In 1939 a remarkable discovery was done by the Swedish archaeologist Bergman Folke. A set of tombs were found in the Xinjiang Province known as the Xiaohe Tombs. However, for the 60 years to follow the tombs were forgotten until 2000 when a researcher, head of the Xinjiang Cultural Relics and Archaeology Institute found the tombs again. It wasn’t until 2005 that the excavations were complete.
The size of the area is unprecedented. So far there have been 330 tombs found in multiple different layers. The tombs include adults and children as well as 15 intact mummies. About half of the tombs were looted by grave robbers. It is the first time anywhere on Earth that so many mummies have been found.
The coffins were made of wood and shaped like boats, buried upside down, which is similar to the Egyptian concept of the boat to take the Pharaohs to the land of the ‘Gods’. The clothes and jewellery were also buried with the dead in small baskets. The corpses were wrapped in wool garments and cowhide was used to wrap the coffins in such a perfect way that not a single grain of sand was inside. The straw used for the baskets still looked fresh even if they are thousands of years old.
Apart from the wooden coffins four clay covered wooden coffins were also found. The coffins were in a rectangle shape covered with a thick layer of clay. Those coffins were surrounded by six to eight wooden stakes. Six coffins were found that contained wooden bodies instead of real corpses. The wooden bodies had all the same shape, belonged to male representations and had a red X on them. As well as the mummies multiple other relics were found including wooden masks and other carvings.
One of those mummies has become famous because of its excellent preservation and its beauty and it is known as the Beauty of Xiaohe. It is a white person with round eyes, perfect eye lashes, and long hair and has features that are more similar of a European person than a Chinese person.
Dating of the area has shown that it goes back to approximately 2,000 BC and they appear to be of Caucasoid origin. However DNA analysis of the bodies have shown that it is a mixture of population from East and West. The males were found to have chromosomes usually found in Northern and Eastern Europe and DNA found in Siberia.
Now there are a few strange facts with the discovery of the Xiaohe tombs. Archaeologists have searched for hundreds of kilometres around the tomb complex and they couldn’t find any single evidence that could relate to the Xiaohe people and their life style, which looks as if they were carried there from very far away.
What was the culture of the Xiaohe people, where did they come from and why did they disappear? All those questions remain unanswered. We have seen in many different occasions civilizations disappearing without leaving any trace, e.g. the Olmecs, the Mayans etc. and Xiaohe is also one of them.
Story continues below !
The Xiaohe 'Little River' Tomb complex refers to a bronze-age burial site located near Lop Nur, in Xinjiang, Western China. It is an oblong sand dune, from which more than 30 well-preserved mummies, buried in air-tight ox-hide bags, have been excavated. The mummies, the earliest of which date from around 4000 years ago, appear Caucasoid. Genetic analysis, however, revealed an admixture of population from both the West and East, with paternal lineages being exclusively west Eurasian, and maternal lineages - a mixture of east and west Eurasian. The entire Xiaohe Tomb complex contains about 330 tombs, about 160 of which have been looted by grave robbers. The Xiaohe remains contains the largest number of mummies found at any single site in the world to date. No human settlement has been found near the tomb complex; the bodies were therefore likely to have been transported from elsewhere for burial at this site.
A local hunter named Ördek found the site around 1910. Later, in 1934, partly with Ördek's help, Swedish explorer and archeologist Folke Bergman located the site which he named Ördek’s Necropolis. The tomb complex appeared as a small oval mound, and the top of the burial mound was covered with a forest of erect wooden posts whose tops had been splintered by strong winds. Oar-shaped wooden monuments and wooden human figures were found at the site. The coffins were assembled over the bodies which had become mummified. Bergman excavated 12 burials and recovered approximately 200 artifacts that were transported back to Stockholm. Bergman noted the surprising resemblance in the clothing, especially the fringed loin-cloths, to Bronze Age grave finds in Denmark, but dismissed any direct connection.
In October 2003, an excavation project, organized by the Xinjiang Cultural Relics and Archaeology Institute, began at the site. A total of 167 tombs have been uncovered since the end of 2002, and excavations have revealed hundreds of smaller tombs built in layers. In 2006, a coffin wrapped with ox hide in the shape of a boat was found. It contained a remarkably intact mummy of a young woman, which came to be called the Beauty of Xiaohe.
Each tomb is marked by a vertical poplar post near the upper end of the coffin. A skull or horn of an ox may be suspended from the post. The ends of the posts can be either torpedo-shaped or oar-shaped, representing the phallus and vulva respectively. The male burials were marked with the oar-shaped posts, while the female burials were marked with the phallic posts. Bows and arrows were found with the male burials. The posts and coffins may be painted red. Each coffin is made of two massive pieces of plank assembled over the body, resembling an overturned boat, and then covered with cowhides. A few special tombs containing females have an extra rectangular coffin on top covered with layers of mud. Small masks of human faces and wooden human figures may accompany the burials. Twigs and branches of ephedra were placed beside the body.
n years 2009-2015, the remains of in total 92 individuals found at the Xiaohe Tomb complex were analyzed for Y-DNA and mtDNA markers.
Genetic analyses of the mummies showed that the Xiaohe people were an admixture from populations originating from both the West and the East. The maternal lineages of the Xiaohe people originated from both East Asia and West Eurasia, whereas the paternal lineages all originated from West Eurasia.
Mitochondrial DNA analysis, which reveals the maternal ancestry, showed that maternal lineages carried by the Xiaohe people included West Eurasian haplogroups H, K, U5, U7, U2e, T and R*; East Asian haplogroups B5, D and G2a; haplogroups of most likely Central Asian or Siberian origin C4 and C5; as well as typically South Asian haplogroups M5 and M*. On the other hand, nearly all (11 out of 12 - or around 92%) of surveyed paternal lines were of West Eurasian haplogroup R1a1, and one was of exceptionally rare basal paragroup K*. The geographic location of this admixing is unknown, although south Siberia is likely.
According to a comment posted on 18 July 2014 by one of study co-authors - prof. Hui Zhou - Xiaohe R1a1 lineages did not belong to R-Z93 branch.