4000 Years Ago European Man Was Already in China
History; Posted on: 2010-03-21 06:36:50 [ Printer friendly / Instant flyer ]
has always been talk of blue-eyed
people inhabiting that area of China."
For four millennia their secrets lay hidden beneath the desert sands, the
final resting place of a mysterious civilisation. And since their
discovery in 1934, the Tarim mummies in China have perplexed historians
But a remarkable new study has found that the origins of the inhabitants
of the ancient graveyard in the Taklimakan desert north of Tibet lie in
A team of Chinese geneticists have analysed the DNA of
the Bronze Age cadavers and found that they are of mixed ancestry,
displaying both European and Siberian genetic markers.
expert in Chinese history at the University of Edinburgh said the tests
revealed a "fascinating development". Professor Paul Bailey said the
findings confirmed long-held suspicions that they had travelled to the
autonomous region of Xinjiang from the West, well before the opening of
the Silk Road in the 2nd century BC.
The graveyard of more than 200 mummies, known as Small River Cemetery
No. 5, lies near a dried-up riverbed in the Tarim Basin, an inhospitable
region encircled by mountain ranges.
The site was discovered by
Folke Bergman, the Swedish archaeologist, in 1934 but then lay
forgotten for 66 years until a Chinese expedition relocated it using
Carbon testing carried out at Beijing University
has dated the oldest of the mummies as far back as 3,980 years.
However, until recently the history of how they came to be buried in the
desert in upside-down boats was unclear.
That many of the
mummies – well preserved thanks to the dry air and salty sands –
displayed fair skin, brown hair, and long noses led to some educated
Bailey, professor of modern Chinese history at
Edinburgh University, said: "There has always been talk of blue-eyed
people inhabiting that area of China."
Confirmation came thanks
to a team led by Dr Hui Zhou of Jilin University in Changchun. All the
men who were analysed had a Y chromosome that is now mostly found in
Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Siberia, but rarely in China.
mitochondrial DNA, which passes down the female line, consisted of a
lineage from Siberia and two that are common in Europe.
both the Y chromosome and the mitochondrial DNA lineages are ancient, Dr
Zhou and his team concluded the European and Siberian populations
probably intermarried before entering the Tarim Basin 4,000 years ago.
Victor Mair, a professor of Chinese at the University of Pennsylvania,
who translated the studies by Dr Zhou's team, said several items in the
graveyard resemble artefacts or relate to customs familiar in Europe,
including the use of boats in burials, string skirts, and phallic
The findings, published in the BMC Biology journal,
turn on its head the notion that the Far East was an isolated realm
before the early Europeans ventured east for trade.
of early China are sympathetic to the view that there was interaction
between what we could call China today and central Asia and further
afield, both in terms of cultural transmission but also in terms of the
transmission of technology," Bailey said. "The likes of bronze making
and the use of the horse did not simply happen overnight in China."
a subject has caused considerable controversy in China, where the
official account has it that Zhang Qian, a general of the Han dynasty,
led a military expedition to Xinjiang in the second century BC.
the area is occupied by Turkish-speaking Uighurs, who have been joined
in the past 50 years by Han settlers from China. Ethnic tensions have
recently arisen between the two groups, with riots in Urumqi, the
Bailey suggested that, although only a few
decades ago the DNA results would have sparked anger in China, a new
generation will be "interested" to learn of its early links with Europe.
or 30 years ago this research would have been considered an abhorrent
and controversial view that would have undermined Chinese pride in its
indigenous cultural development," he said.
"But the situation is
different nowadays, and I think this will be viewed positively. China is
interested in its historic links with the rest of the world, and this
development shows that the country had close ties with other areas, it
wasn't closed off."
Work will now continue to uncover more
details of the Tarim mummies. Already archeologists have found hundreds
of poles, each 13ft tall, around the burial site, described as
resembling oars from a galley. Clothes have also been recovered,
including felt caps with feathers, woollen capes with tassels, and
Their language remains unknown, but Dr Mair, an
expert in the prehistory of the Tarim Basin, believes it could have been
Tokharian, an ancient member of the Indo-European family of languages.
News Source: scotsman