of Cherchen Man, along with dozens
of other perfectly preserved mummies found in Turkestan in
western China, has made archaeologists question the old
perceptions of prehistoric cultural exchange. Although the
mummies have been known to exist for decades, no one paid them
much attention until 1987 when Victor Mair, professor of Chinese
studies at the University of Pennsylvania, began to take
interest in them following a visit to an obscure museum in
the town of Ürümchi (also spelled Ürümqi). So what were
westerners doing in China 3,000 years ago and just how much did
they influence Chinese culture.
Modern DNA and
ancient DNA show that Uighurs, Kazaks, Krygyzs, the peoples of
Central Asia are all mixed Caucasian and East Asian
about Prehistoric Tattooing)
Cherchen Man, a
6ft tall Caucasian man was found in a tomb
along with three women and a baby in 1978. Their presence raised
several important questions such as: What was their lineage, How
had they died and more importantly: What were they doing there.
A European Origin:
realisation that Cherchen man was Caucasian was a shock to the
Chinese establishment who had always maintained that China had
remained separate from the west. He was
found buried wearing a red twill tunic and
tartan leggings (The earliest example of Tartan ever found).
Apart from his distinctive Caucasian features, red hair and
height, there are several other facts that show he was of
The piles of material buried alongside the corpses were all made
of sheep’s wool. As sheep aren’t indigenous to that part of the
world, it is presumed that these early travellers must have brought sheep with
them from the west. The fabric patterns must have been woven on
looms similar to those used to create the scraps she found in
(1) Analysis has shown that the weave of
the cloth is the same as that of those found on the bodies of
salt miners in Austria from 1,300 BC.
The material, along with other clues such as wheat
which was found in
other associated tombs, in an area where wheat is not indigenous to the region — was
clear evidence that Cherchen Man was a product of Europe. So,
too, were less well-preserved mummies of others found throughout
the area, some of whom had died 1,000 years earlier.
DNA testing confirms that he and hundreds of other mummies
found in Xinjiang's Tarim Basin are of European origin.
In addition, the burial sites of Cherchen Man and his fellow people were
marked with stone structures that look like
dolmens from Britain, ringed by round-faced, Celtic figures,
or standing stones. Among their icons were figures reminiscent
of the sheela-na-gigs, wild females who flaunted their bodies
and can still be found in mediaeval churches in Britain. One of
female mummies wears a long, conical hat and was buried with wooden combs
now familiar to students of ancient
Celtic art. (3)
Unlike other tombs in the area, Cherchen Man’s final resting
place was not designed to be reopened, Barber says. He was
buried with the three women, one of whom is presumed to be his
wife, and the tomb was sealed.
A few weeks later, the baby’s body, also well preserved, was
placed above the main burial chamber. The baby, about 3 months
old, was wrapped in a bright red shroud tied with red and blue
cord, then a blue stone placed on each eye. Alongside was a
sheep udder fashioned into a nursing bottle. “It is clear that
they (other members of the community) tried to keep the baby
alive after the mother and father had died,” Barber says, so
this wasn’t a case of killing the entire family so all could
accompany the man into the next life. None of the mummies show
any sign of violence. They apparently died, Barber surmises,
from an epidemic.
the 1980's, hundreds of other perfectly preserved 3,000-4,000 year-old
mummies began appearing in the remote Taklamakan desert (which sits
on the renowned 'Silk route'). They had long
reddish-blond hair, European features and didn't appear to be the
ancestors of modern-day Chinese people ."From around 1,800 BC,
the earliest mummies in the Tarim Basin were exclusively Caucausoid,
or Europoid," said Professor Victor Mair of Pennsylvania University.
Altogether there are 400 mummies in various degrees of desiccation
and decomposition, including the prominent Han Chinese warrior Zhang
Xiong and other Uighur mummies, and thousands of skulls.
Their discovery has raised several
questions over our understanding of events in the region,
particularly in relation to the cultural development of China and
our concept of cultural exchange in prehistoric times.
The Loulan Beauty.
Even older than the Cherchen find is that of the 4,000-year-old
Loulan Beauty, who has long flowing fair hair and is one of a number
of mummies discovered near the town of Loulan. One of these mummies
was an eight-year-old child wrapped in a piece of patterned wool
cloth, closed with bone pegs. The Loulan Beauty's features are
Nordic. She was 45 when she died, and was buried with a basket of
food for the next life, including domesticated wheat, combs and a
Yingpan Man, a nearly perfectly preserved
2,000-year-old Caucasoid mummy, discovered in 1995 in the region
that bears his name, has been seen as the best preserved of all
the undisturbed mummies that have so far been found.
Yingpan Man not only had a gold foil
death mask - a Greek tradition - covering his blonde bearded
face, but also wore elaborate golden embroidered red and maroon
wool garments with images of fighting Greeks or Romans.
His nearly 2.00 meter (six-foot, six-inch) long body is the
tallest of all the mummies found so far and the clothes and
artefacts discovered in the surrounding tombs suggest the
highest level of Caucasoid civilization in the ancient Tarim