Thursday, May 26, 2011

The mummies of the Tarim Basin

The mummies of the Tarim Basin in Xinjiang, China provide startling clues about the ancient history of mankind.

The Tarim Basin, north of Tibet and east of the Himalayas, is an extremely arid desert, with a very high salinity in the sandy soil. Thousands of extraordinarily well-preserved mummies have been found in the area of the Taklamakan Desert, some of them between 3,000 and 3,800 years old (1800 BC to 1000 BC). The bodies were not actually mummified, but rather placed in deep graves and not covered with earth, with a layer between the body and the ground so that no moisture could reach the body, and the extreme dryness desiccated them completely.

The garments of these people are incredibly well-preserved, and display a high degree of skill, rich colors, and even tartan patterns typical of the later Celtic people of the British Isles. Elizabeth Wayland Barber has written a fascinating and extremely detailed study of the textiles and clothing designs of these ancient people, called The Mummies of Urumchi.

Most amazing, however, is the fact that the people themselves are clearly European in appearance (or what we would today consider European, although it is quite possible that today's Europeans are descended from a people who once lived in Egypt, the Levant, and modern Iran), with distinctive facial features, often reddish beards and hair, sometimes long blonde braids, and very tall of stature (the well-preserved Yingpan Man, who wears a gold-foiled death mask, is 6' 6" tall). Many of the women have extremely fine features of great beauty, such as the mummy pictured above who is known as the Beauty of Xiaohe. The mummies' non-Asiatic characteristics have now been confirmed by the modern science of DNA testing, which (as the video above explains) was not as advanced even thirty years ago in the late 1980s when the Tarim Basin mummies first began to be studied in earnest, and which reveals their western ancestry.

One of the key figures in studying the importance of these mummies, Professor Victor Mair of the University of Pennsylvania, gave in 2010 a fascinating lecture which is available on YouTube here which is worth watching in its entirety (it is unfortunately cut short at the end). In it he describes his first encounter with the mummies in a curtained-off section of a museum in Urumqi, during which he was mesmerized when he came face-to-face with the mummy often called the Cherchen Man, who he was surprised to discover looked just like his brother Dave, sleeping peacefully!

The Cherchen Man, pictured below (and linked to the entire video from Professor Mair), has an ochre spiral painted upon the side of his face, which we can conclude was painted on after death because the paint pot and application spoon were still in the tomb beside him. However, Martin Doutré has pointed out the similarities of this distinctive pattern to the Maori moko tattoos which often featured such facial spirals (see figures 7 through 11 in this article by Mr. Doutré).

The possibility of such a connection may seem remote, except for the fact that it is by no means the only clue that Celtic or pre-Celtic peo
ple (or their descendents, who were still using such spirals in their art) may have crossed the oceans and settled in places as far from Europe as modern-day Peru and even the South Pacific and New Zealand. For other evidence please see this post and this post.

There are several important lessons we can draw from the mummies of the Tarim Basin (actually, there are no doubt hundreds of important lessons, but only a few will be touched on here).

First, we can say that "mummies don't lie." It is possible to dismiss as forgeries the many inscriptions that don't fit the conventional assumptions regarding the timeline of the ancient past (even though at some point the volume of such dismissals makes one wonder how forgers were so busy creating hoaxes over the centuries and whether perhaps the forgery explanation is not the best answer). However, a mummy cannot really be forged, especially a mummy that will pass a DNA test. The remains of anomalous people-groups found in Peru and New Zealand are similarly difficult to dismiss and should be considered carefully.

Second, ancient mankind traveled a lot further than they have previously been given credit for. This proclivity may go a long way towards explaining the incredible coincidences found in mythologies around the world (including in China), such as the presence of distinctive precessional numbers that are difficult to explain by any other method except by ancient contact. When we see how far these Tarim Basin people were from western Europe, it becomes less plausible to ascribe common mythological patterns to some sort of Jungian "collective unconscious" and much more plausible to ascribe these commonalities to ancient contact.

The Taklamakan Desert in the Tarim Basin is some of the most remote and inhospitable terrain on earth. It would be difficult to find another spot further from an ocean and more difficult to settle. While the presence of mummies from 3,800 years ago in the Tarim Basin does not of course prove that ancient mankind could also cross the seas, other evidence suggests that they could and they did. Also, the Tarim Basin people apparently remained there for many centuries and many long generations. In the YouTube video above, Professor Mair explains that in very remote regions, occasional examples of blond hair still exist in the genetic makeup of the people in the region. He also points out a fascinating linguistic connection between the Swedish word mjod (for "mead") and the pronunciation for the word for "honey" in Old Chinese, and the fact that the ancient Tarchanian language spoken by these people is linguistically connected to the languages of northwestern Europe.

Finally, the very salinity of the desert region that allowed for the incredible preservation of these mummies is consistent with the arguments of Walt Brown's hydroplate theory. As noted in this previous post, Dr. Brown argues that:

Drainage of the waters that covered the earth left every continental basin filled to the brim with water. Some of these postflood lakes lost more water by evaporation and seepage than they gained by rainfall and drainage from higher elevations. Consequently, they shrank over the centuries. A well-known example was former Lake Bonneville, part of which is now the Great Salt Lake. 107.
Because of the high ranges surrounding the Tarim Basin (the Tien Shan, the Kunlun and the Atlan ranges), very little precipiation made it over these mountains and into the Tarim Basin. Thus, any trapped water in that basin would lose more water by evaporation and end up -- like the enormous salt flats in Utah around the Great Salt Lake -- a barren and salty desert. There is some evidence (such as the wood poles and leaf piles still present around the burial complex) that there were still some rivers present in the area thousands of years ago, although the ground was obviously still very salty. All of this appears to be consistent with the hydroplate theory.

There is much more of course that could be said about the amazing mummies of the Tarim Basin in China. Readers are urged to check out the above videos, as well as the many other published books and articles on the web dealing with them. Most of all, we should consider them carefully for the unique clues they can offer to the mystery of mankind's ancient past.