Tag Archives: Tarim mummies

The mummies of the Tarim basin.

Tocharian donors

A comment on my blog recently reminded me of the Tocharians, a Caucasian people that expaneded out into the Western parts of China. They were an Indo-European people, with the standard fair skin and light hair. the oldest mummy, called the beauty of Loulan dates at about 4,000 years old. It’s not impossible that thay brought copper working into China, although that’s up for debate. Their texiles have a  ‘celtic tartan’ look to them,

The Beauty of Loulan, with artists reconstruction, age 4000 years old. She was about 40 years old at her death, and was buried with a basket of grain.

This is Yingpin man. He was buried with a gold foil death mask, and very ornately embroidered clothes. This , together with his height being a very well fed 6’6″, means he was probably from a rich ruling family. He died about 2,000 years ago, and had a blond beard and hair.

DNA sequence data shows that the mummies happened to have 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 EuroAsian 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.
The textiles found with the mummies with early European textile and weave types and the observation that the mummies seemed to have blond and red hair. An earlier study by Jilin University had found a mtDNA haplotype characteristic of Western Eurasian populations.

In trying to trace the origins of these peoples Victor Mair’s team suggested that these peoples may have arrived in the region by way of the forbidding Pamir Mountains about 5000 years ago.

Needless to say this evidence is considered controversial. It refutes the contemporary nationalist claims of the regional Uighur peoples who claimed to be the indigenous peoples of the Xinjiang, rather than the Chinese Hans. In comparing the DNA to the modern day Uighur peoples, they 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 re-examination 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.
Chinese scientists were initially hesitant to give up the DNA samples because they were sensitive about the nationalist Uighur claims, and to prevent a pillaging of national monuments by foreigners.

This lady has red hair, and wears a kind of tartan cloth.

As it can be seen from this map, the Tarim basin is virtually inside the ‘stan’ countries, so having Caucasians there isn’t that bizarre. As I understand, you still get the odd green eyed and fair haired peron there, so they probably melted in with the other groups after a while

The preservation of some of these mummies is amazing.