Tomb of Genghis Khan

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The Onon River, Mongolia in autumn, a site where Temujin was born and grew up. Onon.jpg
The Onon River, Mongolia in autumn, a site where Temüjin was born and grew up.

The location of the tomb of Genghis Khan (died August 18, 1227) has been the object of much speculation and research. The site remains undiscovered.


Historical accounts

Khan's requests

Genghis Khan asked to be buried without markings or any sign. After he died, his body was returned to Mongolia and presumably to his birthplace in the Khentii Aimag, where many assume he is buried somewhere close to the Onon River. The Genghis Khan Mausoleum is his memorial, but not his burial site.

Burial legends

According to legend, 2,000 people attended to his funeral needs after which they were killed by his army. This army was then killed by his escort, and the escort killed anyone and anything that crossed their path, in order to conceal where he was buried. Finally, the legend states that when they reached their destination they committed suicide. [1] It was told by Marco Polo, although does not appear in contemporary sources. [2] Furthermore, the legend goes, after the tomb was completed, the slaves who built it were massacred, and then the soldiers who killed them were also killed. [3] Thus everyone who knew about the location was dead.

Folklore says that a river was diverted over his grave to make it impossible to find (echoing the manner of burial of the Sumerian King Gilgamesh of Uruk or of the Visigoth leader Alaric). [3] Other tales state that his grave was stampeded over by many horses, that trees were then planted over the site, and that the permafrost also played its part in the hiding of the burial site. [3] The Erdeni Tobchi (1662) claims that Genghis Khan's coffin may have been empty when it arrived in Mongolia. Similarly, the Altan Tobchi (1604) maintains that only his shirt, tent and boots were buried in the Ordos (Ratchnevsky, p. 143f.). Turnbull (2003, p. 24) tells another legend in which the grave was re-discovered 30 years after Genghis Khan's death. According to this tale, a young camel was buried with the Khan, and the camel's mother was later found weeping at the grave of its young.

Later accounts

Marco Polo wrote that, even by the late 13th century, the Mongols did not know the location of the tomb. The Secret History of the Mongols has the year of Genghis Khan's death but no information concerning his burial. In the "Travels of Marco Polo" he writes that "It has been an invariable custom, that all the grand khans, and chiefs of the race of Genghis-khan, should be carried for interment to a certain lofty mountain named Altaï, and in whatever place they may happen to die, although it should be at the distance of a hundred days' journey, they are nevertheless conveyed thither."

Marco Polo writes of Genghis Khan's death: [4]

But at the end of those six years he went against a certain castle that was called CAAJU, and there he was shot with an arrow in the knee, so that he died. A great pity it was, for he was a valiant man and very wise.

Marco Polo, The Travels of Marco Polo , Book 1, Chapter 50

Other sources name the area of the Burkhan Khaldun mountain as his burial site (roughly 48°30′N108°42′E / 48.5°N 108.7°E / 48.5; 108.7 ). The area near the Burkhan Khaldun was called the Ikh Khorig, or Great Taboo. This 240 square-kilometre area was sealed off by the Mongols, with trespassing being punishable by death. Only within the last 20 years has the area been open to Western archaeologists.

According to the tradition of the Yuan dynasty, the part of the Mongol empire that ruled over China, all the great khans of Mongols are buried around the area of Genghis Khan's tomb. The site's name in Chinese was Qinian valley (起輦谷). However, the concrete location of the valley is never mentioned in any documents. [5]

There were rumours concerning a standard containing clues to the site that had been removed by the Soviets from a Buddhist monastery in 1937, and rumours concerning a curse leading to the death of two French archaeologists (comparable to the curse of the tomb of Tamerlane, Gur-e Amir).[ citation needed ] On May 10, 1920, the French diplomat Saint John Perse was part of the first expedition through Mongolia with Chinese Post general director, Henri Picard Destelan and Dr. Jean-Augustin Bussière, in the footsteps of Genghis Khan. [6]

On 6 October 2004, Genghis Khan's palace was discovered, which may make it possible to find his burial site. [7]

Amateur archaeologist Maury Kravitz dedicated 40 years to his search for the tomb. In an account of a French Jesuit, he found a reference to an early battle where Genghis Khan, at the time still known as Temüjin, won a decisive victory.[ citation needed ] According to this source, he selected the confluence of the Kherlen and "Bruchi" rivers, with Burkhan Khaldun over his right shoulder, and after his victory, Temüjin said that this place would be forever his favourite. Kravitz, convinced that Temüjin's grave would be near that battlefield, attempted to find the "Bruchi" river, which turned out to be unknown to cartographers. He did, however, discover a toponym; "Baruun Bruch" ("West Bruch") in the area in question and as of 2006 was conducting excavations there, roughly 100 kilometres (62 mi) east of the Burkhan Khaldun ( 48°N110°E / 48°N 110°E / 48; 110 , the wider area of Bayanbulag). Maury Kravitz died in 2012, without finding the tomb. [8]

Albert Yu-Min Lin leads an international crowdsourcing effort: The Valley of the Khan Project attempts to discover the tomb of Genghis Khan allegedly using non-invasive technology on this area. [9] [10] His team uses technology platforms for ground, aerial, and satellite-based remote sensing. Their protection of a region of Mongolia through investigation earned him the National Geographic Adventure magazine’s "2010 Readers Choice Adventurer of the Year."

In January 2015 the University of California, San Diego set up a project asking anyone interested to tag potential sites of the burial through images taken from space. [11]

As of 2016, new searches are being conducted by using drones. [12]

In 2015 and 2016, two expeditions led by French archeologist Pierre-Henri Giscard, [13] a specialist in Mongolian archeology, and Raphaël Hautefort, a specialist in scientific imaging, around the Khentii mountains (North East of Mongolia) support the theory of a tumulus at the top of the Burkhan Khaldun mountain. Their non-invasive analysis, carried out with drones, [14] shows that the 250-metre (820 ft)-long tumulus is of human origin and probably built on the model of the Chinese imperial tombs present in Xi'an. In addition, the expedition notes that this mound is still the subject of religious rites and pilgrimages of the surrounding population. [15] [16] This expedition did not give rise to any scientific publication by Pierre-Henri Giscard because it was made without authorization, and without informing local authorities. Indeed, besides the fact that the access to the area around Burkhan Khaldun is strictly controlled, the sacredness of the tomb for the Mongolian government and the population makes it impossible to explore. [17] [18] Pierre-Henri Giscard mentioned that more details about his research may be published posthumously. [19]

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  1. This legend is frequently recounted. Weatherford, Jack (2005). Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishing. p.  xxi. ISBN   978-0-609-61062-6.
  2. Peers, Chris (2015). Genghis Khan and the Mongol War Machine. Pen and Sword. p. 243. ISBN   9781473853829 . Retrieved 22 July 2020.
  3. 1 2 3 Lost Histories by Joel Levy. Published by Vision Paperbacks, London: 2006. ISBN   978-0-7394-8013-7. pp. 172–179.
  4. Marco Polo. The Travels of Marco Polo Book 1 Chapter 50.
  5. Song, Lian. History of Yuan.
  6. « Une vie de poète », Fondation Saint-John-Perse
  7. "Remains of Genghis Khan palace unearthed". Associated Press. 2004-10-06. Retrieved 2009-07-10.
  8. "Maury Kravitz, led Mongolian expeditions in search of Genghis Khan's grave site, dies". Chicago Tribune.
  9. Archived 2016-06-08 at the Wayback Machine
  10. Society, National Geographic. "Explorers".
  11. Hannah Osborne (2015-01-07). "Searching for Genghis Khan's lost tomb from space". International Business Times.
  12. "Genghis Khan's Tomb: The mysterious and gruesome story behind infamous leader's 'missing' grave". Yahoo! News.
  15. Robion 2016.
  16. Yohav Oremiatzki (10 December 2016), "La Tombe de Gengis Khan, le secret dévoilé (critique)",, retrieved 17 December 2016