Search to Find Tomb of Genghis Khan Picks up Pace
Before Genghis Khan, the founder of the Mongol Empire, died, he made it clear that he did not want to be found. So far, this wish has remained fulfilled as nearly 800 years after the death of one of the most powerful conquerors in history, the location of his tomb still remains elusive. Many people have tried to locate his final resting places without success, but now it seems, researchers are closer than ever to finding his tomb, as a large-scale crowdfunded project has identified dozens of archaeological sites in the region where he is thought to have been buried.
In 1227, Genghis Khan, the man who united the nomadic tribes of Mongolia and conquered much of Central Asia and China, was dead. The circumstances of his death, however, are still a mystery. According to the Venetian traveller, Marco Polo, for instance, Genghis Khan was wounded in the knee by an arrow whilst besieging a certain castle called Caaju, and subsequently died of the infected wound. The Galician-Volhynian Chronicle also records that he was killed in battle during his final campaign against the Western Xia. On the other hand, the Secret History of the Mongols, written shortly after Genghis Khan’s death, claims that the Great Khan fell off his horse whilst hunting, and died of the injury he sustained. Perhaps the most colourful account can be found in later Mongol chronicles. According to these accounts, Genghis Khan’s death is connected to a Western Xia princess who was taken as war booty. One source suggests that the great conqueror was stabbed to death by the princess with a hidden dagger. This truth of this version, which no doubt portrays Genghis Khan as meeting an inglorious death, is doubted, and some have even suggested that it was invented by the Oirats, a rival of the Mongols.
Portrait of Genghis Khan. (Wikimedia Commons).
Like Genghis Khan’s death, his burial site has been an equally perplexing question to modern scholars. The only thing we may be certain about is that Genghis Khan’s body was returned to Mongolia after his death, perhaps to his birthplace at Khentii Aimag. Many assume that Genghis Khan was buried near the Onon River. Apart from that, much of the information regarding Genghis Khan’s tomb is based on legends and folklores. For instance, Marco Polo records that it was customary that the Great Khans be interred in the Altay mountains, and that their bodies were brought there, regardless of where they died. In addition, Marco Polo also mentions that anyone who met with the Khan’s funeral cortege would be killed, as it was believed that they would serve the deceased Khan in the afterlife. Whilst the Secret History of the Mongols does not contain any information about the tomb, there are many tales as to the way the Khan’s tomb was concealed. These include the diversion of a river over the burial site, having many horses stampeding over the grave, and having trees planted over the tomb. It is also rumoured that in 1937, a standard containing clues to the Khan’s tomb was removed by the Soviets from a Buddhist monastery. Furthermore, it is believed that the tomb is protected by a curse.
Marco Polo records that it was customary that the Great Khans be interred in the Altay mountains (Wikimedia Commons)
The uncertainty of the location of Genghis Khan’s tomb and the alleged curse has certainly not deterred people from looking for it. One such person was the late Maury Kravitz, whose fascination with Genghis Khan led to four expeditions in search for the Mongol leader’s tomb. Needless to say, the tomb was never discovered. In 2000, Chinese archaeologists announced that they have discovered Genghis Khan’s tomb in the northwest of China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Although further investigations were needed to verify this claim, it seems that there are no further reports about this find. In 2004, a joint Japanese-Mongolian expedition unearthed the palace of Genghis Khan, raising the possibility that his tomb may also be found. In 2009, another effort to seek the tomb of Genghis Khan was started by Albert Lin. In addition to using non-destructive archaeological methods, this project is also an international crowdsourcing effort, which garnered significant support from the public.
Albert Yu-Min Lin, from the University of California, San Diego, called upon interested people to scan through satellite images and tag potential archaeological sites. Over 10,000 online volunteers contributed 30,000 hours to examine an area of 6,000 km2 in and around the site of Khan’s palace, around around 150 miles east of Mongolia’s capital, Ulan Bator. Published in the journal PLOS One, he described the work as a "large scale survey for anomalies within ultra-high resolution earth-sensing satellite imagery".
Speaking to National Geographic, Lin said : "Using traditional archaeological methods would be disrespectful to believers. The ability to explore in a noninvasive way lets us try to solve this ancient secret without overstepping cultural barriers. It also allows us to empower Mongolian researchers with tools they might not have access to otherwise.
Lin reported that the project resulted in the compilation of a map that prompted the National Geographic to launch an expedition to investigate further. More than 50 archaeological sites were confirmed, ranging from the Bronze Age to the Mongol period. Now more research is needed to investigate the sites to determine with any of them may be the final resting place of the warlord.
It would seem the search has a long way to go yet. Factor in the legend of how his burial was secreted and hope becomes pretty thin.
According to a BBC report, the tracks to the burial ground were hidden in the following manner:
“A grieving army carried his body home, killing anyone it met to hide the route. When the emperor was finally laid to rest, his soldiers rode 1,000 horses over his grave to destroy any remaining trace.”
Furthermore, the soldiers who buried him were all slaughtered by another group of soldiers. And those soldiers were similarly got rid of for good measure. No witnesses and any evidence well and truly stamped into the ground hundreds of years ago.
However, another account has Genghis swearing to return to Burkhan Khaldun in the Khentii Mountains upon his death. This area has had limited access and was once known as the “Great Taboo” and is now the Khan Khentii Strictly Protected Area. This is currently limiting investigation into possibilities for the burial in this region.
A New Direction
No matter, says, Alan Nichols, the American explorer who has been researching possible burial sites for over 10 years. An authority on sacred mountains, he claims they are looking on the wrong mountain altogether, and a search there is folly.
Referring to Burkhan Khaldun, the Express reports Mr Nichols as saying in 2016, "Albert Lin is up there, Kravitz was there, the Japanese and a whole bunch of smaller searches. They’re all wrong.”
He has close guarded reasons to believe the tomb is on another mountain, ‘more than 1,000 miles away.’ Now 88, Mr Nichols is organizing an exploration of this proposed area. Maybe he is actually on to something.
Meanwhile, plans are also being laid by Universal Studio and Seven Bucks Productions to create an action movie of the story of a hunt for Genghis’ tomb.
Whilst there are those who, for whatever reason, are determined to seek out this elusive tomb, one may ask whether it would be better to leave the Great Khan alone. Perhaps it was an undisturbed rest that he desired when he asked to be buried in an unmarked grave, which was also the custom of his tribe. This eternal rest may be encapsulated in the words of the poet John Clare, ‘Untroubling and untroubled where I lie / The grass below – above the vaulted sky.’
Top image: Statue of Ghengis Khan. Source: BigStockPhoto
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