AN INTERNATIONAL expedition led by British researcher William Lindesay believes that a 1,900-year-old wall in the heart of the Gobi Desert, which the Mongolians call the “Wall of Genghis Khan” is actually part of the Great Wall of China and was built by the Western Han dynasty.
The Great Wall of China is made up of many different pieces, constructed at different times and spread over large parts of the country but this section in Mongolia was not previously thought to be part of the Great Wall.
It is found 40km north of the China-Mongolian border in Ömnögovi Province, and is preserved to a height of 2.5m, giving defenders a bird’s eye view over the flat desert in order to observe the approach of enemies.
“Overall, the Wall of Genghis Khan in Ömnögovi appears to be a missing piece of the Han Dynasty Great Wall which was routed through the heart of the Gobi around 115BC,” said Mr Lindesay, who has lived in China for 25 years and is one of the experts on the Great Wall, having published numerous books on aspects of its history.
“If we look at maps and Google Earth, it’s pretty clear that the wall on either side of the border was in fact the same structure – the Han Great Wall – in ancient times. Now it’s a remnant of the Great Wall marooned outside China ...Genghis Khan was a conquerer, not a defender, and it seems his name is given as a ‘brand name’ to various things in Mongolia – so we believe it’s just an honorific name on the wall,” said Mr Lindesay.
To find a more convincing reason for the purpose of the structure, Mr Lindesay turned to The Secret History of the Mongolswhich is Mongolia's first history text.
One explanation here was that Genghis Khan’s son, Ogodei Khan, as his successor, authorised the building of walls to prevent the migration of gazelles off the land.
They then carried out radiocarbon dating of samples of wood collected from the base of the eroded wall, and discovered that branches from the wall were cut during the 12th century, suggesting it was reconstructed later.
Taking the ancient geography of the region into account, it seems most likely that the remains of the Han Dynasty Great Wall were rebuilt by the Western Xia Dynasty (AD 1032-1227) at a time when tribes in Mongolia were rising in strength and making forays south.
The Western Xia Dynasty was not previously known to have built a Great Wall, but Mr Lindesay believes this is because the dynasty was the first kingdom that Genghis Khan attacked when he united the Steppe tribes in 1206.
“Because it took him 18 years to win the campaign he was enraged, and didn’t spare anything – he destroyed everything, and even died himself that year, in 1227.” The expedition took place at the end of August 2011 and China’s leading Great Wall expert, Prof Luo Zhewen, said the expedition revealed “a harvest of new information for our researchers to consider”. For Mr Lindesay, exploring the wall is a labour of love.
“It’s been more than worth it, to discover an unknown Great Wall of China.”