tarim basin

Snapped, offset rocks.

When one continent grinds slowly into another and the rocks in between (whether marine or terrestrial) are slowly crushed and thrust upwards, the resulting tectonic forces create huge networks of faults as the rocks crack, along with subsidiary mountain ranges as the stresses redistribute though the landmasses.

The main ranges are created by giant thrust faults, when huge slabs of rock (called nappes after the French for tablecloth) detach from the underlying layers along a weaker layer of rock and push up over the continents. At roughly right angles to these, subsidiary faults redistribute stress through the surrounding plate as it heaves and groans up a new mountain range and its surrounding landscape pattern. Try shoving your tablecloth across the table as if your hand was a continent and you will quickly see how the stress patterns distribute, even though cloth is a very different material to rock.

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Wall painting of “Tocharian Princes” from Cave of the Sixteen Sword-Bearers (no. 8), Qizil, Tarim Basin, Xinjiang, China
The Tocharians or Tokharians (/təˈkɛəriənz/ or /təˈkɑriənz/) were inhabitants of medieval oasis city-states on the northern edge of the Tarim Basin (modern Xinjiang, China). Their Tocharian languages (a branch of the Indo-European family) are known from manuscripts from the 6th to 8th centuries AD, after which they were supplanted by the Turkic languages of the Uyghur tribes.

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A branch of nomadic Indo-European people of the indo-germanic sub-group, related with Indo-European people (Germans, Celts, Iranians (Aryans), Greeks ..) of Europe and Central Asia, called by Greeks as Tocharatoi, by Chinese and later Turko-Mongolian people as (Ta-)Yu-echi/Da-Xia/Da-Hia and Da-Shi (“Tajik”) were nomads in the Pontic and central Asian´s steppes up to China and Mongolia. Earliest records of their existence goes back for 4000 years ago. Unlike most Indo-European languages, their language was an isolated one, tough it belonged to the centum-branch (centum: 100; German, English, Dutch…) of the Indo-European languages, unlike the satem-branch (satem:100; Iranic languages (Abestan/Avestan), Sanscrit, Vedic, Sarkholi, Hindustani/Urdu….). The first evidence of their language dates on the 8th century A.D when first religious books were written in the Tocharian language in all Central Asia, their native and original language beside Bactrian and Soghdian. However, they became famous under the name “Kushan” (from Guishang, modern chinese province Gansu) and later again they were part of the larger Central Asian´s tribal confederation of the Hephthalites, a mixed ethos (Sogdians, Bactrians, Tocharians, Persians, Turks, Mongols and possibly Tibetans and Koreans) formed of deadly warriors from large parts of Asia.

James Churchward had made a great deal out of an “Inner Asian Empire ruled by White People” and made it one of the most important forces in prehistory. As usual, he got a few things mixed up. But there was a time that a Caucasian people controlled the very heart of Asia, and right up against the Mongols of
the Gobi desert as well.
A Tocharian female mummy with long
flaxen blonde hair, perfectly preserved
in braided hair. Items of weaved
material, identical to Celtic Cloth.
A Tocharian man with red-blond
hair; his clear European
features still visible after lying
nearly 3,500 years in his desert grave in China
Tocharian male mummy. To his right is a swastika decoration found on his helmet
recovered from the Tocharian grave sites.
The swastika was part of the original Indo-European language, meaning “well being” or “Good luck”
Recent excavations in the Tarim Basin in Xinjiang province have uncovered more than 100 naturally mummified corpses of people who lived there between 4,000 and 2,400 years ago, indicating that the European race of red and blonde hair with blue eyes lived in this area at one time. The bodies were amazingly well preserved by the arid climate, and according to the New York Times “…archaeologists could hardly believe what they saw.”

The mummies had long noses and skulls, blond or red hair, thin lips, deep-set eyes, and other unmistakably European features. Dr. Victor H. Mair of the University of Pennsylvania said, “Because the Tarim Basin Caucasoid corpses are almost certainly representatives of the Indo-European family, and because they date from a time period early enough to have a bearing on the expansion of the Indo-European people from their homeland, it is thought that they will play a crucial role in determining just where that might have been.”

One such mummy is of a teenage girl with blond hair and blue eyes. Her remains was found in a cave and has become quite a tourist attraction in Beijing. She has been given the name, “The Lady of Tarim” and is on display at the museum. It is believed that she was someone of importance who lived over 3,000 years ago. She was found buried in fine embroidered garments of wool and leather, along with beautiful jewelry, jars and ornaments of gold, silver, jade and onyx. Her remains are in such a remarkable state of preservation that she looks as if she was sleeping.



This tapestry, found in Sampul (China), is made from wool that has lasted since a 300-200 BCE mass grave. It depicts a soldier and a centaur, indicating it was created by Greek’s. The existence of this tapestry tends to suggest that contacts between the Hellenistic kingdoms of Central Asia and the Tarim Basin occurred a lot earlier than what is believed. 

I was impressed with the extensive civilization I have found in the Uyghur Kingdom. The beauty of the temples, monasteries, wall paintings, statues, towers, gardens, housings and the palaces built throughout the kingdom cannot be described. The Uyghurs skilfully make things of silver and gold, vases and pitchers.
—  Chinese envoy Wang Yande (939–1006) after being sent sent to the Karakhoja Uyghur Kingdom in AD 981–984 (x)
1,700-year-old Silk Road cemetery contains carvings of the four mythological symbols of China

Archaeologists in China have just reported on the discovery of a 1,700-year-old cemetery along the old Silk Road consisting of magnificent tombs that contain carvings of the four mythological symbols of China – the White Tiger of the West, the Vermilion Bird of the South, the Black Turtle of the North and the Azure Dragon of the East.  

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In terms of geography, Tocharian is the easternmost of all the ancient Indo-European languages. Tocharian also appears to be a so-called centum language, meaning that the Proto-Indo-European palatovelars became true velars. This, coupled with its geographical location, came as a shock to the historical linguistics community. The other centum languages included the Celtic, Germanic, Italic, and Hellenic branches of Indo-European – all located to the west of the ancient Indo-European speech community. Tocharian thus broke down the geographical interpretation of the centum-satem dialectal division, which held that the centum speakers formed a western dialect group in the original Indo-European community, and the satem speakers, an eastern group.

Though certainly Indo-European in heritage, Tocharian shows a number of departures from its historical source. In particular, it is notable for having a reduced phonetic inventory in comparison to other Indo-European languages, the Tocharian stop consonants (e.g. p, t, k) being all voiceless (e.g. no equivalents to English b, d, g). Tocharian likewise seems to have lost a number of original cases of the Indo-European noun, and then developed a new and enlarged system. These cases tend to have what linguists call an agglutinative structure similar to that found in Japanese or in Turkic languages (among others), and this combined with the reduced inventory of stop consonants leads many scholars to believe that Tocharian went through a long period of extended contact with western and central Asian language groups such as Uralic, Turkic, and Mongolian.

—  Tocharian, Todd B. Krause and Jonathan Slocum
Humans accidentally created hidden carbon sink in the desert - New Scientist
The salty aquifers beneath deserts may be storing more carbon than all living plants put together, according to new data from arid regions of China

“Basically, people thought the whole arid region is totally negligible to the global carbon budget,” says Yan Li of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Urumqi, China. “We are arguing that that’s not the case.”

Li and colleagues took samples of water from the Tarim Basin, a salty aquifer under a desert in north-west China. They measured the carbon content of the water there and dated it.

They then repeated the process with water that flows into Tarim Basin from glaciers, and with water that is used to irrigate local farms, which comes from a nearby river. Using that information, they could draw a timeline showing how much carbon got into the basin and at what time.

Remarkably, over human history, the rate at which carbon was sunk into the groundwater rose dramatically, increasing by more than 12 times over the past 8000 years. The particularly high levels of carbon storage in this region began 2000 years ago when the Silk Road opened up, which resulted in increased levels of human activity and farming around the Tarim Basin.

The Tocharian documents all date to a period roughly between the sixth and eighth centuries AD. The materials are predominantly translations of Buddhist texts which were in common circulation in Central Asia. This of course is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, the well-known content assists in the process of decipherment; on the other hand, it provides very little information about the people who spoke the language. There are, however, some texts that are not translations of Buddhist progenitors, including monastic and business letters, caravan passes, and graffiti. These secular documents are all written in Tocharian B, leading some scholars to conclude that Tocharian A, by the time the surviving documents were written, may already have been an extinct language, preserved only as the liturgical language – much as Latin was, in Europe. The relative paucity of such secular documents, however, necessarily makes such conclusions tentative.

Most of the Tocharian texts were in origin parts of monastic library collections, or left in monasteries as votive offerings. Often, parts of these documents were picked up by the wind and swept out into the desert, making the number of complete Tocharian documents quite small and making the manner of recovery at times haphazard. The Tocharian documents are not found in isolation. Tocharian manuscripts from monastery libraries naturally lie side by side with Sanskrit manuscripts of the same era. At times texts in other languages, such as Old Persian and Uyghur, are found alongside the Tocharian texts. Occasionally documents in gāndʰārī, a Middle Indic language, are found in the same areas, but they date to an earlier era. The texts themselves were predominantly written in a variant of the north Indian Brāhmī script, which was also used for the nearby Middle Iranian language Tumshuqese. There are however some Tocharian B documents that employ Manichean script (used to spread writings of the Manichean religion, which originated in the Mesopotamian region).

—  Tocharian, Todd B. Krause and Jonathan Slocum