33.8 C
Byron Shire
December 6, 2022

Origins of the mysterious Tarim Basin mummies revealed

Latest News

Global Ripple Op Shop in Byron destroyed by fire

The much-loved Global Ripple Op Shop in the Byron Arts & Industrial Estate has suffered major damage in a fire that also struck Byron Bay taxis and the Suby pop up cafe.

Other News

Byron’s historic jetty engine unveiled

A piece of Byron Bay history, the old Green Frog jetty engine, has been restored and is now on permanent display at the Byron Bay Railway Station.

Natural burial site found unsuitable

The long-standing plan to create a natural burial ground for locals who want to be buried sustainably has hit a major hurdle, with the site favoured for this use found to be completely unsuitable.

A gentle day for refugee and asylum seeker families

Promoting community awareness, assistance and support, for asylum seekers and refugees, the Pottsville Refugee Support Group recently hosted refugee and asylum seeker families from Logan at a fun day at the beach.

Blue-green algae at Clarrie Hall Dam

Low levels of blue-green algae has been detected at Clarrie Hall Dam, Tweed’s main facility for water storage. A green alert has been issued for the dam.

Planning for Casino and Urban Growth

Richmond Valley Council is seeking community feedback on two key strategic documents - the draft Richmond Valley Growth Management Strategy and Casino Place Plan.

The politics of climate are a changin’ 

When Tony Abbott won the Liberal Party leadership in 2009, he said the politics of climate had changed. He was referring to soaring electricity prices and his belief that blaming these price hikes on the Rudd government’s proposed climate change commitments would bring him electoral success. 

Aerial view of the Xiaohe cemetery.
Photo Wenying Li, Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology.

Brought to you by The Echo and Cosmos Magazine

Ancient DNA data has traced where the Bronze Age peoples of the Tarim Basin came from.

The dry Tarim Basin, in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of north-western China, is home to hundreds of naturally mummified human remains, all between 4,000 and 1,800 years old. Little is known about the people who became the ‘Tarim Basin mummies’, although their burial sites have provided clues about their society and economy.

Until now it’s been unclear where these people had come from, with theories proposing Bronze Age migrations from places as far afield as Russia and Iran.

A new study has examined the genomes of the mummies, and found something surprising: they didn’t come to the region at all, but rather were direct descendants of a population that had been there since the end of the last ice age.

A naturally mummified female from burial M11 of the Xiaohe cemetery. Photo Wenying Li, Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology.

The study, which is described in a paper in Nature, examined genome-wide data from 13 Tarim Basin mummies, dated from between 2,100 and 1,700 BCE, and five mummies from the neighbouring Dzungarian Basin, dating between 3,000 and 2,800 BCE.

The international team of researchers found that the Tarim Basin mummies belonged to a human population called the Ancient North Eurasians (ANE), which was widespread during the Pleistocene era but has since dwindled.

‘Archaeogeneticists have long searched for Holocene ANE populations in order to better understand the genetic history of Inner Eurasia,’ says study co-author Choongwon Jeong, a professor of biological sciences at Seoul National University, South Korea. ‘We have found one in the most unexpected place.’

In contrast, the older Dzungarian mummies carried a mix of ANE DNA, and genes from Western steppe herders, a group which had strong links to the migratory Bronze Age Yamnaya society.

Excavation of burial M75 at the Xiaohe cemetery. Photo
Wenying Li, Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology.

‘These findings add to our understanding of the eastward dispersal of Yamnaya ancestry and the scenarios under which admixture occurred when they first met the populations of Inner Asia,’ says co-author Chao Ning, professor at the School of Archaeology and Museology at Peking University, China.

Dzungarians aside, the genetic consistency of the Tarim Basin mummies is curious: previous archaeological evidence has shown that they traded extensively and mixed culturally with other populations.

‘Despite being genetically isolated, the Bronze Age peoples of the Tarim Basin were remarkably culturally cosmopolitan – they built their cuisine around wheat and dairy from the West Asia, millet from East Asia, and medicinal plants like Ephedra from Central Asia,’ says co-author Christina Warinner, professor of anthropology at Harvard University, US, and a research group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Germany.

Yinqiu Cui, a professor in the school of life sciences at Jilin University, China, says the results have ‘had a transformative effect on our understanding of the region’.

‘We will continue the study of ancient human genomes in other eras to gain a deeper understanding of the human migration history in the Eurasian steppes,’ says Cui.


This article was originally published on Cosmos Magazine and was written by Ellen Phiddian. Ellen Phiddian is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a BSc (Honours) in chemistry and science communication, and an MSc in science communication, both from the Australian National University.

Published by The Echo in conjunction with Cosmos Magazine.

Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

NSW SES continues its efforts on International Volunteers Day

NSW SES volunteers continue to assist flood impacted communities across inland NSW as extensive flooding moves to downstream locations.

4WD restrictions at South Ballina beach to stay

Moves towards use of a smart phone app to help control 4WD access to South Ballina’s beach have failed in a recent Ballina Shire Council meeting.

Assange sought asylum

The controversy over the actions of Julian Assange seems to miss a crucial point. His motive for seeking asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy was...

Climate change likely to bring more compound disasters

The 2022 floods have caused $5.3billion in damage. Black Summer bushfires caused almost $2.5 billion in damage. Three consecutive La Nina events, or multiple droughts and heatwaves likely to become more common.