Tarim mummies

Tarim mummies

The Tarim mummies are a series of Caucasoid mummies discovered in the Tarim Basin in present-day Xinjiang, China, which date from 1800 BCE to 200 CE. The mummies, particularly the early ones, are frequently associated with the presence of the Indo-European Tocharian languages in the Tarim Basin [Baumer, Christoph. (2000). "Southern Silk Road: In the Footsteps of Sir Aurel Stein and Sven Hedin", p. 28. White Orchid Books. Bangkok. ISBN 974-8304-38-8 (HC); ISBN 974-8304-39-6 (TP).] although the evidence is not conclusive and many centuries separate these mummies from the first appearance of the written Tocharian languages.

The cemetery at Yanbulaq contained 29 mummies which date from 1800–500 BCE, 21 of which are Caucasoid—the earliest Caucasoid mummies found in the Tarim Basin—and eight of which are of the same Caucasoid physical type found at Qäwrighul.Harvcoltxt|Mallory|Mair|2000] rp|237 However, more recent genetic studies painted a more complex picture (Xie et al., 2007). It showed both European and East Asian characteristics.

Archeological record

At the beginning of the 20th century European explorers such as Sven Hedin, Albert von Le Coq and Sir Aurel Stein all recounted their discoveries of desiccated bodies in their search for antiquities in Central Asia.Harvcoltxt|Mallory|Mair|2000] rp|10 Since then many other mummies have been found and analysed, most of them now displayed in the museums of Xinjiang. Most of these mummies were found on the eastern (around the area of Lopnur, Subeshi near Turfan, Kroran, Kumul) and southern (Khotan, Niya, Qiemo) edge of the Tarim Basin.

The earliest Tarim mummies, found at Qäwrighul and dated to 1800 BCE, are of a Caucasoid physical type whose closest affiliation is to the Bronze Age populations of southern Siberia, Kazakhstan, Central Asia, and Lower Volga.Harvcoltxt|Mallory|Mair|2000] rp|237

The cemetery at Yanbulaq contained 29 mummies which date from 1100–500 BCE, 21 of which are Caucasoid—the earliest Caucasoid mummies found in the Tarim basin—and 8 of which are of the same Caucasoid physical type found at Qäwrighul.Harvcoltxt|Mallory|Mair|2000] rp|237

Notable mummies are the tall, red-haired "Chärchän man" or the "Ur-David" (1000 BCE); his son (1000 BCE), a small 1-year-old baby with blond hair protruding from under a red and blue felt cap, and blue stones in place of the eyes; the "Hami Mummy" ("c." 1400–800 BCE), a "red-headed beauty" found in Qizilchoqa; and the "Witches of Subeshi" (4th or 3rd century BCE), who wore tall pointed hats.

Many of the mummies have been found in very good condition, owing to the dryness of the desert, and the desiccation of the corpses it induced. The mummies share many typical Caucasoid body features (elongated bodies, angular faces, recessed eyes), and many of them have their hair physically intact, ranging in color from blond to red to deep brown, and generally long, curly and braided. It is not known whether their hair has been bleached by internment in salt. Their costumes, and especially textiles, may indicate a common origin with Indo-European neolithic clothing techniques or a common low-level textile technology. Chärchän man wore a red twill tunic and tartan leggings. Textile expert Elizabeth Wayland Barber, who examined the tartan-style cloth, claims it can be traced back to Anatolia, the Caucasus and the steppe area north of the Black Sea.cite news|first =|last =|coauthors =|title = The mystery of China's celtic mummies|url = http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/a-meeting-of-civilisations-the-mystery-of-chinas-celtic-mummies-413638.html|work = The Independent|date = August 28, 2006|accessdate = 2008-06-28]

Genetic links

DNA sequence datacite news | first = Robert J. | last = Saiget | authorlink = | title = Caucasians preceded East Asians in basin | url = http://www.washingtontimes.com/world/20050419-101056-2135r.htm | work = The Washington Times | publisher = News World Communications | date = 2005-04-19 | accessdate = 2007-08-20 | language = English | quote = A study last year by Jilin University also found that the mummies' DNA had Europoid genes.| archiveurl = http://web.archive.org/web/20050420224622/http://washingtontimes.com/world/20050419-101056-2135r.htm | archivedate = 2005-04-20] shows that the mummies had haplotype characteristic of western Eurasia in the area of south Russia.

A team of Chinese and American researchers working in Sweden tested DNA from 52 separate mummies, including the mummy denoted "Beauty of Loulan." By genetically mapping the mummies' origins, the researchers confirmed the theory that these mummies were of West Eurasian descent. Victor Mair, a University of Pennsylvania professor and project leader for the team that did the genetic mapping, commented that these studies were::"...extremely important because they link up eastern and western Eurasia at a formative stage of civilization (Bronze Age and early Iron Age) in a much closer way than has ever been done before".cite news | first = Benjamin | last = Robertson | authorlink = | title = China history unravelled by mummies | url = http://english.aljazeera.net/English/archive/archive?ArchiveId=22772 | work = Al Jazeera English | publisher = Aljazeera.net | date = 2006-05-14 | accessdate = 2007-08-20 | language = English | quote = ]

An earlier study by Jilin University had found a mtDNA haplotype characteristic of Western Eurasian populations with Europoid genes. [ [http://www.springerlink.com/content/m5610x83965r275n/ Mitochondrial DNA analysis of human remains from the Yuansha site in Xinjiang] Science in China Series C: Life Sciences Volume 51, Number 3 / March, 2008]

The textiles found with the mummies are of an early European textile and weave type and are similar to textiles found on the bodies of salt miners in Austria of around 1300 BCE. Mair states that "the earliest mummies in the Tarim Basin were exclusively Caucausoid, or Europoid" with east Asian migrants arriving in the eastern portions of the Tarim Basin around 1000 BCE Fact|date=October 2008 while the Uyghur peoples arrived around the year 842. In trying to trace the origins of these populations, Victor Mair's team suggested that they may have arrived in the region by way of the forbidding Pamir Mountains about 5000 years ago.

This evidence remains controversial. It refutes the contemporary nationalist claims of the present-day Uyghur peoples who claim that they are the indigenous people of Xinjiang, rather than the Han Chinese. In comparing the DNA of the mummies to that of modern day Uyghur peoples, Mair's team found some genetic similarities with the mummies, but "no direct links".

About the controversy Mair has stated that::"The new finds are also forcing a reexamination of old Chinese books that describe historical or legendary figures of great height, with deep-set blue or green eyes, long noses, full beards, and red or blond hair. Scholars have traditionally scoffed at these accounts, but it now seems that they may be accurate."Mair, Victor H., "Mummies of the Tarim Basin," "Archaeology", vol. 48, no. 2, pages 28-35 (March/April 1995); the quote appears on page 30 of this article.]

Chinese scientists were initially hesitant to provide access to DNA samples because they were sensitive about the claims of the nationalist Uyghur who claim the Loulan Beauty as their symbol, and to prevent a pillaging of national monuments by foreigners.

Chinese historian Ji Xianlin says China "supported and admired" research by foreign experts into the mummies. "However, within China a small group of ethnic separatists have styled themselves the descendants of these ancient people". Due to the "fear of fuelling separatist currents" the Xinjiang museum, regardless of dating, displays all their mummies both Tarim and Han, together.

Posited origins

Physical anthropologists propose the movement of at least two Caucasoid physical types into the Tarim basin, which Harvcoltxt|Mallory|Mair|2000|pp=317–318 associate with the Tocharian and Iranian (Saka) branches of the Indo-European language family, respectively.

B. E. Hemphill's biodistance analysis of cranial metrics (as cited in Harvcolnb|Larsen|2002 and Harvcolnb|Schurr|2001) has questioned the identification of the Tarim Basin population as European, noting that the earlier population has close affinities to the Indus Valley population, and the later population with the Oxus River valley population. Because craniometry can produce results which make no sense at all (e.g. the close relationship between Neolithic populations in Russia and Portugal) and therefore lack any historical meaning, any putative genetic relationship must be consistent with geographical plausibility and have the support of other evidence.Harvcoltxt|Mallory|Mair|2000] rp|236

Han Kangxin (as cited in Harvcolnb|Mallory|Mair|2000|pp=236–237), who examined the skulls of 302 mummies, found the closest relatives of the earlier Tarim Basin population in the populations of the Afanasevo culture situated immediately north of the Tarim Basin and the Andronovo culture that spanned Kazakhstan and reached southwards into West Central Asia and the Altai.

It is the Afanasevo culture to which Harvcoltxt|Mallory|Mair|2000|pp=294–296, 314–318 trace the earliest Bronze Age settlers of the Tarim and Turpan basins. The Afanasevo culture ("c." 3500–2500 BCE) displays cultural and genetic connections with the Indo-European-associated cultures of the Eurasian Steppe yet predates the specifically Indo-Iranian-associated Andronovo culture ("c." 2000–900 BCE) enough to isolate the Tocharian languages from Indo-Iranian linguistic innovations like satemization.Harvcoltxt|Mallory|Mair|2000] rp|260, 294–296, 314–318

Harvcoltxt|Hemphill|Mallory|2004 confirm a second Caucasoid physical type at Alwighul (700–1 BCE) and Krorän (200 CE) different from the earlier one found at Qäwrighul (1800 BCE) and Yanbulaq (1100–500 BCE):

Harvcoltxt|Mallory|Mair|2000|pp=318 associate this later (700 BCE–200 CE) Caucasoid physical type with the populations who introduced the Iranian Saka language to the western part of the Tarim basin.

Mair concluded (Mair etc al, 2006):

:"From the evidence available, we have found that during the first 1,000 years after the Loulan Beauty, the only settlers in the Tarim Basin were Caucasoid. East Asian peoples only began showing up in the eastern portions of the Tarim Basin about 3,000 years ago, Mair said, while the Uighur peoples arrived after the collapse of the Orkon Uighur Kingdom, largely based in modern day Mongolia, around the year 842."

Historical records and associated texts


The Indo-European Tocharian languages also have been attested in the same geographical area, and although the first known epigraphic evidence dates to the 6th century CE, the degree of differentiation between Tocharian A and Tocharian B, and the absence of Tocharian language remains beyond that area, tends to indicate that a common Tocharian language existed in the same area during the second half of the 1st millennium BCE. Although Tocharian texts have never been found in direct relation with the mummies, their identical geographical location and common non-Chinese origin suggest that the mummies were related to the Tocharians and spoke a similar Indo-European language.

The Tocharian were described as having full beards, deep-set eyes and high noses and with no sign of decline as attestation in the Chinese sources for the past 1,000 years. This was first noted after the Tocharian had came under the steppe nomads and Chinese subjugation. During the 3rd to 4th century CE, the Tocharian reached their height by incorporating adjoining states. [cite book | last = Yu | first = Taishan | authorlink = | title = A Comprehensive History of Western Regions | edition = 2nd edition | year = 2003 | publisher = Zhongzhou Guji Press | location = Zhengzhou | language = | id = ISBN 7-5348-1266-6] rp|34-57, 77-88, 96-103


In the much easterly geographical area, reference to the Yuezhi name in Guanzi was made around 7th century BCE by the Chinese economist Guan Zhong, though the book is generally considered to be a forgery of later generations. [cite book | last = Liu | first = Jianguo | authorlink = | title = Distinguishing and Correcting the pre-Qin Forged Classics | year = 2004 | publisher = Shaanxi People's Press | location = Xi'an | language = | id = ISBN 7-224-05725-8] rp|115-127 The attributed author, Guan Zhong described the Yuzhi 禺氏, or Niuzhi 牛氏, as a people from the north-west who supplied jade to the Chinese from the nearby mountains of Yuzhi 禺氏 at Gansu. A large part of the Yuezhi, vanquished by the Xiongnu, were to migrate to southern Asia in the 2nd century BCE, and later establish the Kushan Empire in northern India and Afghanistan.

Roman accounts

Harvcoltxt|Pliny the Elder|loc= [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?lookup=Plin.+Nat.+6.24 Chap XXIV "Taprobane"] reports a curious description of the Seres (in the territories of northwestern China) made by an embassy from Taprobane (Ceylon) to Emperor Claudius, saying that they "exceeded the ordinary human height, had flaxen hair, and blue eyes, and made an uncouth sort of noise by way of talking", suggesting they may be referring to the ancient Caucasian populations of the Tarim Basin:

:"They also informed us that the side of their island (Taprobane) which lies opposite to India is ten thousand stadia in length, and runs in a south-easterly direction--that beyond the Emodian Mountains (Himalayas) they look towards the Serve (Seres), whose acquaintance they had also made in the pursuits of commerce; that the father of Rachias (the ambassador) had frequently visited their country, and that the Seræ always came to meet them on their arrival. These people, they said, exceeded the ordinary human height, had flaxen hair, and blue eyes, and made an uncouth sort of noise by way of talking, having no language of their own for the purpose of communicating their thoughts. The rest of their information (on the Serae) was of a similar nature to that communicated by our merchants. It was to the effect that the merchandise on sale was left by them upon the opposite bank of a river on their coast, and it was then removed by the natives, if they thought proper to deal on terms of exchange. On no grounds ought luxury with greater reason to be detested by us, than if we only transport our thoughts to these scenes, and then reflect, what are its demands, to what distant spots it sends in order to satisfy them, and for how mean and how unworthy an end!"

Cultural exchanges

The presence of Indo-European speakers in the Tarim Basin in the third or early second millennium BCE suggests that cultural exchanges occurred among Indo-European and Chinese populations at a very early date. It has been suggested that such activities as chariot warfare and bronze-making may have been transmitted to the east by these Indo-European nomads. [Baumer, Christoph. (2000). "Southern Silk Road: In the Footsteps of Sir Aurel Stein and Sven Hedin", p. 28. White Orchid Books. Bangkok. ISBN 974-8304-38-8 (HC); ISBN 974-8304-39-6 (TP).]

The Chinese explorer Zhang Qian, who visited Bactria and Sogdiana in 126 BCE, made the first known Chinese report on many regions to the west of China. In his accounts Parthia is named "Ānxī" (Chinese: 安息), a transliteration of "Arsacid", the name of the Parthian dynasty. Zhang Qian clearly identifies Parthia as an advanced urban civilization that farmed grain and grapes, made silver coins and leather goods; [ [http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=18006 "Silk Road, North China", C. Michael Hogan, The Megalithic Portal, ed. A. Burnham (2007)] ] Zhang Qian equates the level of advancement of Parthia to the cultures of Dayuan (in Ferghana) and Daxia (in Bactria). Zhang Qian found Greek influences present in some of the kingdoms of this region.

These theories run counter to the idea that the East and West developed civilizations independently, but suggest that some form of cultural exchanges took place.

The supply of Tarim Basin jade to China from ancient times is well established, according to Harvcoltxt|Liu|2001: "It is well known that ancient Chinese rulers had a strong attachment to jade. All of the jade items excavated from the tomb of Fuhao of the Shang dynasty, more than 750 pieces, were from Khotan in modern Xinjiang. As early as the mid-first millennium BCE the Yuezhi engaged in the jade trade, of which the major consumers were the rulers of agricultural China."



* "The Mummies of Ürümchi". Elizabeth Wayland Barber (1999). London. Pan Books. ISBN 0-330-36897-4
* "Warrior Women: An Archaeologist’s Search for History’s Hidden Heroines". Jeannine Davis-Kimball with Mona Behan (2002). Warner Books, New York. First Trade Edition 2003. ISBN 0-446-67983-6 (pbk)
* Chengzhi, Xie; Chunxiang, Li; Yinqiu, Cui1; Dawei, Cai1; Haijing, Wang; Hong, Zhu; Hui, Zhou (2007) Mitochondrial DNA analysis of ancient Sampula population in Xinjiang. Progress in Natural Science, Volume 17, Number 8, pp. 927-933(7)

ee also


External links

* [http://www.rogerblench.info/Language%20data/China/Geneva%20paper%202004%20submit.pdf Stratification in the peopling of China: how far does the linguistic evidence match genetics and archaeology? pdf]
* [http://discovermagazine.com/1994/apr/themummiesofxinj359/ The Mummies of Xinjiang by Evan Hadingham] DISCOVER Vol. 15 No. 04, April 1994
* [http://www.meshrep.com/PicOfDay/mummies/mummies.htm Images of the Tocharian mummies] Includes the face of the "Beauty of Loulan" as reconstructed by an artist.
* [http://www.khaleejtimes.com/DisplayArticleNew.asp?section=todaysfeatures&xfile=data/todaysfeatures/2005/april/todaysfeatures_april37.xml Genetic testing reveals awkward truth about Xinjiang’s famous mummies] (AFP) Khaleej Times Online, 19 April 2005

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