The Great Taboo, the 240 square kilometer area sealed for eight centuries where the tomb of Genghis Khan is believed to be

Portrait of Genghis Khan on a hill in Mongolia / photo Vidor - public domain on Wikimedia Commons

The national literary work par excellence of Mongolia is the Secret History of the Mongols, of which the author is unknown, but it is known to have been composed between 1227 and 1228, shortly after the death of Genghis Khan. The original document is not preserved, but a copy a century later and written in Chinese characters from translations made by the Ming dynasty. It hardly says about the death of Genghis that while he was hunting:

fell from his horse, and with great pain, died […] and in the year of the Pig he ascended to heaven

Secret History of the Mongols
Genghis Khan Monument in Ulaanbaatar / photo David Berkowitz on Flickr

Genghis’ death occurred on August 18, 1227, during the capture of Yinchuan, northern China and former capital of the Western Xia Empire. Apart from what Mongolian history itself says, other later versions claim that he died in combat, and Marco Polo indicates that the cause was infection by an arrow:

I can tell you that Genghis Khan reigned six years after this battle, continuously engaged in the conquest, and taking many provinces, cities and fortresses. But at the end of those six years he went against certain castle called Caaju, and there he was shot with an arrow in the knee, so that he died of his wound. It was a great pity, for he was a brave and wise man

Marco Polo, Milione chap.67
View of Burkhan Khaldun Mountain / photo Ganzorig Gavaa on Flickr

Years earlier, Genghis had expressed his desire to be buried unmarked according to the traditions of his tribe. His body was taken to Mongolia and buried somewhere near the Onon River and Burkhan Khaldun Mountain in the northwest of the country, his birthplace. According to the legend, the funeral escort was killing anyone in their way, the slaves who built the tomb were killed, and finally the soldiers who had finished off the slaves met the same fate. All this in order to hide the resting place of the Khan.

The area of the tomb of Genghis Khan on the map of Von Strahlenberg (18th century)/ photo public domain on Wikimedia Commons

According to tradition all the great khans are buried around the tomb of Genghis, or at least in the same area, since their exact location was always a mystery. Marco Polo states in that sense that, by the end of the 13th century, the Mongols did not know its location (if they had ever known it).

The area in question where the tradition places the tomb is about 240 square kilometers and is located in the surroundings of the Burkhan Khaldun mountain, in the Khentii range. It is one of the mountains that Genghis already designated as sacred, and today both the mountain and the surrounding sacred landscape are part of the UNESCO designated World Heritage Site and Strictly Protected Area of Khan Khentii.

Inscription in an Ovoo of Dulüün-Boldog (Khentii), considered the birthplace of Genghis Khan: Genghis Khan was born here in the year of the seahorse, first month of summer, day sixteen / photo Chinneeb – public domain on Wikimedia Commons

But that area of 240 square kilometers has its own name, it is called Ikh Khorig (Great Taboo) and was sealed by the Mongols after the death of Genghis, punishing with death any intrusion. It is not known for sure if Genghis is really buried there, but the Mongols have been very concerned about giving the impression that he is.

Only the Darkhad are allowed access. They are a group descended from the ancient Mongolian elite warriors, who were entrusted with the surveillance of the place. In the 2000 census there were about 16,000 people identified as Darkhad, belonging to the 36th generation.

Even during the country’s communist period the area remained isolated, although for a different reason, as the Soviets feared that the figure of Genghis might encourage Mongolian nationalism.

It would not be until the late 1980s that the Mongolian government would allow the first archaeological excavations in the Great Taboo, which were completed without success. Although the rest of the world has a great interest in finding the tomb of Genghis, because of the supposed treasures that it should hold, the Mongolians don’t care.

Mausoleum of Genghis Khan at Ordos, Inner Mongolia (China). Here is not his tomb, only some relics and objects of his / photo Fanghong on Wikimedia Commons

National Geographic also tried, using satellite images, without success. And a few years ago a similar project succeeded in identifying 55 potential archaeological anomalies. In 2015 and 2016, two expeditions led by French archaeologist Pierre-Henri Giscard, scientific director of the Institut des déserts et des steppes, analyzed a burial mound on the summit of Burkhan Khaldun using drones. The analysis of the images shows, according to Giscard, that the tumulus is 250 meters long, is of human origin and seems to be based on the model of the Chinese imperial tombs of Xi’an.

But none of this can be confirmed, because the Great Taboo remains strictly closed.

Approximate location of the Great Taboo on Google Maps


Guarding the Spirit of Our Ancestor, Genghis Khan / Why Genghis Khan’s tomb can’t be found / Crowdsourcing the Unknown: The Satellite Search for Genghis Khan. / Wikipedia.