Saturday, April 27, 2013

X is for Xinjiang: Tarim Mummies

In the desert region of Xinjiang, China, a fascinating find was discovered in a desert area in 1978: the mummified remains of people appearing to be of European descent, but dating back to a significant amount of time before Europeans were said to have made it to China.

1910 photo of a Tarim Mummy
Aurel Stein
These bodies had not been purposely mummified. Instead, the dry, hot environment dried their skin out so quickly that it was even better preserved than those purposely mummified, such as the Egyptians. They were buried in small chambers in a fetal position, simple goods laid with them, such as food, combs, needles, etc. They were dressed in felt boots, leather and colorful dyed wool, with some wearing distinctive hats resembling our modern idea of a witch's hat. Purple was a prevalent clothing color. They had blond, red or light brown hair, and the hair of many of the females was braided.

There was a family buried together, parents and children. One man showed evidence of sutures on his neck, showing someone had treated him medically. They were laid upon straw mats and wooden logs.

The Chinese have been excavating these burial sites for over sixteen years now, and have dated the mummies to between 3000 BC and 300 BC.

The remnants of spoked wheels were found, but wheels such as these didn't appear in China for another 800 years. They were, however, found in the Ukraine during this time period.

Chinese texts speak of an alien barbarian race, called the Yuezhi or Wusun. Perhaps these are those people, and they weren't alien after all, just European.

This discovery has shaken everything historians have known about European influence in China. It has long been thought that China was self-contained and only spread influence out, not in, but these bodies change that assumption. Unfortunately, due to political unrest and lack of funds, they haven't been able to put much into researching these mummies to find the necessary answers.

It's a fascinating subject that I don't have much time to touch on (what with keeping these posts short and all), but if you'd like to read a good article on the subject, you can go here.

So, why were these obviously European people in a region they weren't supposed to have reached yet? Did they spread the use of spoked wheels and animal-drawn carts? Were they in contact with the Chinese long before they were thought to have been? If so, why did they not spread farther into China, and why were they forgotten? Were they the barbarians spoken of as alien beings?

May you find your Muse.


  1. I am using today as a way to catch up. You have had some interesting posts about the worlds mysteries. This one is especially interesting as it the race of giants.
    Katie atBankerchick Scratchings

  2. This is really interesting! I'm also wondering what the Europeans were doing there so much earlier than assumed. And why no one really knew of them.

  3. Too bad China can't learn more about these people. I'd sure like to know!

  4. That is too neat. I love anthropological upheavals like that, though one has to wonder if the dating on the items isn't mistaken. I believe in the possibility of earlier entries into China from out west.

    John at The Bathroom Monologues

  5. I imagine the Chinese resisted their influence, maybe even made it difficult for the newcomers, which is why they didn't stay long.

  6. I think they were Europeans, definitely. And they were in contact with the Chinese likely long before we knew. Just like people came to the Americas long before Columbus.

  7. Our histories are only as accurate as the people who write them. If knowledge isn't passed on, history is forgotten, but a folk explanation will live on.

    China has always been proud of its heritage and may not like to see European influence shown. Hence, this info could have been suppressed. Or local knowledge may not have spread to the cities. A good mystery. . .

  8. So "The Mummy" had it right after all. Death is only the beginning. At least the beginning of unraveling a mystery.

  9. Fascinating, hadn't heard of this at all, what a shame lack of funds.Thanks for the link I'll go have a look:)
    maggie at expat brazil

  10. Oh wow, what a creepy picture. I'd never hard of this mystery before either. I've learned so many interesting things from your theme!

  11. The more history that is uncovered, the more questions are raised. I love stuff like this!

  12. What delicious research you've done, Shannon! Bravo! Mummies are especially interesting to me, as is Ancient Egypt. Thanks for making new creases in our brains! :)

  13. This isn't so different than the vikings getting to America long before Columbus.

  14. Purple was not an easy color to come by back then. That's why its known as a 'royal' color, because mainly royalty could afford to have it.

  15. There are so many mysteries in the world, yet we are still inventing our own as stories!
    Just stopped by to thank you for your work on the Challenge this year, Shannon - and especially for taching me (and others) how to do signatures!
    Jemima at Jemima's blog

  16. I think they were European barbarians.

    #atozchallenge, Kristen's blog:

  17. I like these posts you've been doing. I'd say they were European. The earth has change so much in however long its been here.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  18. I reckon Europeans, who the Chinese didn't want around. Which would explain why they'd be called barbarians. Though the Chinese could still have been influenced by them. But it's an interesting mystery alright.