A legendary curse that has protected the tomb of Genghis Khan from discovery for 800 years appears to have struck again after an American expedition that claimed to have located the grave abruptly pulled out of Mongolia.
The whereabouts of the remains of the 13th century warlord who united the tribes of Mongolia before conquering territory from Russia to China is one of archaeology’s last great mysteries.
According to legend, the tomb will never be found.
The Genghis Khan geo-historical expedition obtained a permit from the Mongolian government in June to dig at Oglogchiin Kherem, 200 miles north of the capital, Ulan Bator.
But the mission, organised by a former gold trader, Maury Kravitz, and a University of Chicago historian, John Woods, suddenly ended this month after encountering a string of unfortunate “accidents”.
A two-mile-long wall filled with snakes protects the suspected site of the tomb and workers on the expedition were bitten by the pit vipers. Cars rolled off hillsides for no apparent reason.
The final blow came after a former Mongolian prime minister, Dashiin Byambasuren, accused the team of desecrating a sacred site.
“I regret that our ancestors’ golden tomb has been disturbed and the purity of our burial places tainted for a few dollars,” he said. “This place should remain pure for the souls after death.”
The Mongolian National Security Council recalled Mr Kravitz, saying it wanted new assurances on the mission.
“We hope we can go back next year, but for now the future of the expedition is unknown,” said Prof Woods. “If it’s a personal opinion that people who are buried should not be disturbed, I have no answer for that.”
Mongol tradition dictates that Genghis Khan was buried with the spoils of his campaigns, including jewelled Chinese weapons, gold coins from Samarkand and religious artefacts from Russian Orthodox churches.
“In each of the countries and cities and sovereign states he conquered, Genghis Khan brought back the wealth of that culture on two-wheeled wagons,” Mr Kravitz was quoted as saying in June.
“Not one thing has been found. Not a single bejewelled dagger. Not a single necklace. It all went into Mongolia and never exited.”
Before his death in 1227 Genghis Khan supposedly gave out elaborate orders to ensure that the grave was never discovered.
According to one account, 1,000 foot soldiers were killed at the site to prevent them disclosing the site.
When 800 more soldiers returned to Karakorum, the ancient Mongol capital, they too were slaughtered. Some say that thousands of horses were raced over the grave to obliterate any trace of the burial.
Another legend claims Genghis was buried in the bed of a diverted river and afterwards the water reverted back to its original course.