Tarim Basin Mummies
Sat, 24 Mar 2001 00:31:47 ‑0800
Dwyer <[email protected]>
Barbara Hamrick <[email protected]>,
Dwyer <[email protected]>
This is the garden of eden. This is where the white
race was cast down
to earth to redeem the true children of Israel.
Is‑sons Ra‑rule El‑ya
yahweh...Click on the photo....
Who were they?
Even a cursory look at the photos of the mummies in the Tarim Basin
reveals that they were not Asians. Their long noses, high foreheads, brown
and red hair, not to mention their brightly coloured twill clothing, immediately
brings Europe to mind.
That the bodies are preserved in the state they are found is remarkable.
Many look like they have just laid down to sleep and we have rudely
interrupted them. Before looking at the preliminary examinations of the DNA
from the mummies, we should explore the reason for their excellent
To begin with, the term "mummy" used up to this point, is incorrect. By using
this word, it is implied that someone set about to embalm the bodies of the
deceased. The embalming process involves the removal of the body's organs
and rinsing out the fluids. If this is not done, the micro‑organisms in the
stomach begin to devour the body. It bloats, and finally dehydration causes all
the flesh to sink into the skeleton. This mummification process is mostly
associated with the ancient Egyptians.
The bodies found in the Tarim Basin were buried complete with all their
internal organs. There is evidence of an unknown yellow material made of
protein which was smeared onto some of the bodies. It's also true that where
this material was used (usualy under clothing) the flesh is better preserved.
However, it was not this material that kept the bodies in such excellent
The climate of the Tarim Basin ranges from temperature extremes of ‑20 to
+50 degrees celcius with an annual rainfall of less that 100 mm. This,
combined with the high salt levels in the ground hinders the growth of bacteria
and presents the perfect conditions for preservation.
For this reason, the correct term to use instead of mummies, is desiccated
corpses, which means they are dried‑out.
We can move now to look at the results of preliminary DNA testing that has
been carried out on the mummies (this word just carries more flavour).
The study of mitochondrial DNA with respect to archaeology is a relatively
new discipline which attempts to bridge the gap between physical
anthropology and poplulation genetics. It does so by using ancient samples
as physical anthropology does, but at the molecular level.
In any examination of ancient DNA, there are extra precautions which must be
carried out because the ancient DNA in the samples degrades and mixes with
acids from other micro‑organisms.
Nature is not the only challenge to preserving and reading ancient samples;
throughout the whole process of site excavation and the extraction of
samples, field workers must avoid contaminating the bodies. In fact,
contamination can take place at many levels,
During the burials, foreign DNA from anyone present may come in
contact with the body
multiple burials over time at the same site can also mix DNA from several
individuals and time periods
within the labratory, foreign DNA from researchers and other specimens
poses a contamination threat.
With the mummies in the Tarim Basin, there have been
many possible opportunities for contamination to occur. In
fact, since the conditions of the museums in Xinjiang are
not sufficient to offer the mummies a safe home, the
corpses are often reburried in their graves after cursory
examinations. In order to avoid any modern DNA
contamination, the samples were often taken from beneath
the wollen clothing.
The field work and subsequent labratory work has been carried out by Paolo
Francalacci, a geneticist with the Anthropology Institute at the University of
Sassari in Italy and one of the first group of Western academics to travel to
visit the mummies in the Tarim Basin. Under his guidance, 25 tissue and bone
samples were taken from eleven corpses found near Hami in eastern Xinjiang,
although tests have been carried out on only 5 of those samples.
Early tests seem to point to origins to the west and around the meditteranean.
This observation was arrived at by comparing the number of changes in the
DNA sequence of the Tarim Basin Mummies from the sequence that is
commonly considered the "concrete individual of European origin." Those
peoples closer to Europe show a smaller number of changes in the sequence
than those further away. What the samples from the Caucasoid corpses in
Xinjiang show is that they are more closely related to Europe than their Asian
neighbours. However, at the moment, it is still too early to pinpoint the exact
area where these people originated.
It should also be remembered that DNA sampling can only reveal the genetic
lineage of a group, and not the cultural evolution and linguistic development
which has led them to where they were found. As Francalacci states, the
evolution of the "ancient Xinjiang people is somewhat more complicated than
the knowledge of a fragment of DNA, and it can be understood only by an
integrated vision of genetic, linguistic, historical, archaeological and
anthropological records." Francallaci in JIES 396.
FROM TEST TUBES TO SKULLS
While the genetic research continues, another technique can be used to
determine the identity of the mummies: the study of skulls. Research has
been conducted by HAN Kangxin, a physical anthropologist with the Chinese
Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing on several hundred skulls found in the
Xinjiang region. By measuring the crania and structure of the skulls,
anthropologists have concluded that the majority of the inhabitants of the
Tarim Basin from 1800 BC until the last few centuries BC were predominantly
However, the research has also shown that there were many different groups
living in the Tarim Basin including those with Nordic roots, some from the
Meditteranean, Russian Steppe peoples called the Andronovo culture and
The table below is a break down of where most of the skulls were found, and
what they tell us about the people who once lived in these areas.
Konch Darya‑ 70 km
west of Lop Nor
Definately European with Nordic
features. Earliest skulls close to
Afansievo culture (3rd millenium).
Later skulls close to Andronovo
horizon (2nd millenium).
Earlier skulls found are close to
Nordic and East Meditteranean.
21 were East Asian Mongloids, 8 were
Caucasoid like above.
Both groups shared the same burial
ground and customs.
Monghol Kora‑ Tekes
River Valley of
All the skulls are European
10 skulls are brachycephalic (broad
1 is mesocephalic (medium sized)
Date from 2400‑1800 BP
Sampul near Lop Nor
2200 BP. East Meditteranean
caucasoids with Central Asian
5 are caucasoid. Indo‑Afghan pattern.
Mair in JIES 289‑293
Together, the cranial studies and the elementary DNA analysis point to a wide
range of peoples living side‑by‑side in the Tarim Basin region during this
period. This may have an impact on the commonly accepted date for the
opening of the silk road in the 2nd century BC. This will be looked at more
closely in the page about how they lived. When researchers gain more
access to the corpses for DNA sampling and anthropological studies, the full
extent of early cultural trade may come to light.