Is the Great Wall of China Longer Than Previously Thought?

A new report doubles the estimated length of the Great Wall, but this claim is under dispute

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Experts once believed that the Great Wall of China only stood 5,500 miles long, but a new archaeological survey done by China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage says the Great Wall is more than double than that length.

The report, released early June, estimates that the Great Wall extends 13,170 miles long and across 15 provinces. According to the Los Angeles Times:

That’s more than half the circumference of the globe, four times the span of the United States coast to coast and nearly 2 1/2 times the estimated length in a preliminary report released in 2009, two years into a project that saw the Chinese measure it for the first time.

(MORE: New Section of Great Wall Discovered in Mongolia)

Traditonally the Great Wall was thought to extend from Jiayuguan to Shanhaiguan, in the Bohai sea. That was amended in 2001 when Chinese archaeologists claimed it also extended to Xinjiang, where China’s Muslim Uighur people live. Now it’s been extended further east – practically to China’s very own border.

Unfortunately the new estimates are ruffling a few feathers, as it’s being seen China asserting its own grandeur. The announcement has upset neighboring Koreans, who contest that sections of the wall that Beijing is now laying claim were originally built by ancient Koreans from the Koguryo kingdom who occupied modern-day Manchuria. The new estimates bring the eastern end of wall straight to North Korea’s doorstep.

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The problem lies in the fact that there is no consensus about what the Great Wall is, according to David Spindler, a leading expert on the subject. Indeed, Yan Jianmin, the office director for the Great Wall Society, a specialist nongovernmental organization, admits these ambiguous definitions are reflected in the new estimates. “The previous estimation particularly refers to Great Walls built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), but this new measure includes Great Walls built in all dynasties,” says Yan.

That’s not to say that there aren’t valid new discoveries of the Wall. Just last year, British explorer William Lindesay stumbled across an unknown section sitting in Mongolia, where Genghis Khan often ran his military campaigns. A man named Zhang Lingmian, who resides north of Beijing, was collecting walnuts last fall when he discovered some strange stones that he thought must have been part of famous man-made structure.

But then again, it’s not as simple as it seems. The question remains, how do you distinguish the ruins of the Great Wall of China from what’s merely an old wall?

Erica Ho is a contributor at TIME and the editor of Map Happy. Find her on Twitter at @ericamho and Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.