Scientists have solved the mystery of the mummies buried in boats

by time news

Found in the Tarim Basin in Xinjiang, mostly in the 1990s, the bodies and clothing of the mummies are strikingly preserved, despite the fact that the remains are up to 4,000 years old. Naturally preserved by the dry desert air, their facial features and hair color are clearly visible.

As CNN tells CNN, the western appearance of the mummies, as well as felted and woven woolen clothing, and the cheese, wheat and millet found in their unusual graves, seemed to indicate that they were nomadic shepherds from the steppes of Western Asia or migrated peasants from the mountains. and desert oases of Central Asia.

However, a new study by Chinese, European and American researchers who analyzed the DNA of these 13 mummies and sequenced their genomes for the first time painted a different picture. Their analysis showed that the remains did not belong to aliens, but to a local group descended from the ancient Asian population of the Ice Age.

“Mummies have long fascinated scientists and the public since their initial discovery. In addition to their extraordinary preservation, they have been found in a very unusual context, and they exhibit diverse and widespread cultural elements, ”says Christina Wariner, assistant professor of anthropology at Harvard University.

“We found compelling evidence that they are in fact highly genetically isolated local populations,” added Wariner, who is also the leader of the microbiome sciences group at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and the author of the study, published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

“However, unlike their genetic isolation, they seem to have openly adopted new ideas and technologies from their herder and peasant neighbors, and are developing unique cultural elements that other groups do not have,” she said.

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The researchers examined genetic information from the oldest mummies in the Tarim Basin – between 3,700 and 4,100 years old – along with genomes sequenced from the remains of five people from the Jungar Basin, further north in China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Dating between 4,800 and 5,000 years ago, these are the oldest human remains found in the region.

Ancient DNA can provide compelling evidence of human movement at a time when written records or other clues are scarce, according to Vagish Narasimhan, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin who has worked with genetic samples from the Central Asian region. He did not participate in the study and called it “exciting.”

The study found that the mummies of the Tarim Basin showed no signs of mixing (the scientific term for having children) with other groups that lived at the same time. The mummies were direct descendants of a group that was once widespread during the Ice Age, but largely disappeared by the end of that era – about 10,000 years ago.

Called by the ancient northern Eurasians, traces of this hunter-gatherer population have survived only partially in the genomes of modern populations, with the indigenous peoples of Siberia and America having the highest known proportions. Finding them in the Tarim Basin, dated to these years, was unexpected.

Other genetic samples from the farther north in Xinjiang have shown that the people from which they descended mingled widely with various Bronze Age populations in the region, making it surprising that the Tarim Basin mummies were so genetically isolated.

Although now removed, in the Bronze Age “it was a region of incredible crossroads. There was a vivid mix of North, South, East and West 5,000 years ago, ”said Michael Frachetti, professor of anthropology at the University of Washington in St. Louis, who was not involved in the study.

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“It is all the more paradoxical that you have a community that is highly integrated culturally, but which supports some very, very iconic and unique components of its own local ideology, local culture, local burial traditions, and a seemingly unmixed genetic profile. going even deeper into deep ancient ancestors ”.

Vagish Narasimkhan said the population can be genetically isolated but culturally cosmopolitan.

“Genetics doesn’t always have to go hand in hand with cultural or linguistic exchange,” he said. “People can always adopt new methods, be it farming or metalworking, from other groups, or change their burial customs, and so on, without population displacement or fluidity.”

While DNA research reveals tempting details about the mummies, this is hardly the last word on their origins. Narasimkhan said the study looks at mummies found in the same location, and it is unclear if sequencing a wider range of sites in the Tarim Basin could lead to different genetic links.

Michael Frachetti said that ancient genetic samples from this region are still relatively rare, and it was possible that they might have found other genetic influences from the Himalayas or Tibet.

Although earlier work showed that mummified humans lived on the shores of an oasis in the desert, it is still unclear why they were buried in boats covered with cattle hide with oars on their heads – a rare practice not found in other parts of the region and, perhaps best associated with Vikings.

“They buried bodies in boats, and no one else did that. This means that the origin of this tradition remains one of the biggest mysteries of this desert population, which should be the last community in the world to do this, ”said Farchetti.

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