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Has Genghis' Tomb Been Found?

After four years' work, a joint team of Japanese and Mongolian archaeologists announced on October 4 that they had found what they believe to be the true mausoleum of Genghis Khan (1162-1227).  

The ruins, dated to between the 13th and 15th century, were found at Avraga, around 250 kilometers east of Ulan Bator, the capital of the People's Republic of Mongolia. Team members said that they expect the discovery to provide clues to the whereabouts of the khan's actual burial site, which they believe may be within 12 kilometers of the mausoleum.


There is a preexisting mausoleum in China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, rebuilt by the government in 1954. Most historians agree that Genghis Khan died in 1227 when going out to battle in the Liupan Mountains in today's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, but they do not agree on where he was buried.


The Chinese mausoleum is located on the vast Ordos Plateau, 30 kilometers south of Ejin Horo Banner. It comprises four palaces covering an area of over 50,000 square meters. Two huge flagpoles decorated with nine galloping steeds stand aloft before the 26-meter-high main palace, symbolizing the Mongol's prosperity and happiness. There is a tomb here, but it only contains the khan's personal effects and not his actual remains.


Liu Zhaohe, director of the Cultural Relics Bureau in Inner Mongolia, insists that what the Japanese-Mongolian team found are palace ruins, and according to nomadic people's funeral customs, the khan would not be buried either within or near his palaces.


Liu said that in 2001 a US-Mongolian expedition also announced it had discovered the khan's burial place on a hillside northeast of Ulan Bator.


He added that Genghis Khan left testament for his burial place to be kept secret, and all the emperors of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) followed suit. So far not a single Yuan Dynasty emperor's tomb has ever been found.


Because of the secrecy, the subject has always been the cause of controversy and speculation; that his warriors looted large amounts of treasure while sweeping across Eurasia adds another incentive to discover its location.


Legend says that the surface of his tomb was trodden smooth by tens of thousands of horses before being planted with trees. The 800 soldiers and over 1,000 laborers who built the grave are said to have been killed to prevent anyone passing on its whereabouts.


Over the past decades teams from many countries, including Hungary, Poland, the United States, Japan, Italy, Germany, France, Canada, Russia, Turkey and South Korea, have invested heavily in seeking it.


Qi Zhongyi, a 34th generation descendant of Genghis Khan, is adamant that the mausoleum in China is the sacred place as far as Mongols are concerned, and disapproves of attempts to find his final resting place.


Displaying a portrait of the khan's family that was acquired when his coffin was opened during a grand memorial ceremony in 1954, Qi said: "For generations Genghis Khan's exact burial place has remained a mystery. We should not go against our ancestor's behests to try to unveil it."


According to Shamanist beliefs, Mongolian people worshiped the soul of the deceased, not their remains, said Qi. Historical records say the white camel hair, to which the khan's soul was believed to adhere, was buried in the mausoleum on the Ordos Plateau.


Memorial ceremony is held in the mausoleum four times each year. "For hundreds of years, people have come here to pay their respects. So attempts to find his tomb is both unnecessary and meaningless," Qi said.


Mongolian President Nachagyn Bagabandy once said while visiting China that it's not important where Genghis Khan was buried and that we should respect his wish to keep his burial site a secret.



(China.org.cn by Shao Da, November 26, 2004)

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