Weird History
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Inside The Centuries-Long Search For Genghis Khan's Tomb

Updated September 23, 2021 81.9k views11 items
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In 1227, one of the greatest conquerors in the history of the world perished - and hid his burial site. For nearly 800 years, the mystery of Genghis Khan's tomb has captivated people. Was Khan entombed with gold and silver riches captured as his Mongol horde conquered Eurasia? Does his tomb hold secrets about the Great Khan's legacy? And how did Genghis Khan manage to hide his tomb for centuries?

Born into a nomadic tribe caught up in the harsh warfare of the Mongolian Steppe, Genghis Khan nearly perished as a child. After rivals slaughtered his father, a 9-year-old Genghis Khan tried to take over his father's tribe. But they exiled the boy, his mother, and six siblings, who had to survive in the wilderness of the Steppe. From those humble beginnings, Genghis Khan went on to unite the Mongol tribes and conquer an empire that stretched over 12.5 million square miles

In 2020, research from The Australian National University provided evidence that the site of Avraga in eastern Mongolia served as Genghis Khan's winter base where he staged his invasion. Radiocarbon dating samples proved that the site was occupied during Genghis Khan's lifetime, and "more likely than not" functioned as his base camp. 

At the height of his power, the great conqueror began planning for his ultimate end. The Mongol ruler went to outrageous lengths to hide his tomb, unveiling a plan that called for thousands of horsemen willing to put their lives on the line to keep the secret of Genghis Khan's final resting place. And for centuries, no one has managed to find his grave.

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Genghis Khan Requested He Be Buried In Secret

    Genghis Khan conquered history's largest land empire, which stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Caspian Sea. But as he grew older, the conqueror began to plan for his demise.

    During his final years, Genghis Khan declared the Khentii mountain range off-limits. He called the expansive swath of land, stretching 4,000 square miles, Ikh Khorig, which translates to the "Great Taboo." It was in this remote location that Khan's tomb would rest.

    Khan's goal was a secret burial at a site that would never be found. And for 800 years, Khan's tomb has remained hidden.

  • Photo: Maître d'egerton / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Army Terminated Anyone It Met On The Route To His Grave

    According to legend, the army that transported Genghis Khan's body to his tomb went to great lengths to hide the location. One account claims the soldiers slaughtered every single person they saw on the journey - and even every animal. 

    The soldiers also slayed everyone who attended the service, and then sacrificed their lives to hide the Great Khan's resting place. 

    Another source claims that after the funeral, 10,000 horsemen "trampled the ground so as to make it even," obscuring any sign of the tomb. Khan's survivors also reportedly diverted a river so it would flow over his tomb, making it impossible to find. According to another story, they planted a forest on the grave to hide it forever.

  • Photo: Sayf al-Vâhidî / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Genghis Khan Pledged To Be Buried On A Mountain Peak

    Was Genghis Khan buried on a plain where 10,000 horses could ride over his grave? Or on a mountain peak? Should archaeologists look near forests or rivers for the tomb?

    Folklore claims that Genghis Khan chose his resting site carefully. According to many stories, Khan chose a mountain peak in the Great Taboo, the Khentii Mountains, known as Burkhan Khaldun. The mountain held an important place in the conquerer's heart, because as a young man he'd escaped to Burkhan Khaldun to hide from his enemies. 

    But focusing on Burkhan Khaldun doesn't necessarily make the search much easier. According to historian Sodnom Tsolmon, Burkhan Khaldun is a sacred mountain. "It doesn't mean he's buried there," Tsolmon cautions.

  • A 2015 Search For His Tomb Used Satellite Imagery

    In the 21st century, the search for Genghis Khan's tomb went high-tech. Dr. Albert Yu-Min Lin pioneered a new method to find the tomb without violating Mongolian customs.

    Lin's project, known as the Valley of the Khans, uses high-res satellite images to identify ancient sites. Lin opened the hunt to volunteers, who could tag unusual features in the landscape for the scientists to investigate more closely.

    Over the course of the project, the volunteers tagged 2.3 million sites. Scientists identified 100 locations and sent out field teams to determine their significance. The study turned up graves dating back to the Bronze Age.

    As Lin explained in a research paper, the team identified "Bronze Age 'khirigsuur' burial mounds, 'deer stone' megaliths, ancient city fortifications, Tengriist Ovoos and Mongol period burials."

    Yet so far, Lin's study has not identified Genghis Khan's tomb.