TechThawing permafrost unveils 13th-century cemetery and yak milk secrets of Genghis Khan's Empire

Thawing permafrost unveils 13th-century cemetery and yak milk secrets of Genghis Khan's Empire

Chubsugul Lake.
Chubsugul Lake.
Images source: © Adobe Stock

1:29 PM EST, January 15, 2024

It's important to note that Genghis Khan ruled all Mongols at the beginning of the 13th century. The Mongol Empire is renowned as the largest empire in history. It stretched from the Pacific coastlines to Eastern Europe, covering about 8.89 million square miles.

13th-century human remains discovered

A 13th-century cemetery unveiled numerous valuable artifacts and human remains from the Mongol Empire era. Research conducted in the Chubsuguul region, cited by IFL Science, was published in the "Communications Biology" journal.

The remains of 11 individuals were unearthed from the cemetery above in territories of the former Genghis Khan empire. Scientists observed the remarkably well-preserved condition of the bodies due to the region's conditions.

Low temperatures ensured the preservation of the remains, but thawing permafrost presents a challenge for scientists. Rising temperatures and exposure lead the remains to decompose quicker and eventually disappear. The risk of theft also poses a problem.

Scientists analyzed the human remains to learn about their lifestyle and diet. Examination of the latter revealed that the nobility of the Mongol Empire consumed a lot of yak milk.

The correlation between human remains from Mongol burial sites, and evidence of yak milk consumption was a significant discovery for scientists. According to IFL Science, these animals provided a high-energy food source for the local population. "Yaks play a critical role in the culture of people in high-altitude regions of eastern Eurasia", they reported.

Yak milk was not the only product consumed by the Mongols. Protein analysis from the dental calculus of the discovered remains also indicated that the individuals buried near Lake Chubsuguul consumed horse, sheep, goat, and cow milk.

"Our most significant discovery was an elite woman buried in a birch bark hat and silk robes featuring a golden dragon with five claws. Proteomic analysis indicated that she consumed yak milk throughout her life", says Alicia Ventresca-Miller from the University of Michigan.

More than just human remains were discovered in the cemetery. Scientists also discuss the myriad of valuable artifacts with which individuals were buried approximately 800 years ago. These materials evidence that individuals of high social standing were interred in the cemetery.

Leather goods, gold, and silk were found within the graves. Scientists also recognize the significance of the ceramic vessels found, which provide further insight into the belief systems and daily life during the largest empire in history.

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