Photo by: Wenying Li, Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology

Wenying Li, Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology

Mummies Found in China Have an Ancient Origin Story

By: Discovery

A discovery of mummies in the Tarim Basin in China from the 1990s has finally been demystified. The remains showed evidence of western origin, but after a DNA test, it turns out that these mummies are a bit more local than once thought.

October 29, 2021

The Tarim Basin is predominantly covered by the Taklamakan Desert, which is dry and inhospitable for human settlement. Located in central Asia, this was the location of an incredible anthropological find. The remains of thousands of people were discovered alongside clothes, tools, food, and other artifacts. The arid climate created a perfect setting for preservation for what is now known as a 4,000-year-old civilization.

Photo by: Wenying Li, Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology

Wenying Li, Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology

This discovery was noted as even more of a mystery because of the western look of the clothing on the mummies and the unprecedented burial practices-- all of the remains were found laid to rest in wooden boats. This is odd due to the location of the find--the middle of the desert. Many believed that these peoples were wanderers or nomads, but genome sequencing done on 13 of the mummies by Chinese, European, and American researchers showed that these remains are actually native descendants of an ancient ice-age civilization.

Photo by: Wenying Li, Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology

Wenying Li, Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology

This genetic research is only the beginning. There are still mysteries surrounding this find. "The mummies have long fascinated scientists and the public alike since their original discovery. Beyond being extraordinarily preserved, they were found in a highly unusual context, and they exhibit diverse and far-flung cultural elements," stated Christina Warinner, an associate professor of anthropology at Harvard. The research surrounding this discovery will continue globally and with every bit of information uncovered, the more the anthropological community, as well as the public, will understand about this incredible find.

Next Up

3,000-Year-Old Lost City Found in Egypt

3,000-year-old city of Aten has been discovered to be the next best “extraordinary” finding since the tomb of boy king Tutankhamen.

The First All-Black Team Will Climb Mount Everest Next Year

By scaling the 29,032-foot-peak, Full Circle Everest hopes to empower people of color to explore the outdoors.

Pingelap Atoll is Known as the Island of the Colorblind

There's a place where colorblindness runs so rampant that it's known as the Island of the Colorblind. Learn more about the island where its inhabitants see in almost entirely black and white.

2 New Species Of Dinosaurs Found In Northwest China

A tale of two species. Massive sauropod dinosaurs discovered in northwestern China is the region’s first fossil discovery.

244 Million-Year-Old Fossils Discovered in China

These are the oldest fossils of the extinct bony fish, Peltoperleidus, ever to be found, and the first time Peltoperleidus fossils have been found outside of Europe.

One Who Causes Fear: Dinosaur Species Discovered in Patagonia

Paleontologists and researchers discovered a meat-eating species of dinosaur identified as “one who causes fear” in Patagonia.

The Coronavirus: What You Need to Know About the Virus

As the death tolls rise, Coronavirus is on the minds of people all over the world. Learn about this new virus and how we got here. Originally published: 2/20/2020 Updated: 3/9/2020

23,000-Year-Old Human Footprints Discovered in America

Ancient human footprints found in New Mexico suggest people may have arrived in the Americas 10,000 years before scientists had previously thought.

When in Roam, a Woolly Mammoth’s Tusks are the Map

Roaming with Kik--a look into a woolly mammoth’s tusks unravels its 28-year journey in prehistoric Alaska.

The World’s Deadliest Bird Used to be a Pet

Scientists found cassowary eggshells in New Guinea showing the lethal bird was being domesticated 18,000 years ago.