A genetically isolated population, but very culturally diverse: such was the original civilization that lived in the Bronze Age in western China, in the Tarim River Basin, along the Silk Road: hundreds of Western discoveries in this region in the nineties and their DNA. It is now analyzed. The result was published in Nature by China’s Jilin University and Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Anthropology.
The mummies were found in the Uyghur Autonomous Region, and have been a mystery until now. It dates back to the period between 2000 BC and AD 200 and has attracted the attention of scholars due to its western aspect, with its wool and felt clothing, and its agro-pastoral economy.
Hitherto they were believed to be descendants of the Yamnaya, breeders who migrated to that region from the Black Sea steppes, or to have originated in the deserts of Central Asia, in the cultures of the Bactria-Margiana archaeological complex, genetically related to the early Iranian highland breeders.
Analysis of DNA extracted from 13 mummies from the Tarim Basin dating back to the period between 2100-1700 BC, and from five mummies from the period between 3000-2800 BC, found in the nearby basin, has now allowed us to obtain the first reliable data. Thus it turned out that the Tarim mummies did not belong to newcomers to the region, but to guide the descendants of the population spread in the Ice Age, and then largely disappeared at the end of the last Ice Age.
These are the Eurasians of the ancient north, and they are still found in the genomes of some current populations, such as the indigenous peoples of Siberia and the Americas. However, the Tarim mummies show no trace of genetic admixture: despite their genetic isolation, they were culturally cosmopolitan. The proteomic analysis of their dental accounts indicates that dairy production from cows, sheep and goats was already practiced by them and they knew well the cultures, cuisines and techniques of the different cultures close to them.
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