SIBERIAN ISLAND ENIGMA
Archaeology|September/October 2020
It’s hard to imagine that a tiny tree ring could help solve one of the medieval world’s most puzzling mysteries.
JARRETT A. LOBELL

But by applying the familiar technique of radiocarbon dating in a novel way, scholars have been able to answer the confounding question of why no one ever lived in or even used, a striking complex of buildings at a site in the Tuva Republic called Por-Bajin.

Por-Bajin, or “Clay House” in Tuvan, is located on an island more than 4,000 feet above sea level in southern Siberia’s Lake Tere-Khol. Archaeological explorations of the site started in the late nineteenth century and an extensive research project has taken place there since 2007. It was known from the recent excavations that the 700-by-530foot complex was constructed by a Uighur khan in a short time, probably a span of two years, in the eighth-century a.d. But there has never been a consensus as to which ruler commissioned the complex—or even what its function was. It seemed an ideal place to test something new.

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