Blondes In Ancient China
Authorities on ancient Chinese civilization have usually considered it to have been completely isolated from European influences for millennia -- a homegrown culture characterized by unique cultural and technological innovations.
Along the Silk Road. Click and drag photo to resize.
This classical picture of ancient China will have to be modified after the recent unearthing of mummified Caucasians up to 4,000 years old in China's northwestern province of Xinjiang.
These dried corpses have the long noses, deep-set eyes, and long skulls typical of Caucasians. Some even have blonde hair! Some 113 such corpses have already been excavated at Qizilchoqa, one of four sites discovered so far. It is clear that we are dealing with permanent settlements and not merely a few lost Europeans.
"Besides the riddle of their identity, there is also the question of what these fair-haired people were doing in a remote desert oasis. Probably never wealthy enough to own chariots, they nevertheless had wagons and well-tailored clothes.
Were they mere goat and sheep farmers? Or did they profit from or even control prehistoric trade along the route that later became the Silk Road? If so, they probably helped spread the first wheels and certain metal-working skills into China."
V. Mair, a professor of Chinese at the University of Pennsylvania, has been spearheading the research on these mummies for the U.S. He asserts that, contrary to the general belief, there was a substantial two-way, east-west flow of ideas and inventions beginning at least 3,000-4,000 years ago.
(Hadingham, Ivan; "The Mummies of Xinjiang," Discover, 15:68, April 1994.)
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"A Connection should be made here soon regarding the Takla Makan Desert highway from India through China. The timing is in accord with the dispersion from Shinar.
This young girl (and 113 other mummies) has been found along the route. Her mummy is carbon dated to 2000 BC....somewhat accurate. Today this highway is termed the Silk Road. Well…this “silk road” came along much later…around 1260 AD.
......The pattern remains the same…folks moved on from Shinar after Babel---east and west. The girl shown below is probably of the families moving east. This of course is coupled to the pyramid construction in that area and my ideas concerning Nimrod’s ambitions to prevent another destruction of mankind by God via global hydraulic inundation."....Dr. Cliff Paiva, Missile Defense Physicist
The archaeology is slow, dirty work. It proceeds a grain of dust at at a time and typically involves a spoon and a brush, not the bullwhip and six- shooter Indiana Jones used to collect prescious treasures from the tomb.
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Once in a while, however, there truly is a dash of Hollywood-style adventure, as Berkeley archaeologist Jeannine Davis-Kimball discovered during the summer of 1997. On a research expedition to western China, Davis-Kimball and two colleagues found themselves wrapped up in a remarkable ancient mystery spiked with modern day political intrigue.
They were investigating the mummies of the Takla Makan Desert, corpses so well preserved under the arid sands that the trace of a tear still can be seen streaking the face of a child buried 4,000 years ago.
The condition of the mummies, excavated at various sites since the early 1900s, surprised the scientists who first found them. But far more startling was the realization that these bodies, buried millennia ago in western China, are Caucasian.
They have blond, brown and red hair, prominent noses and deep- set eyes. Some are nearly six feet tall. Buried along with them were textiles woven in plaid patterns strikingly similar to those of ancient European fabrics. Tests on one mummy linked it to a European genetic group
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This caused a clamor in scientific circles. Conventional wisdom has long been that Western people didn't arrive in China until the establishment of the Silk Road, about 2,000 years ago. Chinese scholars have claimed, and Western scholars have agreed, that Chinese culture evolved in isolation, apart from the influence of Europe
The Caucasian mummies of the Takla Makan proved otherwise, indicating that Europeans forged eastward thousands of years before anyone thought and built a thriving agricultural society in what's now China's Xinjiang Province
Davis-Kimball and her team, with support from the PBS program "Nova," went to Xinjiang to find out just who the mummy people were, and what became of them.
But they soon discovered that not everyone wants that information made known. Proof that Caucasians were living in the region 4,000 years ago clearly refutes China's claim of historical sovereignty there -- and, more important, challenges its hold on the oil-rich province of Xinjiang.
"There's oil down there," Davis-Kimball says. "That's the reason it has to be part of China."
The people native to this area of central Asia are a Turkic ethnic group called Uighurs (WE-gurs). They trace their ties to the region back to around 800 A.D., when their Turkic ancestors moved there and, anthropologists believe, mixed with a people known as the Tocharians.
The Tocharians, who were Buddhists, are thought to have built and ruled a string of cities along the central Asian stretch of the Silk Road. Study of Tocharian manuscripts has revealed that they used a language closely related to Celtic and Germanic tongues; their paintings reveal them to have been a fair-haired, blue-eyed people.
These distinctive characteristics have caused many scholars to link them with the mummy people, who predated them.
Here's where the story gets political. The Uighur majority in Xinjiang now chafes under Chinese rule. There were Uighur uprisings in 1990 and '97, which were summarily crushed by the Chinese Army. To strengthen its hand in the region, the Chinese government has flooded Xinjiang with some 6 million ethnic Han Chinese.
Though the region contains one-third of China's oil reserves, 95 percent of the Uighur population lives in poverty. The Uighurs protest that China has polluted their homeland with industrial toxics and radiation (this is where China couducts its nuclear tests).
China has responded harshly to the dissent. Amnesty International reports that "a pattern of human rights violations has emerged in Xinjiang since 1989."
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China supports it claim to Xinjiang with a myth promulgated since Mao took control of the region in the '40s: that China developed in isolation and that this area has always been part of China -- even though the name Xinjiang means "new territory."
Uighurs have seized upon the mummy pople as proof that their homeland is historically distinct from China. When Davis-Kimball went to Xinjiang she stepped into what is lterally a battle over the area's history, with a mummies at the center.
"They were Caucasoid," David-Kimball says. "This is a no-no for Beijing."
Such a "no-no" that the government has long been loath to allow foreign researchers into the region. Though the mummies were discovered at the beginning of this century, it has been hard to get access to them for the past few decades. More than 30 camera crews had applied to document the story of the mummies and were rejeced before the Chinese government gave the go-ahead to a joint project of "Nova" and England's Channel 4.
Throughout their stay, the team of Davis-Kimball, China historian Victor Mair and forensic anthropologist Charlotte Roberts were closely monitored by Chinese officials. The officials even went so far as to plan an elaborate hoax to mislead them, Davis-Kimball says.
On a grave dig supervised by government chaperones, the team was led to an obviously disturbed tomb that comtained a mummy that had been neatly decapitated. Davis-Kimball and the others concluded that the government had cut the mummy's head off to prevent the team from capturing a Caucasian face on film.
"They had taken the head off so that we would not photograph the Indo- European head, "Davis-Kimball says.
The team had seen the same mummy, intact, along with several others in the back room of a small local museum a short time before the sham excavation.
Inn the Nova program -- entitled "Mysterious Mummies of China" -- Mair says he noticed fungal growth on the corpse that indicated the body had been recently moved. (The office of the Chineses Consulate did not respond to requests for a response to these charges.)
The team also had trouble getting into some of the regional museums, where many of the hundreds of mummies that have been unearthed are stored. Often, Chinese officials would give them permission to visit, only to change their minds soon after. "We were on this yo-yo all the time," Davis-Kimball says. "We never knew what was going to happen next."
So Davis-Kimball and colleagues resorted to a little Indiana Jones-style subterfuge of their own. With the help of a sympathetic local scholar, they snuck into one key museum at midnight, avoiding the scrutiny of wary Chinese officials.
"I kept thinking, how terrible that we had to stay up all night just to photograph something that scientists should be able to study," she says.
Davis-Kimall has made her mark in the field of archaeology with a bold, no-nonsense approach. A silver-haired woman who's comfortable in jeans and a sweatshirt (but would rather not discuss her age), she entered the scholarly world late in life, after raising six children and working as a nurse and a convalescent-hospital administrator.
......Since the 1960s the concept of cultural diffusion has been downplayed as an explanation for similarities shared by distantly separated societies. The politically correct philosophy has been that far-flung societies must have evolved independent of one another.
Finds such as the Takla Makan mummies are now forcing a reexamination of diffusionism. Archaeologists have discovered evidence that whelled wagons were first brought to China from the West thousands of years ago. Among the colorful woven clothing found in the mummies' graves are hats identical to ancient hats found in Austria and southern China.
The "Nova" program speculates that the mummy people originated in Eastern Europe, near the Black Sea. This conclusion is based partly on some striking petroglyphs found on a massive 500-foot-tall rock outcropping. The carvings - which seem to show a fertility dance, a crucial concern for ancient people with infant mortality rates of 33 percent or higher - are distinctive for their triangular torsos and 90-degree arm positions.
The only other place where similar images have been found - by Davis-Kimball and other shcolars - is in Moldova, a region between Romania and Ukraine, near the Black Sea.
Ancient artworks also helped strengthen the link between the mummy people and the later Tocharians. At the top of a sheer cliff, deep in a complex of caves filled with Tocharian script, Mair found ancient paintings of fair-haired, blue-eyed people that closely resemble the mummies.
Altogether, the findings from the expedition indicate that what's now western China was in fact occupied by non-ethnically Chinese people well before theh Silk Road was established, and that those people later built cities along the trade route - cities that fostered much of the important cultural exchange between East and West.