Genetic study on the origins of the mummies of the Tarim basin – HeritageDaily


Buried in boat coffins in an otherwise barren desert, the mummies of the Tarim Basin have long intrigued scientists and inspired many theories as to their enigmatic origins.

Since the late 1990s, the discovery of hundreds of naturally mummified human remains dating from around 2000 BC. their agro-pastoral economy.

The cattle-driven economy and unusual physical appearance of the Tarim Basin mummies had led some researchers to speculate that they were the descendants of the migrating shepherds of Yamnaya, a highly mobile Bronze Age society from the steppes of the Black Sea region in southern Russia. Others have placed their origins among the Central Asian desert oasis cultures of the Bactriane-Margiane Archaeological Complex (BMAC), a group with strong genetic links to the early farmers of the Iranian plateau.

To better understand the origin of the founding population of the mummies of the Tarim basin and who first colonized the region on sites such as Xiaohe and Gumugou around 2000 BC. mummies, dating from around 2,100 to 1,700 BC, as well as five individuals dating from around 3,000 to 2,800 BC in the nearby Dzungarian Basin. This is the first genomic-scale study of prehistoric populations in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and it includes the first human remains found in the region.

The mummies of the Tarim basin were not new to the region

To their surprise, the researchers discovered that the mummies of the Tarim Basin were not new to the area at all, but rather appeared to be direct descendants of a once widespread Pleistocene population that had largely disappeared in the end of the last ice age. This population, known as the Ancient Northern Eurasians (ANEs), survives only partially in the genomes of present-day populations, with the indigenous populations of Siberia and the Americas having the highest known proportions at around 40%. Unlike populations today, the Tarim Basin mummies show no evidence of mixing with other Holocene groups, instead forming a previously unknown genetic isolate that has likely suffered an extreme and prolonged genetic bottleneck. before settling in the Tarim basin.

Image Credit: Wenying Li, Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archeology

“Archaeogeneticists have long researched Holocene ANE populations in order to better understand the genetic history of Inner Eurasia. We found one in the most unexpected place, ”said Choongwon Jeong, lead author of the study and professor of biological sciences at Seoul National University.

Unlike the Tarim Basin, the early inhabitants of the nearby Dzungarian Basin descended not only from the local people but also from the herdsmen of the Western Steppes, namely the Afanasievo, a group of pastoralists with strong genetic ties to the Early Bronze Age Yamanya.

The genetic characterization of the Dzungarians of the Early Bronze Age also helped clarify the ancestry of other pastoral groups known as the Chemurchek, who then spread north to the Altai Mountains and in Mongolia. The Chemurchek groups appear to be the descendants of the Early Bronze Age Dzungarians and the Central Asian groups of the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor (IAMC), who derive their ancestry from both local people and BMAC agropastoralists. .

“These results add to our understanding of the eastward dispersal of Yamnaya ancestry and the scenarios in which mixing occurred when they first encountered the populations of Inner Asia,” said Chao. Ning, co-lead author of the study and professor in the School of Archeology and Museology at Peking University.

The Tarim Basin groups were genetically but not culturally isolated

These discoveries of genetic mixing extended all around the Tarim basin throughout the Bronze Age make it all the more remarkable that the mummies of the Tarim basin presented no evidence of genetic mixing. However, while the Tarim Basin groups were genetically isolated, they were not culturally isolated. Proteomic analysis of their dental calculus confirmed that dairy production of cattle, sheep and goats was already practiced by the founding population and that they were well aware of the different cultures, cuisines and technologies that surrounded them.

“Despite their genetic isolation, the Bronze Age peoples of the Tarim Basin were remarkably culturally cosmopolitan – they built their cuisine around the wheat and dairy products of West Asia, millet from Asia from the West. ‘East and central Asian medicinal plants like ephedra,’ says Christina Warinner. , lead author of the study, professor of anthropology at Harvard University and research group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

“Reconstructing the origins of the Tarim Basin mummies has had a transformative effect on our understanding of the region, and we will continue to study ancient human genomes in other eras to better understand the history of human migration in the steppes. Eurasian, ”adds Yinquiu Cui, lead author of the study and professor at the School of Life Sciences at Jilin University.


Header Image – Aerial View of Xiaohe Cemetery – Image Credit: Wenying Li, Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archeology

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