tarim mummies

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The Taklamakan Mummies(Tocharian mummies) In the late 1980’s, perfectly preserved 3000-year-old mummies began appearing in a remote Taklamakan desert. They had long reddish-blond hair, European features and didn’t appear to be the ancestors of modern-day Chinese people. Archaeologists now think they may have been the citizens of an ancient civilization that existed at the crossroads between China and Europe.

Victor Mair, a specialist in the ancient corpses and co-author of “Mummies of the Tarim Basin”, said:“Modern DNA and ancient DNA show that Uighurs, Kazaks, Krygyzs, the peoples of Central Asia are all mixed Caucasian and East Asian. The modern and ancient DNA tell the same story.”

The discoveries in the 1980s of the undisturbed 4,000-year-old ”Beauty of Loulan” and the younger 3,000-year-old body of the ”Charchan Man” are legendary in world archaeological circles for the fine state of their preservation and for the wealth of knowledge they bring to modern research. In the second millennium BC, the oldest mummies, like the Loulan Beauty, were the earliest settlers in the Tarim Basin. 

A Tocharian female mummy with long flaxen blond hair (Image 1 and 2), perfectly preserved in ponytails.  Items of weaved material, identical to Celtic cloth, definitively proved the Indo-European origins of the Tocharians, who not only built the fantastic Silk Road cities which today lie deserted, but who are also credited with bringing Buddhism, horses, the saddle, and iron working to China. This mummy was approximately 40-years old, was found in the main chamber of the same tomb. Her tall stature, high nose, and red hair indicate that she was of European descent. A Tocharian man with red-blond hair(Image 3); his clear European features still visible after nearly 3,500 years in his desert grave in Taklamakan. This mummified man was approximately 40 years old at the time of his death. "Cherchen Man” and Family (China) (Image 4) A family of immaculately preserved, 3,000-year-old caucasian mummies were found in East Turkistan, in 1978. Though it was commonly believed that the first contact between East Turkistan and the West occurred relatively late in world history — around the middle of the second century B.C. — carbon dating has shown that the Cherchen man and his family died 900 years earlier. They were preserved naturally by the salty and dry Chinese landscape. Meanwhile, Yingpan Man,(Image 5) a nearly perfectly preserved 2,000-year-old Caucasoid mummy,  discovered in 1995 in the region that bears his name, has been seen as the best preserved of all the undisturbed mummies that have so far been found. 

Yingpan Man not only had a gold foil death mask – a Greek tradition – covering his blonde bearded face, but also wore elaborate golden embroidered red and maroon garments with seemingly Western European designs. 

His nearly 2.00 meter (six-foot, six-inch) long body is the tallest of all the mummies found so far and the clothes and artifacts discovered in the surrounding tombs suggest the highest level of Caucasoid civilization in the ancient Tarim Basin region.  One of the most famous Tocharian mummies found, the so-called “Beauty of Loulan”; and right, her face as reconstructed by an artist. (Image 6 and 7). “Beauty of Loulan” The oldest mummies found in the Tarim Basin come from Loulan located at the east end of the egg shaped Taklamakan Desert. Dressed only in shades of brown, she was alive as early as 2000 B.C. during the era of Abraham and the patriarchs. She died when she was about 40. Next to her head there is a basket which contains grains of wheat






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The Tarim mummies are a series of mummies discovered in the Tarim Basin in present-day Xinjiang, China, which date from 1900 BC to 200 AD. Some of the mummies are frequently associated with the presence of the Indo-European Tocharian languages in the Tarim Basin, although the evidence is not totally conclusive. Victor H. Mair’s team made the conclusion that the mummies are basically Europoid, likely speakers of an Indo-European language.

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 ofdesiccated bodies in their search for antiquities in Central Asia. Since then, numerous other mummies have been found and analysed, many of them now displayed in the museums of Xinjiang. Most of these mummies were found on the eastern end of the Tarim Basin (around the area of Lopnur, Subeshi near Turpan, Kroran, Kumul), or from (Khotan, Niya, and Cherchen or Qiemo), along the southern edge of the Tarim Basin.

The earliest Tarim mummies, found at Qäwrighul and dated to 1800 BC, are of a Europoid physical type whose closest affiliation is to the Bronze Agepopulations of southern Siberia, Kazakhstan, Central Asia, and the Lower Volga.

The cemetery at Yanbulaq contained 29 mummies which date from 1100–500 BC, 21 of which are Mongoloid—the earliest Mongoloid mummies found in the Tarim Basin—and 8 of which are of the same Europoid physical type found at Qäwrighul.

Notable mummies are the tall, red-haired “Chärchän man” or the “Ur-David” (1000 BC); his son (1000 BC), a small 1-year-old baby with brown hair protruding from under a red and blue felt cap, with two stones positioned over its eyes; the “Hami Mummy” (c. 1400–800 BC), a “red-headed beauty” found in Qizilchoqa; and the “Witches of Subeshi” (4th or 3rd century BC), who wore 2-foot-long (0.61 m) black felt conical hats with a flat brim. Also found at Subeshi was a man with traces of a surgical operation on his neck; the incision is sewn up with sutures made of horsehair.

Many of the mummies have been found in very good condition, owing to the dryness of the desert and the desiccation it produced in the corpses. The mummies share many typical Europoid body features (elongated bodies, angular faces, recessed eyes), and many of them have their hair physically intact, ranging in colour from blond to red to deep brown, and generally long, curly and braided. It is not known whether their hair has been bleached by interment 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, discusses similarities between it and fragments recovered from salt mines associated with the Hallstatt culture.

In 2007 the Chinese government allowed a National Geographic team headed by Spencer Wells to examine the mummies’ DNA. Wells was able to extract undegraded DNA from the internal tissues. The scientists extracted enough material to suggest the Tarim Basin was continually inhabited from 2000 BCE to 300 BCE and preliminary results indicate the people, rather than having a single origin, originated from Europe, Mesopotamia, Indus Valleyand other regions yet to be determined.

However, In 2009, the remains of individuals found at a site in Xiaohe were analyzed for Y-DNA and mtDNA markers. They suggest that an admixed population of both west and east origin lived in the Tarim basin since the early Bronze Age. The maternal lineages were predominantly East Eurasian haplogroup C with smaller numbers of H and K, while the paternal lines were all West Eurasian R1a1a. The geographic location of where this admixing took place is unknown, although south Siberia is likely.

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The Tarim mummies are a series of mummies discovered in the Tarim Basin in present-day Xinjiang, China, which date from 1900 BCE to 200 CE. Some of the mummies are frequently associated with the presence of the Indo-European Tocharian languages.

Research into the subject has attracted controversy, due to ethnic tensions in modern day Xinjiang. There have been concerns whether DNA results could affect claims by Uyghur peoples of being indigenous to the region. In comparing the DNA of the mummies to that of modern day Uyghur peoples, Victor H. Mair’s team found some genetic similarities with the mummies, but no direct links, stating that “modern DNA and ancient DNA show that Uighurs, Kazaks, Krygyzs, the peoples of Central Asia are all mixed Caucasian and East Asian… the modern and ancient DNA tell the same story.” He concludes that the mummies are Caucasoid, likely speakers of an Indo-European language; that East Asian peoples “began showing up in the eastern portions of the Tarim Basin about 3,000 years ago… while the Uighur peoples arrived after the collapse of the Orkon Uighur Kingdom, largely based in modern day Mongolia, around the year 842.”