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Discovered In The Sands Of China

They have been discovered quite some time ago, as the Mummies were literally dug out of the hot sands of the Chinese desert. However, Archaeologists did not possess much of an idea about their origin or ancestry. Initially, they thought that these Bronze Age people had arrived in China from the West, after a bit of traveling. It was even thought that these strangers had taught the Chinese people of present days how to farm agricultural products. Meanwhile, Scientists have found various pieces of information, by analysing their DNA.

The DNA analysis has helped scientists confirm that they did not arrive in China from the Western countries, but were the original inhabitants of the Asian Nation, and learned farming from neighbouring groups. With their ancestors being the Stone Age Hunters, they used to live in Asia around 9,000 years ago.

The mummies were discovered during excavation works in north-western Chinese Province of Xinjiang in the early 20th Century. Once, the Taklamakan Desert in south-western part of Xinjiang was used as a cemetery. The concerned authorities in China claimed that the mummies were scattered throughout the desert. According to sources close to the Government of China, the bodies were buried in boat-shaped wooden coffins. The bodies have naturally become mummies in the dry desert atmosphere. As the bodies have largely remained intact for these many years, researchers could easily identify their hair colours and clothing.

Boat-shaped wooden coffins in Taklamakan

A female mummy, rather the attire of a mummy termed the ‘Princess of Xiaohe’, confused the researchers, as the lady was found clad in a woollen hat and a woollen shirt! Usually, woollen garments are closely linked to the Western Civilisation. So, the researchers guessed that the group had arrived in China from the West. However, the recent DNA analysis of those mummies has revealed that there are vast genetic differences between them and the ancient Western people. Instead, they have striking resemblances to a group living in Central Asia 5,000 years ago! From these factors, researchers have come to the conclusion that they were not immigrants, but original inhabitants of China.

Some Researchers are of the opinion that the Princess of Xiaohe or Loulan Beauty, and other mummies, discovered in Taklamakan Desert, are the Tarim mummies. Still, there are some unanswered questions. While the DNA Study has revealed tantalising details about the mummies, it’s unlikely to be the last word on their origins. The study looks at mummies found at a single site, and it’s unclear whether sequencing a wider range of sites in the Tarim Basin might result in the discovery of different genetic ties.

Princess of Xiaohe, the female mummy

Dr Michael Frachetti, a Professor of Archaeology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St Louis who has used ancient DNA research to study Central and Eastern Eurasia populations, has stressed that ancient genetic samples from this region are still relatively rare, and it was possible that they could find other genetic influences from the Himalayas or Tibet. Although earlier work showed the mummies used to live on the shores of an oasis in the desert, it’s still unclear why they were buried in boats covered in cattle hides with oars at their head – a rare practice not seen elsewhere in the region and perhaps best associated with Vikings.

Dr Michael Frachetti

They bury their bodies in boats, and no one else does that. That means where that tradition comes from remains one of the biggest enigmas of this desert population, which should be the last community in the world to do this,” insisted Dr Farchetti.

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