National Geographic Explorer Albert Lin is something of a modern-day Indiana Jones, traveling to remote locations all over the globe to take part in a variety of archaeological missions. His most recent expeditions are chronicled in the new NatGeo documentary series, Lost Cities Revealed with Albert Lin, premiering on Thanksgiving Day. The first episode (“The Warrior King”) follows Lin as he navigates a sacred mountain and a flooded tomb underneath a pyramid in the Sudanese desert, hunting for the lost capital of the Kingdom of Kush.
A California native, Lin holds a PhD in mechanical and aerospace engineering from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). He subsequently founded UCSD’s Center for Human Frontiers, which focuses on harnessing technology to augment human potential. So it’s not surprising that he first made a name for himself by combining satellites, aerial remote sensing (drones), and Lidar mapping with more traditional ground exploration to hunt for the missing tomb of Genghis Khan in 2009.
The Valley of the Khans Project also successfully employed crowdsourcing (via more than 10,000 online volunteers) to help analyze the resulting satellite and aerial photography images, looking for unusual features across the vast landscape. That led to the confirmation of 55 archaeological sites in the region, a 2011 NatGeo documentary, and a 2014 scientific paper detailing the benefits of so-called “collective reasoning” to archaeology.
Personal tragedy struck in 2016. Lin was severely injured when a four-wheel drive open-top vehicle he was riding in with a friend overturned, crushing his right leg under the roll bar. Doctors amputated his leg below the knee, but Lin experienced severe phantom limb pain that standard painkillers failed to control. He credits a single dose of psilocybin (in a carefully controlled setting) with helping him “remap” his brain. “I was in a good, safe setting with a partner who was ready to help me rewrite my story in a way that was focused on positivity,” Lin told GQ in 2021. However, “It’s not like psilocybin is this purely positive source. It has so much to do with the setting, the intentions, the community.”
Losing part of his leg didn’t keep Lin from continuing to pursue an active, exciting life, thanks to a high-tech prosthetic. He is still out in the field, searching for answers, while continuing to host numerous TV documentaries for National Geographic detailing his various expeditions, such as Lost Treasures of the Maya in 2018 and 2019’s Buried Secrets of the Bible. Lost Cities with Albert Lin debuted in 2019, featuring Lin’s efforts to locate the former headquarters of the Knights Templar in Acre, Israel, and the fabled city of El Dorado in the Columbian jungle, as well as exploring an archaeological site in the Peruvian Andes and the Black Mead mesolithic site near Stonehenge.
In addition to hunting for the lost capital of Kush, this latest installment of Lost Cities documents Lin as he searches for an ancient lost Maya city that was once home to the people who built the great pyramid city of Palenque; visits the mountains of Peru to search for the lost Chachapoya kingdom that predated the Incas; visits Scotland to learn more about the lost kingdom of barbarian insurgents known as the Picts; searches in Israel for the lost city of the Canaanites; and hunts for a forgotten Bronze Age Arabian civilization (the Land of Magan) in Oman.
“This last season put us right at the edge of life and death multiple times, and yet it felt like there was a deeper purpose,” Lin told Ars. “Every time we made a discovery, every time we found a body up high on the cliffs or the remains of some ancient city buried in the sands, it felt truly like we were on this important mission to try to unlock the secrets of who we are. So this is much more than a TV show for me.”
Ars spoke with Lin to learn more.