BEIJING - — Last week, John Woods, a history professor at Chicago University, announced that Genghis Khan's tomb may have been found 200 miles northeast of Ulan Bator, the Mongolian capital.
Professor Woods was one of a team of Mongolian and American researchers that found a walled burial ground lying on a hillside near the site where Genghis Khan is believed to have been born in 1162. The archeologists have yet to receive permission to excavate the stone-bordered graves.
The wall is two miles long and surrounds a grave site of 20 unopened tombs, likely to contain members of the royal family.
Some Chinese experts doubt that the team will lay eyes on Genghis Khan's tomb. One skeptic is Luo Xinyou, a professor at the Institute of Minorities at China's Academy of Social Science, in Beijing. He says Mongolian legend suggests that Genghis Khan was buried secretly in this mountainous region.
In the 1990s, a Japanese-Mongolian team failed to find the tomb in the same region despite the use of high-tech electro-magnetic equipment. "No tomb belonging to a khan has been found up to now because these burials took place in the utmost secrecy," Professor Luo says.
When any khan (Mongolian for nobleman) died, his burial immediately became a taboo subject and his grave was protected by dozens of guards who were believed to wield powerful shamanistic powers.
Most historians agree that Genghis Khan died in 1227 while he was fighting in Xixia, a territory bordering on present-day Ningxia and Inner Mongolia, both autonomous Chinese regions.
The announcement has stirred up emotions based on competing claims over the historical role of Genghis Khan. The Chinese Communist Party thinks of him as the precursor of a great Chinese dynasty, a nation builder who brought Tibet and Mongolia into Chinese territory. There is a museum in China's Inner Mongolia that contains "relics" of the hero. Just before the conqueror died, a tuft of camel hair was held over his lips to catch his weakening breath and, according to legend, his eternal spirit.
Mongolian historians, as well as most experts outside China, however, reject the Chinese view of events. They see Genghis Khan as a Mongol hero who conquered territory from China to the Caspian Sea before his grandson Kublai Khan installed himself in Beijing and founded the Yuan dynasty.