A team of American and Mongolian scholars may have discovered the final resting place of one of history’s greatest warriors, Genghis Khan. The discovery, if confirmed to be true, could prove to be problematic for a variety of reasons. Khan is still revered in Mongolia, and disturbing his tomb in the name of science would upset many Mongolians. The Chinese government fear that the site could be a touchstone for troublesome political action.
Altan Khuyag, a 53-year-old herder and forest ranger, offers us a cup of warm milky tea, insisting that we stay the night, in a typical display of Mongol friendliness. Among the nomads, reciprocal hospitality is a vital part of life on the steppe. When I ask about Genghis, he dips his ring finger into a bowl of vodka, flicking a drop to the sky, towards Tengri, the god of the blue heaven. Two more dips, two more flicks, two more ritual offerings. In Mongolia, superstition still surrounds Genghis Khan, and the hunt for his tomb often stirs heated debate. Even his name is a touchy subject. In Mongolia, Genghis Khan is known as Chinggis Khaan and is considered by many almost a god.
“He watches over us. He is why we have our good lives today,” says Khuyag, hunching his shoulders as if feeling the presence from above. He, like many locals, thinks Genghis Khan is buried on a mountain in the Khentii range—a belief shared by both ancient and contemporary historians but unsupported by science or physical evidence until the discoveries made by Lin and his Mongolian partners.
Khuyag has scaled the range twice, but he believes the conqueror’s grave should be left in peace. “I don’t think people should search for his tomb, because if it is opened, the world will end.”