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Burial Site May Reveal Secrets That Died with Genghis Khan

Calum MacLeod in Beijing
The Independent (London)
August 21, 2001
 
Archaeologists believe they have found the burial site and treasure trove of the Mongolian warrior Genghis Khan.

The discovery of a walled burial ground containing at least 60 unopened tombs has increased speculation that an expedition that is under way will succeed in tracking down the elusive conqueror, who was buried amid great secrecy and slaughter in 1227.



John Woods, a history professor at the University of Chicago, said, "It is an exciting discovery because it's located near where some other important events occurred in Khan's life." Professor Woods leads the American-Mongolian team that has been scouring the steppes since last year.

These locations include Genghis Khan's likely birthplace and the Great Kuriltai, where 20,000 people crowned him Khan of Khans, and ruler of "all who live in felt tents."

After his crowning, the warrior let loose one of the most effective fighting forces assembled in the pre-firearms era. More than three million people may have died during the bloody creation of the largest contiguous land empire in history. At their height, the Mongolians simultaneously challenged the Germans and the Japanese.

After his death at the age of 65, perhaps from injuries suffered in a fall from his beloved horse, Genghis was buried by generals who went to extraordinary lengths to conceal the grave. Every one of the 2,000 people who attended his funeral was reportedly massacred by 800 soldiers, who in turn were killed to ensure his rest was undisturbed.

He has lain undisturbed ever since, despite the high-tech efforts of Japanese explorers who wasted three years and millions of dollars in the mid-nineties in a vain attempt to find his grave.

The Americans believe luck is on their side this time. As they considered abandoning a search near the town of Batshireet in Khentii Province, 200 miles northeast of the capital, Ulan Bator, they heeded a suggestion from an asthmatic Mongolian geographer to climb a nearby hill, which was so steep that it had defeated him. From the summit, the walled burial ground came into view.

Other positive signs include an unexcavated tomb 31 miles away, which may contain 100 of the soldiers who lost their lives to keep the secret.

Although Professor Woods has petitioned the Mongolian Prime Minister to allow preliminary excavation to start next April, no archaeological digs have yet been approved. This is perhaps because Mongolian citizens still fear that exhuming bodies destroys the souls of the dead.

Professor Woods said, "This whole country is virgin in terms of archaeology—almost no excavation of any kind has been done in Mongolia. There are tantalizing references [in folklore] to maidens being sacrificed, and booty. We don't know what to expect."

Earlier this week, treasure hunters were given a glimpse of what may lie in store when a Turkish expedition announced the discovery of thousands of gold and silver artifacts near the shrine of a Turkish emperor who ruled Mongolia in the eighth century. While uncovering this jackpot did not involve disturbing tombs, if Professor Woods does locate the man Mongolians consider the Father of the Nation, pressure may grow to bring his legacy to light.

Although traditions weigh heavily on Mongolia's people, the financial temptations of creating a tourist attraction to rival the Tomb of Tutankhamun in Egypt, or China's Terracotta Army, would be considerable for this poor, aid-dependent nation, with its semi-nomadic population of 2.6 million.

However the burial site is developed in future, doubtless every Mongolian would cheer its discovery as a definitive rebuttal to Beijing's claims that the site lies across the border on Chinese territory.

Copyright 2001 The Independent (London)
 

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