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4-5 Tarim Mummies - Indo-Europeans in China

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Published on May 30, 2010

The mummies of the Xinjiang region were found in the driest, saltiest part of Central Asia--in Chinese Turkestan (wedged between Kazakhstan and Mongolia)--around the towns of Cherchen and Loulan. They have many names, depending on the specific geographic area of Xinjiang in which they were found. But all come from the region of Xinjiang.

Dating as far back as 4,000 years, they were made by accident--naturally--by the dry climate in the salty Tarim basin. The oldest mummies from Cherchen found so far died about 3,000 years ago, while the oldest mummies found near Loulan died about 4,000 years ago.

Bodies buried in the sandy desert (most likely in winter) froze (or at least got very cold quite quickly) and dried out before they could begin to rot. By the time summer (and high temperatures) arrived, the bodies had become mummified. Because they were already dried, the summer's heat would not cause them to deteriorate.

These bodies were placed in bottomless coffins which allowed good air circulation--this enabled the body to dry out completely. (Other nearby bodies, most likely buried when the temperature wasn't cold, turned into skeletons.)

The composition of the soil (high in salt) speeded the drying out process, since the salt sucked the moisture from the atmosphere (and the bodies).

The Cherchen mummies include Cherchen Man (called the man with ten hats by Elizabeth Wayland Barber), Cherchen Woman, two other women, and an infant wrapped in a beautiful brown cloth tied with red and blue cord. The infant was buried with a "baby bottle" made from a sheep's udder; each of its eyes was covered with a blue stone.

The Loulan mummies (actually from Qäwrighul near the town of Loulan) include the Beauty of Loulan and a few other mummies including an eight-year-old child wrapped in a piece of patterned wool cloth and closed with bone pegs. The wool clothing from Loulan seems to be much less colorful (in much more neutral, earth-tone colors--though fading could have occurred), but it is no less impressive in its patterns and weaves.

Scientists believe that many more naturally mummified bodies may be found in the area.

The Cherchen mummies are known for their degree of preservation (far better than most Egyptian mummies), their colorful clothing, and their Caucasian features. Their burial fabrics (in unusual patterns and woven in unusual ways) and their Caucasian features suggest that they (and/or their ancestors) had come from Celtic tribes in Central Europe. Why had they ended up in China? Were they nomads? Were they adventurers? Were they raiders and robbers?

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