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.

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