Archaeologists Confirm Site of Genghis Khan’s Winter Base Camp

by johnsmith

Avraga, a Mongol Empire site located in an open steppe environment along the Avraga River in east-central Mongolia, was the winter base camp (ordū) of Genghis Khan, according to new research from the Australian National University and the Mongolian Institute of Archaeology.

Genghis Khan’s enthronement in 1206 CE from the History of the World by Rashid al-Din.

Genghis Khan’s enthronement in 1206 CE from the History of the World by Rashid al-Din.

Genghis Khan, known as Chinggis Khan in Mongolia, lived from about 1162 until 1227 CE.

The location of his command post from where he staged his invasions has been the subject of lengthy debate among historians and archaeologists.

“Genghis Khan had at least four ordū,” said Dr. Li Narangoa, a historian at the Australian National University.

“The historical documentation appears to indicate the one at Avraga was his main camp, probably for both spring and winter, so this research is significant because it provides the natural science based proof for the findings of historians.”

“This was the camp where Genghis Khan started his campaign against his southern neighbors and this work supports this; it’s a great contribution to historical research.”

“Our research supports Avraga as Genghis Khan’s ordū, and while we still have no conclusive link to him, in my view, Avraga is more likely than not to have been his base camp,” said Dr. Jack Fenner, an archaeologist at the Australian National University.

“We also see evidence of religious or ceremonial functions at Avraga that we see extending into the Yuan Empire in China, which was part of the Mongol Empire’s southern expansion.”

In the study, Dr. Fenner and colleagues took a series of radiocarbon dating samples from what little remains of the main part of Avraga.

The researchers showed conclusively that the site was occupied during the lifetime of the Mongol leader and extended beyond the time his son, Ogedei Khan, took over after his father’s death.

“Twenty radiocarbon determinations firmly establish that most of the Avraga site was used during the 13th century CE — in fact, almost certainly during Genghis Khan’s lifetime,” they said.

“This provides additional chronological support for the proposal that Avraga was the location of Genghis Khan’s ordū.”

“A large platform at the site was used well into the 14th century CE while there is evidence the rest of the site was abandoned.”

Some researchers have suggested the desire for millet, a staple of the Mongolian diet, was a key motivator behind the expansion of the Mongolian Empire, but the team’s analyses of livestock bones from Avraga do not support this.

“Our analyses of the differences in the chemistry of the bones from both high and low status individuals are caused by environmental factors rather than from differences in diet,” Dr. Fenner said.

“It goes back to the saying ‘you are what you eat’ and we found that aridity affecting the food sources of the Mongols is behind what we’re seeing in the bones, rather than a change in what they ate to include millet.”

“We’ve determined that the elites in Mongol society ate roughly the same diet as the commoners — mainly meat and animal products — despite having access to a variety of foods.”

The findings were published in the journal Archaeological Research in Asia.


Jack N. Fenner et al. 2020. Stable isotope and radiocarbon analyses of livestock from the Mongol Empire site of Avraga, Mongolia. Archaeological Research in Asia 22: 100181; doi: 10.1016/j.ara.2020.100181

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