This Is The Unsettling Reason Why Genghis Khan’s Grave Has Never Been Found

Almost 800 years after Genghis Khan’s death, the great warrior  remains a source of fascination for historians and archaeologists alike. And even now, high-tech expeditions scan mountains and valleys in search of his final resting place. So why can’t the grave of one of history’s most famous leaders be found? It’s an unsettling story – and one that many modern Mongolians hope will remain buried.

Today, Genghis Khan is remembered in many different ways around the world. In his home country of Mongolia he’s a revered figure who’s celebrated for his many achievements. But in the West, he’s often portrayed as a ferocious barbarian, intent on conquering new territory through violence and fear.

Whichever view you take, there’s no denying that Genghis Khan and his army of Mongols helped shape the world we know today. But if this great warrior was so important, why don’t people visit his gravesite today? Well, the short answer is that nobody actually knows its location – although some have been searching for many years.

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When Genghis Khan died in the midst of a military campaign, his devoted followers buried him somewhere in the vastness of Mongolia. But this was a funeral with a grim twist. And for centuries, the location of the leader’s grave has remained a mystery. Some researchers are now trying to find it – in the face of strong opposition.

So why the fascination with a man who’s been dead for the best part of a millennium? Well, from humble origins, Genghis Khan grew in power and influence to become the greatest conqueror the world has ever known. And even though his reign was often bloody and cruel, he was also responsible for a number of civilized innovations.

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Born sometime in the 12th century in what’s now Mongolia, Genghis Khan is said to have emerged from the womb with his hand clasped around a blood clot. But at first there was little more than this sinister portent to suggest the violent struggles to come. The future leader’s childhood was actually marred by tragedy and betrayal.

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Before Genghis Khan turned ten, his dad was fatally poisoned. And rather than feed his widow and her young children, the clan abandoned the family to their own devices. So the man now revered across Mongolia spent his early years in poverty, surviving on a diet of roots.

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At the time, life in Mongolia was turbulent and unpredictable, with the nomadic clans trapped in an unending power struggle with their settled Chinese neighbors. At times, the Mongolian people were capable of uniting and forming a formidable opposition. But at others, they were scattered and weak, constantly fighting among themselves.

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As Genghis Khan grew older, he established himself as a strong and forward-thinking leader. Becoming head of his family after murdering a half-brother, the future leader soon proved himself to be a fierce warrior. And by forging strong pacts, he quickly grew in influence and power.

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Unlike the rest of the Mongols, Genghis Khan eschewed nepotism and instead preferred to put the most skilled people in positions of power. And while he himself practiced an animist religion, he didn’t choose his warriors based on their personal beliefs. For the time, this was an exceptionally progressive attitude and one that helped him to assemble a large army of followers.

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As Genghis Khan’s power grew, he further boosted his ranks by assimilating people from rival clans. And come the beginning of the 13th century, he’d crushed all his challengers, unifying the region’s nomadic tribes under one banner. While many of the leader’s policies were brutal, others were surprisingly modern in their approach.

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For example, the man known as the Universal Ruler extended the right to freedom of worship across the entire nation. As well as outlawing native slavery and kidnapping, he also introduced a census and encouraged the development of a written alphabet. And having brought the Mongols together, Genghis Khan set his sights on the rest of the world.

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By this time, the Mongol Empire already encompassed more than a million inhabitants, with Genghis Khan at the head of a powerful band of warriors. Made up primarily of men on horseback, this army could move swiftly and brutally, with no cumbersome supply chain to slow it down. And in 1209 they unleashed their might on the capital of Xi Xia, a kingdom in what’s now Northwest China.

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After a siege brought Xi Xia into submission, the Mongols continued to wage war across the north of China. And before long, the city that would later become Beijing had also fallen to Genghis Khan and his devoted warriors. They then moved on to the Khwarezm Empire in Central Asia, sacking cities across the region.

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According to records, the Mongols’ methods under Genghis Khan were brutal yet effective. While slaughtering members of the military and nobility, for example, the invading clans are thought to have saved workers with skills such as metalwork and woodwork. But non-skilled citizens were allegedly employed as human shields.

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Today, of course, it’s difficult to know how much of this was true, and how much was propaganda intentionally spread by an army that wished to inspire fear. But regardless of the truth, the image of a ruthless and bloodthirsty Genghis Khan endures to this day. And as well as his prowess in battle, we remember him as the most successful conqueror that the world has ever seen.

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When the Mongols were at the peak of their power their territory stretched all the way from the Caspian Sea to the Pacific Ocean, covering close to million square miles. And even today, Genghis Khan’s nation is considered the biggest contiguous land domain ever to have existed.

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In the process of building his empire, the Mongol leader connected Eastern and Western civilizations for the first time, creating conditions in which the Silk Road could thrive. So it’s no wonder that his name remains a staple in history books to this day. But despite the fame of Genghis Khan, his final moments have remained shrouded in mystery over the years.

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What we do know is that Genghis Khan was seriously wounded in 1227 after falling from his horse during his final campaign against Xi Xia. Later that year, he passed away, leaving an inimitable legacy behind. And even now, eight centuries on from his death, he’s remembered as a hero in Mongolia, appearing on bank notes and in statue form throughout the nation.

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But Genghis Khan is often remembered less favorably elsewhere, with a focus on his violent and tyrannical ways. Regardless of the difference in opinion, it’s undeniable that the Mongolian leader has influenced the present in more ways than one. As well as the historical impact of his empire, it turns out that he left a genetic legacy behind, with around 16 million modern-day males believed to be descended from the warrior himself.

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These descendants of Genghis Khan won’t be visiting their famous ancestor’s grave any time soon, though. Why? Because, quite simply, nobody knows where it is. Over the years, a number of different groups have hunted for the Mongolian leader’s burial site, but so far all of them have drawn a blank.

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In 2004, for example, a joint team from Mongolia and Japan located the remnants of an ancient palace not far from Ulaanbaatar, the nation’s present-day capital. And according to reports, they concluded that it once belonged to Genghis Khan. So might the great warrior’s grave have been located within the complex?

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Although there are historic texts that appear to support this theory, archaeologists have yet to discover Genghis Khan’s remains at the site of the ruined palace. So in 2008 National Geographic launched the Valley of the Khans Project, which aimed to finally locate the missing grave. And this time, researchers would take a different approach.

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Instead of relying on traditional techniques, the Valley of the Khans Project harnessed the power of citizen scientists in order to hunt for Genghis Khan’s grave. Working from home, thousands of volunteers scanned satellite images of the Mongolian terrain in search of potential clues. But just like previous endeavors, this novel approach failed to turn up anything concrete.

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So why exactly has Genghis Khan’s grave proved so difficult to find – particularly when the tombs of other leaders are revered as places of pilgrimage around the world? Unfortunately for those who regard him as a hero, the explanation for the secrecy will do little to quash the leader’s bloody reputation.

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According to historical records, Genghis Khan asked his dedicated followers to ensure that his gravesite was never revealed. And, it seems, they took this instructions to heart. While transporting their great leader’s corpse to an unknown location, the warriors slaughtered everybody they encountered along the way.

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But that wasn’t the only thing that Genghis Khan’s followers did to ensure that his body was never found. After the warrior’s funeral, it’s said that his men took it upon themselves to massacre the 2,000 mourners who’d turned out to pay their respects. And when that task was complete, they then killed themselves.

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Incredibly, though, even this wasn’t enough for the Mongols to be satisfied that Genghis Khan’s body would never be disturbed. So, after burying the leader in an unmarked grave, they rode hundreds of horses over the area – destroying any evidence of its location that might have remained. According to some sources, the grieving soldiers also planted trees to further conceal the area.

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There are actually a number of unsubstantiated legends associated with the burial of Genghis Khan. In one, it’s claimed that the course of a river was changed in order to submerge the site of the grave. Another tells of a baby camel that was interred alongside the Mongol leader. When the animal’s mother came back to grieve, it’s said, the warrior’s family were able to follow it to the secret location.

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For more than 140 years after Genghis Khan’s death, the Mongol Empire continued to thrive, conquering territory across China, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. But the final resting place of the man who had catapulted his people to greatness remained a secret. And even today, its location is a mystery.

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Though research projects such as the ones begun in 2004 and 2008 have sought to track down Genghis Khan’s grave, they haven’t been successful. But it isn’t just bad luck that’s stood in their way. According to experts, there are a number of complex factors that have affected the quest to locate for the great leader’s tomb.

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In 1990, for example, another Mongolian-Japanese venture, the Gurvan Gol project, attempted to locate the gravesite in Khentii Province, the region in which Genghis Khan was born. But that same year, a peaceful revolution saw the communist regime overthrown in favor of democratic rule. And in the aftermath, a new Mongolia emerged.

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In this reformed society, it soon became clear that modern Mongolians didn’t want Genghis Khan’s tomb to be found. It was actually the outcry from civilians that forced the Gurvan Gol project to shut down. But why are these people, who still celebrate the long-dead warrior as a hero, so reluctant to see his tomb located?

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According to some, the reason is superstition – it’s said our planet will be destroyed should the grave of Genghis Khan be disturbed. Others argue that the reluctance of Mongolians to track down their hero’s remains is simply a matter of courtesy. If the leader didn’t wish for the location of his grave to be known, they reason, that should be honored, even 800 years down the line.

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On top of these cultural considerations, there are also a number of practical factors at play. For instance, Mongolia is a vast country covering almost a fifth of the expanse of the entire U.S. – but with only a small fraction of America’s infrastructure. As such, much of the nation is wild terrain where it would be difficult to conduct any kind of excavation.

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And it isn’t just roads and cities that Mongolia is short on. According to experts, the country’s the most sparsely populated in the world, with each square mile accommodating a mere five people on average. In places like this, it becomes even easier for old mysteries to remain permanently lost to time.

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Another problem, it seems, is that researchers don’t know exactly where to look for the enigmatic grave. According to legend, Genghis Khan’s resting place was on a mountain known as Burkhan Khaldun, around 100 miles from Ulaanbaatar. But today, experts state that there have been a number of peaks in the region to bear that name.

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The stories told about Genghis Khan’s burial tend to negate each other as well, further muddying the waters for archaeologists hoping to strike gold. The tale of the horses stamping on the gravesite, for instance, suggest a flatland location. But it’s also said that the leader swore to return to Burkhan Khaldun after death, placing his tomb somewhere on the mountain.

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But despite the numerous issues standing in the way, there are still some who wish to locate the grave of Genghis Khan. There’s a belief that such a site would be replete with riches – a legend that continues to draw the attention of foreign parties. If the tombs of the Mongols were anything like those of their forefathers, though, they could be buried 60 feet beneath the ground.

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So will anyone ever track down the final resting place of Genghis Khan? With Burkhan Khaldun now a protected site – and any excavation work strictly prohibited – it doesn’t seem likely that the mystery will be solved any time soon. And for some people at least, that’s just the way it should be. In a 2017 interview with the BBC, translator Uelun summed up the attitude of many modern Mongolians. She said, “If they wanted us to find it, they would have left some sign.”

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