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DNA Is Used to Unlock the Mystery of Ancient Mummies Buried in Chinese Desert Boats

By: April Carson

The Paleogenetics laboratory investigated the historical genomes of the people of Xinjiang (about 3000-1700 BC) and discovered that the Tarim mummies were descendants of Ancient North Eurasians. Populations genetically affiliated to Lake Baikal lived in Afontova Gora during the Upper Paleolithic era, and in the Bronze Age – near Lake Baikal. The Lake Baikal populations from both periods are very close to modern Native Americans, and to other Siberian populations.

DNA tests revealed the unexpected lineage of the Tarim mummies, who were originally thought to be East Asians

The Tarim Basin became known as Xinjiang in this period. The region's name derives from the arid depression at its center, which was named after it (the Tarim). Until recently, these people's resting places had not been studied. In the 1990s and 2000s, archaeologists discovered numerous human remains that had been naturally mummified by the desert's hot, dry climate. One of these sites is located in the foothills of the Tian Shan Mountains, on the bank of Lake Lop Nur. There, three-thousand-year-old mummies have been discovered in boats that are up to eight meters long. This unique burial tradition is mainly restricted to this site and neighboring areas. In some places, the boats were buried in pairs and orientated north to south - their sterns pointing westward.

Despite the fact that their homes were quite limited, the Tarim people were known to be economically active. They raised cattle and little ruminants, as well as grew certain crops like wheat or barley, despite the restricted areas. It was discovered that the Tarim people knew how to produce dyed woolen textiles, make cheeses, and employ plaited baskets and other crafts - resulting in a multifaceted culture that is not common in such remote areas.

As a result, the dead were commonly buried in coffins constructed of wooden boats, and funerary items included alcoholic beverages and wooden phalluses.

About 4000 years ago, the Tarim population was said to have originated in Xinjiang. The major theory was that they are members of the cattle-raising cultures of the Eurasian steppes who belonged to the Afanasievo or later Andronovo culture.

According to another account, they were Bactrian-Margian inhabitants who moved into the area from Central Asia. The first studies of ancient mitochondrial DNA produced no definitive answers, and scientists from France and Russia reached a consensus in 2019 that the Afanasievans were not linked with the Tarim population.

DNA studies

The researchers studied the ancient DNA of five individuals who lived around 3000-2800 BC in the Dzungar depression and 13 individuals who lived around 2100-1700 years BC in the Tarim Basin, utilizing modern methods. In total, paleogeneticists were able to sequence complete genomes in 18 out of 33 instances. Furthermore, ten new complete mitochondrial genomes were obtained.

Oldest population of Xinjiang

The oldest population of Xinjiang, which lived in several clusters, was revealed. The Dzungarian individuals from Ayituohan and Songshugou sites near Gorny Altai were discovered to be genetically similar to the Afanasyevites, with samples from the Nileke site being somewhat more identical to Tarim people than they were to the Dzungarian group. Afanasyevites are much more genetically close to Ayituohan and Songshugou populations compared to Nileke population, which in turn is closer to Tarim people than it is to the mountains-dwellers.

The Ishbara people, who inhabited the Tarim Basin from 3500 BCE until around 1800 BCE, were genetically similar to populations from the steppe zone of the Stone Age and Siberian descendants of ancient northern Eurasians. According to geneticists, a Tarim man from the Beifang site has DNA that is closer to the Early Bronze Age population of the Middle East than to the present-day inhabitants of the area.

Relationships between populations

The Dzungarian people are believed to have a deep connection with the Tarim population. However, while the former was influenced by from the West Eurasian population, the latter was more similar to those who lived in, for example, the region of modern Krasnoyarsk during the last glaciation (about 17 thousand years ago).

Conclusions based on results

Despite the fact that the monuments are scattered across 600 kilometers of desert terrain, the Tarim people formed a homogeneous group, according to the study's findings. The genetic pedigree of the Tarim people is as follows: Mount Afontova in the Upper Paleolithic residents make up 72 percent, and Early Bronze Age inhabitants make up 28 percent. According to the scientists, this suggests that there were at least two periods of mass migration into Xinjiang.

The scientists also analyzed the tartar proteomes of seven Tarim mummies from the Xiaohe burial ground. In all seven individuals, proteins were discovered that were characteristic of ruminant milk, linked to cattle, sheep, and goats. It was shown that since its creation in the region, the pastoralist lifestyle had been prevalent among the local population, who used to breed ruminants, drink their milk and produce dairy products.

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About the Blogger:

April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on

To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav







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