Mysterious ancient tribe ‘mummified by the desert’ 4,000 years ago identified

The mystery about whose bodies were discovered perfectly preserved in a Chinese desert has been revealed.

Mystery over ancient tribe mummies 4,000 years ago identified

After months of traveling in North America, China briefly prohibited the mummies from being displayed.

Mysterious ancient tribe ‘mummified by the desert’ 4,000 years ago identified 1

The exhibition was discontinued for no apparent reason, but it was speculated that it was related to the mummy’s Western appearance and Chinese concerns about what that meant for the region’s past.

About 300 mummies dating from between 2,000 B.C. to 200 A.D. were uncovered in tombs in the Tarim Basin in China’s autonomous Xinjiang Uyghur region in the 1990s.

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The Tarim Basin mummies’ reddish-brown hair, unusual clothing, and varied diet led experts to believe they were migrants from southern Russia or other western regions of China.

Researchers believe the eerily well-preserved Bronze Age mummies discovered decades ago in far western China’s Taklamakan Desert were not travelers from the West, as previously thought, but rather members of an indigenous group descended from an ancient Ice Age Asian population.

That theory was bolstered by the fact that they were buried in boat coffins in the middle of a barren desert.

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An aerial view of the Xiaohe cemetery, where the mummies were found.

The so-called ‘Western’ features of the Tarim Basin mummies — including red and light-brown hair — coupled with their unusual clothing and diet, led many experts to believe they were migrants from the Black Sea region of southern Russia.

The area’s dry, arid conditions and freezing cold nights naturally mummified the remains of locals, who were buried in boat-like tombs in the desert. One of the most famous of these mummies is “the Beauty of Xiaohe”, with their long noses, red and light-brown hair, and unusual clothing, experts long believed that they were migrants from the Black Sea region.

To get a clearer idea of their origins, genetic analysis of 13 of the oldest mummies, who are up to 4,100 years old, date from between 2100 and 1700 B.C.

Researchers compared their DNA with DNA samples from five individuals who lived further north in the Dzungarian Basin about 5,000 years ago, making them the oldest known human remains in the region. Then they have now revealed that they in fact originated a little closer to home.

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According to genetic tests, the group was native to the area and descended from Ancient North Eurasians, who vanished at the conclusion of the last Ice Age. Pictured: One of the mummies at Xiaohe, seen from the side.

The researchers concluded that the Tarim Basin mummies were not newcomers at all, they were not westerners, but descendants of Ancient North Eurasians (ANE).

Ancient North Eurasians is a group that largely disappeared by the end of the last Ice Age, about 11,550 years ago. The ANE genome only exists in certain communities in the Holocene, the current geological epoch. Native Americans and indigenous Siberians retain the highest percentage, at about 40 percent of their DNA.

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Burial goods were discovered alongside the mummies, many of whom were discovered in boat coffins.

According to the researchers, the mysterious desert wanderers appear to be the most direct known descendants of pre-farming Asian people.

Their northern Dzungarian Basin neighbors appear to be a mix of this old population and Siberian immigration. That could account for their more western appearance. They were presumably kept apart from neighboring groups due to extreme genetic isolation.

“The Tarim mummies’ so-called Western physical features are probably due to their connection to the Pleistocene Ancient North Eurasian gene pool,” the researchers wrote in their paper.


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