Where is Genghis Khan’s tomb?

Genghis Khan unified the mongolians and created a vast empire that stretched from the Pacific Ocean to Ukraine until his death in 1227; and his successors would conquer even more territory.

So where is this charismatic leader buried? Did he build a monumental tomb like the pyramids for them ancient egyptian Pharaohs or a mausoleum of terracotta warriors like the one built for China’s first Qin emperors?

The answer is that the location of Genghis Khan’s tomb is unknown and unlikely to be found any time soon. Additionally, some people in Mongolia may prefer it never be found, as Genghis is now regarded by some with almost religious reverence, experts tell Live Science.

The tomb, wherever it is, “is very important to the people of Mongolia with almost religious undertones,” William Honeychurch, associate professor of anthropology at Yale University, told Live Science in an email. He declined to speculate as to where the tomb might be.

Related: What was the greatest empire in the world?

One possibility is that Genghis Khan was buried in Mongolia’s eastern province of Khentii, where he was born. “I think the grave is inside [the] Mountains in Khentii province,” Nancy Steinhardt, a professor of East Asian art at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Museum, told Live Science in an email. “I don’t think it will be found any time soon,” she added.

Genghis Khan’s Mongol Empire in 1227 and at its greatest extent in 1279. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Contemporary sources are largely silent as to where Genghis Khan’s tomb is located or what it looked like. “There are no historical or archaeological records describing the physical appearance of this tomb,” wrote a team of researchers in a study published in the Journal in 2014 Plus one (opens in new tab). Researchers used satellite imagery to search for the tomb, and the satellite survey identified a variety of archaeological remains, but not Genghis Khan’s tomb.

“The Secret History of the Mongols”, an anonymously composed Mongolian record dating some time after Genghis Khan’s death, makes no mention of his tomb. It only says that he “ascended into heaven” in 1227.

However, the text states that Genghis Khan had strong feelings for Burkhan Khaldun, a sacred mountain in Khentii Province. The text states that at one point in his early life Genghis used the topography of the mountain to flee from enemies pursuing him. The text quotes Genghis Khan as saying: “Every morning I will sacrifice Burkhan Khaldun, every day I will pray to him: Let the descendants of my descendants be aware of this and do the same!” The affinity Genghis Khan had for this mountain , has led to the question of whether he was buried there, but no grave has been found so far.

When he died around the age of 67, Genghis Khan and his army were fighting a group called the Tanguts in what is now northwestern China, and this may have made getting his body back to Mongolia difficult, Frank McLynn, a historian, wrote in his A book “Genghis Khan: The man who conquered the world (opens in new tab)(Bodley Head, 2015). He was possibly about 500 kilometers from the present-day Mongolian border. The Mongols at the time may not have had any knowledge of embalming techniques and may have been forced to bury Genghis Khan elsewhere because they could not get his body to Mongolia before it decomposed, McLynn wrote. It is possible that Genghis Khan’s remains and tomb are located in the Ordos region of northwest China, McLynn wrote.

Claims by Marco Polo

The Venetian explorer Marco Polo, who lived from 1254 to 1324 and spent around 17 years in China, said in the book “The Travels of Marco Polo (opens in new tab)” that 20,000 people who knew of the tomb’s location were killed to keep its location a secret. Polo’s stories were recorded in the book by a writer named Rustichello da Pisa, and the book was published around 1300.

While Polo’s claims were repeated in stories about Genghis Khan, Polo wrote decades after Genghis Khan died. Also, the accuracy of many of Polo’s other claims – such as that Kublai Khan, Genghis Khan’s grandson, appointed Polo as an official – is debated by modern historians. So it is not known whether Polo’s account of Genghis Khan’s tomb is true.

Originally published on Live Science.

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