Khans project.

Dr. Alex Novo
Environmental Engineer; Geophysical Survey Specialist

A noninvasive geophysical survey specialist, Dr. Alex Novo, from the Geostudi Astier in Livorno, Italy, is an expert in ground-penetrating radar 3-D high-resolution reconstruction and imaging and will be mapping the sites of archaeological interest for the expedition.

Dr. Nathan Ricklin
Calit2, UCSD; Field Systems Engineer

Nathan Ricklin will provide the critical field support necessary to maintain fluid operational status of all field instrumentation, including data collection, analysis, and interface design. While working at the Army Research Laboratory in Adelphi, Maryland, he gained expertise in MATLAB and the instrument-control toolbox to interface with lab instruments for automation and data collection. Later work at the Research Institute for Optronics and Pattern Recognition in Ettlingen, Germany, resulted in the novel application of distortion-correction methods in image sequences. Ricklin has expert-level experience with computer hardware, MATLAB, C, Linux, and open-source software.

Dr. Shay Har-Noy
Calit2, UCSD; Computer Vision Engineer

Shay Har-Noy graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from Rice University in 2004 and a master's degree and a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering from the University of California, San Diego in 2006 and 2009. He has extensive experience in the field of image/video processing and computer vision and holds multiple patents and publications in the field. Har-Noy is currently with ViaSat, Inc., where he works on the deployment and development of satellite communication systems around the world. In addition to his technical expertise, Har-Noy is an avid climber and has been recognized twice in the American Alpine Journal for first ascents in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. His expertise in communication, computer vision, and image/video processing will be essential to the development of novel digital interfaces during the remote-sensing phase of the project.

Dr. Kostas Stamatiou
Calit2, UCSD; Historical Research

Curiosity led Kostas Stamatiou on travels away from his native Greece to the rest of Europe, North Africa, and Asia. He came to the United States in 2002 in order to rock climb and pursue a Ph.D. in electrical engineering at the University of California, San Diego. He is now a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Notre Dame, where he conducts research on the performance analysis and design of modern wireless communication networks. Stamatiou's primary role in the Valley of the Khans Project is to educate himself and his fellow engineers on the rich literature regarding 13th-14th century Mongolia, Mongol customs, and spiritual beliefs. He holds a supporting role in other aspects of the project, including fieldwork and expedition planning.

Jake Felderman
Legal Counsel

Jake Felderman graduated with a B.A. from the University of Iowa, where he also competed as a collegiate wrestler. He received his law degree from the University of Iowa and is currently a practicing attorney in California. Felderman has been an avid climber and mountaineer since 1996. After a near fatal fall in 2000, he was forced to take a year off of climbing so that he could heal, learn to walk again, and regain the overall strength and stamina necessary for the sport. Although doctors said he might not walk again, he returned to the sport and has since climbed in some of the most challenging and renowned North American crags. Felderman will be assisting the conservation efforts as part of the major goals of this expedition.

Omri Paran
Geographic Information System (GIS) Mapping Specialist

While attending University of California, San Diego (UCSD) in pursuit of a bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering, Omri also worked in the UCSD Geisel Library Geographic Information System (GIS) Lab. He will be mapping the cultural heritage sites as the team explores Mongolia.

Ben Horton

Ben Horton started his career as a photographer by taking photographs of places where other people simply couldn't go. The more remote the location, the harder it was to get there, the more appeal it had for the young upstart. As it goes, Ben's original passion caught ahold of him once again while shooting a documentary film on a remote island in the Pacific. Ben was awarded the first ever National Geographic Young Explorers Grant for work he did to expose the issue of shark poaching on Cocos Island and as a result, he was invited to join National Geographic Explorer in Residence Will Steger on a two month arctic adventure, using photography to document the effects of global warming. Ben is now a contributing photographer for National Geographic, and uses his advanced outdoor skills to tell the stories of the worlds far off places. Ben's early career as a professional Kayaker gets him into remote rivers, diving and climbing experience get him to vantage points not often seen by the general public.

Andrew Huynh
Human Computation Specialist

Andrew Huynh is a graduate student in the Computer Science engineering department whose research focuses on combining the application of machine learning to satellite images and human computation--or rather, teaching a machine to recognize what he is trying to find through the help of human perception. Andrew's experience with machine learning and crowdsourcing will enable the data collected online through the Valley of the Khans Project to help find and preserve long lost pieces of cultural heritage.

Radley Angelo
UAV Specialist

Radley is a third year undergraduate student at the University of California at San Diego. Radley has extensive experience with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, an important data collecting tool for the VOTK expedition. Radley will be conducting aerial surveys of historically significant archaeological sites and will work closely with the team on data collection and organization.

Jeremiah Rushton
Trimble 3D mapping expert

Jeremiah Rushton holds a Bachelor's of Science from the University of California, San Diego in Electrical and Computer Engineering and will continue studying at UCSD to pursue a PhD in the same field.