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Mongolia-Japan Joint Research Project on Archaeological Sites related to Genghis Khan (“Shine Zuun” New Century Project)

Mongolia-Japan Joint Research Project on Archaeological Sites related to Genghis Khan (“Shine Zuun” New Century Project)

Faculty of Humanities, Niigata University

Mongolia

The Avraga archaeological site

2001-2006 Fundamental Research
01/12/2011
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BACKGROUND

Research and Conservation of Avraga, Capital of “The Blue Wolf”

The key to the mysteries surrounding the rise of the great empire

Genghis Khan was the founder of the vast Mongol Empire, which emerged in the early thirteenth century and dominated vast areas of the Eurasian continent. Avraga was the site of Genghis Khan’s stronghold. The remains of Avraga, known as the first capital of the Mongol Empire, are located in the grasslands of Delgerkhaan village, in Khentii Province, approximately 250km southeast of the present capital, Ulaanbaatar. The site is considered important for understanding the rise to power of Genghis Khan and the development of his empire, yet very few studies have been carried out to date.


Transformation taking place in the grasslands of Mongolia

 The archaeological site of Avraga has been seriously damaged by the tracks of vehicles that travel back and forth at random across the land in order to get to the villages and scenic areas nearby. In addition, Mongolia is going through rapid economic growth, and its GDP has risen approximately 10% compared to the previous year, due to development of underground resources such as coal and rare earth minerals. The living standard of people in Mongolia is improving, but the gap between the rich and poor is wide, and infrastructure is insufficient, so there is little room in government budgets for cultural projects. Furthermore, not only is protection of cultural heritage always last on the list for funding, but mining and road construction are given priority, with the result that valuable cultural heritage is being demolished every year. Avraga is no exception, and development plans are now under discussion to exploit the potential of coal and petroleum reserves in the area. Detailed research and a conservation plan for Avraga are now urgently needed.

Protective fence

An exhibition at the Museum

ACTIVITIES

Globalization and regional contribution

International research team

The objective of the current project is to unravel the history of Genghis Khan and the emergence of the Mongol Empire. Given the scarcity of written artifacts, we proceed by applying an empirical approach based on archeological evidence. Researchers from Niigata University and the Institute of Archaeology of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences form the core members of the project, with participants from ten universities in Japan, as well as researchers from the United States and China.


Integration of research, conservation and dissemination

Excavation forms the major part of the project, but efforts are also made toward conservation and dissemination. After researching the site, and carrying out exhaustive documentation of the ruins, we rebury everything as it was, to protect it from harm. This is very important in Mongolia, where severe weather conditions may cause serious damage to the remains. In 2007, we were able to build a steel fence around the site, which covers an area of 1200m by 500m, thanks to financial support from the Grant Assistance for Cultural Grassroots Projects administered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. The fence protects the site from unrestricted car traffic. In addition, we established a museum near the site with financial assistance from the Government of Mongolia. The museum exhibits the artifacts excavated from the Avraga site, to inform the public about the site and its significance. We also offer field trips for local schoolchildren, who will be the bearers of the heritage in the future, so that they will better understand the site, and learn to protect and care for it.

Building ruins from the Genghis Khan Era

On-site workshop for local elementary school students

RESULTS

From National Heritage to World Heritage

Mongolia’s Spiritual Homeland

The most significant discovery at the site of Avraga was the mausoleum of Genghis Khan. This mausoleum, constructed after Khan’s death to venerate his soul, is believed to be the original location of a sacred place known as the “Mausoleum of Genghis Khan,” now located in Inner Mongolia, in the Republic of China. Genghis Khan is a hero for Mongolians, representing their identity, and so his mausoleum can be said to be the spiritual homeland of Mongolia. There are many other historical sites in the area related to Genghis Khan that are indispensable to an understanding of his life. The region is home to legends of Khan, and to people whose traditional nomadic lifestyle, like the landscape, remains unchanged from the days of the Empire.


Integration of history, nature and tradition

Working in close coordination with the Government of Mongolia and local researchers, our project promotes the conservation of the Avraga site and surrounding area as an integrated cultural heritage site incorporating history, nature, and tradition. We have been striving constantly to develop measures to disseminate information about this site, not only to Mongolians, but to the world. The site of Avraga was designated as a Most Important Cultural Heritage in Mongolia, and was included on the country’s list of candidates for the UNESCO World Heritage list. Looking forward, we shall redouble our efforts to protect the site, and to have it inscribed on the World Heritage list.

Exterior of the Museum

Excavation work

MAP