Researchers have identified the genetic origins of Asias most mysterious mummies, which were previously thought to be immigrants from the West.
The genetic study of the mummies of the Tarim Basin in the Taklamakan Desert in far western China, discovered decades ago, reveals that they are part of an indigenous group descended from ancient Asian populations in the Ice Age.
In the 1990s, there were approximately 300 mummies dating back to 2000 BC. Until 200 AD, they were discovered in tombs in the Tarim Basin in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China.
The areas dry weather and freezing winter preserved the remains, particularly those of the “Beauty of Xiaohe”, whose facial features, clothes, hair, and even eyelashes are recognizable (the name derives from the site where the tombs were discovered).
The alleged “Western” features of the Tarim Basin mummies, including red and light brown hair, along with unusual clothing and diet, have led many experts to believe they were immigrants from the Black Sea region in southern Russia.
This theory was reinforced by the fact that they were buried in boat coffins in the middle of a barren desert.
To investigate their origins, an international team of researchers analyzed genomic data from 13 of the oldest known mummies, dating back to between 2100 and 1700 BC.
They compared them to 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 area.
They found that the Tarim Basin mummies were not new arrivals at all, but rather direct descendants of the Ancient North Eurasia (ANE), a group that largely disappeared by the end of the last Ice Age, about 11,550 years ago.
Traces of genetics from ancient northern Eurasia are still found only in the Holocene, our current geological age: Native Americans and Siberian aborigines maintain the highest known proportions, about 40%.
It is possible that Bronze Age society experienced a “severe and prolonged genetic bottleneck prior to the settlement of the Tarim Basin”, according to a statement from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, which was involved in the research.
Senior author Chung Won-jeong, a biologist at Seoul National University, said in the statement that archaeologists have long searched for Holocene groups in order to better understand the genetic history of Inner Eurasia.
“We found one in the most unexpected places,” Chung Won added. The inhabitants of the Tarim Basin were genetically isolated but “culturally cosmopolitan” (cosmopolitanism is the ideology that all humans belong to one community, based on a common moral), according to senior author Christina Wariner, an anthropologist at Harvard University.
“It appears that they are openly adopting new ideas and technologies from their herders and farmers neighbors, while also developing unique cultural elements that no other groups share,” Wariner told CNN.
They wore felted and woven woolen clothes, used medicinal plants such as ephedra from Central Asia, and even ate a type of cheese that originated in the North Caucasus.
The discovery of the origin of the Tarim Basin mummies has had a “transformative effect on our understanding of the region,” said lead author Yinqiu Kui, a professor in the College of Life Sciences at Guilin University, Changchun, China.
Yenko said he hopes to analyze ancient human genomes from other eras “to gain a deeper understanding of the history of human migration in the plains of Eurasia.”
Source: Daily Mail
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