Geographical sites:

  • Tarim (click here to focus in map) (see also Pleiades #59814)
    Pleiades_icon ‘Focari’ unknown Geocontext: in Tarim basin CHN
    Description: An ancient place, cited: BAtlas 6 E1 ‘Focari’


Text #9424

"Tarim Mummies", in Wikipedia.

The Tarim mummies are a series of mummies discovered in the Tarim Basin in present-day Xinjiang, China, which date from 1800 BCE to the first centuries BCE. The mummies, particularly the early ones, are frequently associated with the presence of the Indo-European Tocharian languages in the Tarim Basin, although the evidence is not totally conclusive and many centuries separate these mummies from the first attestation of the Tocharian languages in writing. Victor H. Mair’s team concluded that the mummies are Europoid, likely speakers of Indo-European languages.

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

The cemetery at Yanbulaq contained 29 mummies which date from 1100–500 BCE, 21 of which are Mongoloid—the earliest Mongoloid mummies found in the Tarim Basin—and eight 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 BCE); his son (1000 BCE), 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 BCE), a “red-headed beauty” found in Qizilchoqa; and the “Witches of Subeshi” (4th or 3rd century BCE), 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 abdomen; 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 color from blond to red to deep brown, and generally long, curly and braided. 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. As a result of the arid conditions and exceptional preservation, tattoos have been identified on mummies from several sites around the Tarim Basin, including Qäwrighul, Yanghai, Shengjindian, Shanpula, Zaghunluq, and Qizilchoqa.

A 2008 study by Jilin University showed that the Yuansha population has relatively close relationships with the modern populations of South Central Asia and Indus Valley, as well as with the ancient population of Chawuhu.

In 2007 the Chinese government allowed a National Geographic Society 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 Valley and other regions yet to be determined.

In years 2009-2015, the remains of in total 92 individuals found at the Xiaohe Tomb complex were analyzed for Y-DNA and mtDNA markers.

Genetic analyses of the mummies showed that the Xiaohe people were an admixture from populations originating from both the West and the East. The maternal lineages of the Xiaohe people originated from both East Asia and West Eurasia, whereas the paternal lineages all originated from West Eurasia.

Mitochondrial DNA analysis showed that maternal lineages carried by the people at Xiaohe included mtDNA haplogroups H, K, U5, U7, U2e, T and R, which are now most common in West Eurasia. Also found were haplogroups common in modern populations from East Asia: B5, D and G2a. Haplogroups now common in Central Asian or Siberian populations included: C4 and C5. Haplogroups later regarded as typically South Asian includedM5 and M.

The paternal lines of male remains surveyed nearly all – 11 out of 12, or around 92% – belonged to Y-DNA haplogroup R1a1, which are now most common in West Eurasia; the other belonged to the exceptionally rare paragroup K* (M9).

The geographic location of this admixing is unknown, although south Siberia is likely.

According to a comment posted on 18 July 2014 by one of study co-authors - prof. Hui Zhou - Xiaohe R1a1 lineages did not belong to R-Z93 branch.

It has been asserted that the textiles found with the mummies are of an early European textile type based on close similarities to fragmentary textiles found in salt mines in Austria, dating from the second millennium BCE. Anthropologist Irene Good, a specialist in early Eurasian textiles, noted the woven diagonal twill pattern indicated the use of a rather sophisticated loom and said that the textile is “the easternmost known example of this kind of weaving technique.”

Han Kangxin, 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.

Pliny the Elder (, 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 Europoid 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!

The possible presence of speakers of Indo-European languages in the Tarim Basin by about 2000 BCE could, if confirmed, be interpreted as evidence 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. Mallory and Mair also note that: “Prior to c. 2000 BC, finds of metal artifacts in China are excedeedingly few, simple and, puzzlingly, already made of alloyed copper (and hence questionable).” **While stressing that the argument as to whether bronze technology travelled from China to the West or that “the earliest bronze technology in China was stimulated by contacts with western steppe cultures”, is far from settled in scholarly circles, they do suggest that the evidence to date favours the latter scenario. However the culture and technology in the northwest region of Tarim basin was less advanced than that in the East China of Yellow River-Erlitou (2070 BCE ~ 1600 BCE) or Majiayao culture (3100 BCE ~ 2600 BCE), which are earliest bronze-using cultures in China, implies that the northwest region did not use copper or any metal until bronze technology was introduced to this region by the Shang Dynasty about 1600 BC. The earliest bronze artifacts in China are found at the Majiayao culture site (dating from between 3100 and 2700 BC), and it is from this location and time period that Chinese Bronze Age spread. Bronze metallurgy in China originated in what is referred to as the Erlitou (Wade–Giles: Erh-li-t’ou) period, which some historians argue places it within the range of dates controlled by the Shang dynasty. Others believe the Erlitou sites belong to the preceding Xia (Wade–Giles: Hsia) dynasty. The U.S. National Gallery of Art defines the Chinese Bronze Age as the “period between about 2000 BC and 771 BC,” a period that begins with Erlitou culture and ends abruptly with the disintegration of Western Zhou rule. Though this provides a concise frame of reference, it overlooks the continued importance of bronze in Chinese metallurgy and culture. Since this was significantly later than the discovery of bronze in Mesopotamia, bronze technology could have been imported rather than discovered independently in China. However, there is reason to believe that bronzework did develop inside China separately from outside influence.


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Mallory, J. P.; Mair, Victor H. (2000), The Tarim Mummies: Ancient China and the Mystery of the Earliest Peoples from the West, London: Thames & Hudson. Pliny the Elder, The Natural History.

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Chengzhi, Xie; Chunxiang, Li; Yinqiu, Cui; Dawei, Cai; Haijing, Wang; Hong, Zhu; Hui, Zhou (2007). “Mitochondrial DNA analysis of ancient Sampula population in Xinjiang”. Progress in Natural Science 17 (8): 927–933. doi:10.1080/10002007088537493.

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