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Explorer Albert Lin hunts for lost cities in new TV series

Words by Rob Chilton

The archaeologist and scientist uses technology to dig deep into history for a major new documentary series on the National Geographic Channel this autumn

Dr. Albert Lin’s Twitter bio describes him as ‘Explorer and UCSD Research Scientist’, which, to us, sounds like he's basically a modern-day Indiana Jones. By day he’s teaching students at university in San Diego. But then, after the textbooks have been packed away, Lin grabs his backpack and binoculars (sorry, he doesn't have a whip or wear a Fedora) and dashes off on an exotic adventure in a remote corner of the world in search of lost cities – much more fun than marking essays.

Albert Lin sets up his office in the field

His upcoming six-part documentary series, Lost Cities with Albert Lin, sees him searching for such places as the Lost Kingdom of the Pacific in Micronesia and the city behind the legend of El Dorado: City of Gold in Colombia using cutting edge technology as well as the knowledge of local archaeologists.

The show, which wrapped in August, was an emotional 12-month journey for Lin that took him to seven countries, including inhospitable locations such as the Colombian jungle, the Dead Sea, the Arctic Circle, the Peruvian Andes and the Pacific Ocean. Fittingly, his middle name Yu-Min translates to ‘Citizen of the Universe.’

Lin says "innovation, curiosity and grit" are important tools

After shooting the final scene of the show, Lin wrote on Instagram, “It’s been the expedition of a lifetime… chasing stories of our shared humanity, of our human journey. It has been one of the greatest honors of my life putting together this new TV series. I had no idea it would be so emotional, but when you know your [sic] finishing something that has truly transformed you it can bring tears.”

So who is Dr. Albert Yu-Min Lin? Aged 38, Lin has a degree, a masters and a PhD from University of California, San Diego – so he knows his stuff. He also loves surfing, playing the guitar and climbing (he once climbed the Nose stage of the famous El Capitan rock face in California’s Yosemite National Park).

Lin and archaeologist Santigao Giraldo talk at Ciudad Perdida in Colombia

Lin’s media profile rocketed in 2009 when he began his ground-breaking four-year search for the lost tomb of notorious 13th century ruler Genghis Khan in Mongolia using technological tricks such as radar, custom-built drones and satellite imagery. Highly articulate and knowledgeable, his conversational script and laidback presenting style brought a freshness to the topic of archaeology.

Speaking of the Genghis Khan project, Lin said, “I wanted to know how one man could reshape the planet, creating this huge empire in just one lifetime. Khan created his own reality.” His breakthrough led him to be named National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year in 2009. Lin’s expertise has been requested by some pretty major organisations such as Harvard Business School, the US State Department and the Pentagon.

Climbing the volcanic mountain of Pwisen Malek on Pohnpei Island, Micronesia

In 2016 Lin had an off-road vehicle accident and had his right leg amputated from below the knee. Just days after the amputation Lin said he felt “excruciating phantom limb pains,” adding, “no pain killers can treat a part of your body that doesn't exist… so what do you do, the pain was unbearable.” After what he described as a “life-changing event” Lin sought the advice of a neuroscientist “to create neuroplasticity and a new reality beyond phantom limb pain.” He now wears a carbon fibre and titanium prosthetic limb, which hasn’t curtailed his adventures one bit. The inspirational Lin says, “Innovation, curiosity and grit are the ingredients of great exploration."

Lost Cities With Albert Lin premieres in the Middle East in October on the National Geographic Channel.

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