Mummies found in China offer insights into the Bronze Age

In the 1990s mummies were found in China. They were mummified human remains in a good state of preservation. It attracted the attention of scientists that they were naturally mummified. From this research it was possible to learn more about the Bronze Age.

mummies discovered in China
An aerial view of the Xiaohe cemetery in the Tarim Basin.-Photo: Wenying Li, Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology
These mummies in China surprised scientists

The mummies were found in the Tarim Basin which is part of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The age of the remains is estimated to be between 2000 BC to 200 BC.

There are other aspects that also puzzled researchers. The remains were buried in fancy clothes. Strangest of all, though, the coffins were boats. Considering that the basin is a long way from the sea and is made up of miles of sandy dunes, it is really strange.

The mummies found do not belong to the current ethnic groups that populate the place. For this reason they believed that they came from areas of the Black Sea or from somewhere in Iran. But were they right?.

What is the origin of the mummies?

With all these doubts on the table, an international group of scientists studied the situation. Genomic analyses were made of the first mummies found in Tarim. It was then discovered that the ethnicity of the mummies did not come from the Black Sea or Iran.

DNA indicates that they were descended from the ancient North Eurasians or ANE. This ethnic group was widespread from the Pleistocene period and their DNA is part of many populations.

According to Choongwon Jeong, one of the authors of the research, they searched for this ANE DNA for a long time. The scientist is from the University of Seoul, South Korea. The study was recently published in the journal Nature.

mummies in China tell about the Bronze Age
Excavation at the Xiaohe cemetery.Photo: Wenying Li, Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology
Some curiosities of the ANE

This ancient people did not socialize with other populations living around. Apparently, their neighbors were many. The genetics of the nearest populations were compared and the results were negative. The surrounding populations were descended from pastoralist villages belonging to the Yamnaya ethnic group.

By analyzing the teeth of the mummies, milk proteins were found. For this reason it is deduced that they could have dedicated themselves to dairy farming. They also used millet from the East and medicinal plants from Central Asia. That is to say, they did not mix with other ethnic groups, but they did trade with them.

However it is unknown where they lived before the Tarim basin. Apparently, they already knew how to farm, herd, and consumed milk. They wore finely woven clothing. They also used beads and decorative elements. It is also known that they had a varied diet.

This study can shed light on what life was like for people in the Bronze Age. Although there is still much to be studied, in time we will have answers to what trade and society was like in that remote era.

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