Trees Tip Off Researchers to Secrets of Genghis Khan

  • Historians have hypothesized that it was variable climate and drought in particular that drove the development of the Mongol empire and Genghis Khan. The evidence is in the trees. Photo: Ludovic Hirlimann

August 28, 2013
By Glynis Board

Associate chair of the geography department at West Virginia University, Amy Hessl, says her interest in Mongolia came after a visit there while she attended some workshops. The country between China and Russia is mostly dominated by wide arid grasslands, but Hessl explains that in the north the landscape is more mountainous with forests.

“If you landed in Mongolia magically, you might think you landed in Montana or Idaho—particularly the northern part of the country. It’s very similar in terms of the forest, grasslands, and climate,” Hessl says.

In fact, initially, Hessl went to study climate change and forest fires. While she was there, she and her team came upon trees growing on an 8,000-year-old lava field. It was there where she discovered what are essentially preserved natural records of times gone by.

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