Researchers have found that the Bronze Age mummies discovered in the Taklamakan Desert in west China decades ago are not from travelers from the West as previously believed, but are part of an indigenous group that descended from an Ice Age Asian population.

Around 300 mummies dated between 2,000 B.C. and 200 A.D. were discovered in the 1990s. Tombs in Tarim Basin, China’s autonomous Xinjiang Uyghur area, were discovered with mummies dating back to 200 A.D. 

The region’s dry environment and freezing winters preserved the remains. Most notably, that of the Beauty of Xiaohe whose facial features, clothing and eyelashes can be clearly seen. (Her name comes from the location where the tombs were discovered.

The so-called ‘Western’ features of the Tarim Basin mummies — including red and light-brown hair — coupled with their unusual clothing and diet, led many experts to believe they were migrants from the Black Sea region of southern Russia.

This theory was further supported by the fact that they were buried in boat coffins, in the middle of a barren desert.

An international team of researchers analysed genomic data from 13 of the oldest mummies known to date back between 2100 and 1750 B.C. in order to get a better understanding of their origins.

They compared it with DNA samples taken from five individuals living further north in Dzungarian Basin approximately 5,000 years back, making them the oldest known human remains of the region.

Scientists discovered that the Tarim Basin mummies weren’t newcomers, but were direct descendants of Ancient North Eurasians, a group that disappeared around 11,550 years ago.

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The reddish brown hair, unusual clothing, and expansive diet of the Tarim Basin mummies led experts to believe they were migrants from southern Russia or other regions west of China

The reddish brown hair, unusual clothing, and expansive diet of the Tarim Basin mummies led experts to believe they were migrants from southern Russia or other regions west of China

Only remnants of ANE genetics are still present in the Holocene. The current geological epoch is the Holocene. Native Americans and indigenous Siberians have the highest amounts, around 40 percent.

According to the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology which co-sponsored the research, this Bronze Age community likely experienced an “extreme and prolonged genetic bottleneck” prior to settling Tarim Basin.

Choongwon Jeong (a Seoul National University biologist) stated in the release that archaeogeneticists have been searching for Holocene ANE population populations for a long time to better understand the genetic history in Inner Eurasia. 

Choongwon said, “We have found one at the most unexpected places.”

Pictured: An aerial view of the Xiaohe cemetery, where the mummies were found

Pictured: An aerial view taken from the Xiaohe cemetery where the mummies were discovered 

Genetic testing indicates the population was indigenous to the region and direct descendants of Ancient North Eurasians, who disappeared by the end of the last Ice Age. Pictured: A profile view of one of the mummies in Xiaohe

Genetic testing has shown that the population is direct descendants of Ancient North Eurasians and was therefore indigenous to the area. They disappeared at the end the last Ice Age. Pictured: A profile view showing one of the mummies from Xiaohe

According to Christina Warinner, a Harvard Anthropologist and senior author, the Tarim Basin people were genetically isolated, but culturally cosmopolitan.

CNN’s Warinner stated that they seem to have openly accepted new ideas and technologies from their farmer and herder neighbors, while also creating unique cultural elements shared only by no other group.

Pictured: Burial goods excavated with the mummies, many of whom were found in boat coffins

Pictured: Burial items excavated along with the mummies. Many were found in boat coffins

They wore woolen clothing made from woven and felted woolen, and used Central Asian medicinal plants such as ephedra.

Senior author Yinquiu Cui was a professor at Jilin University (Changchun), China. He stated that the discovery of the Tarim Basin mummies’ origins had a ‘transformative effect on our understanding of that region.

Yinquiu stated that he plans to study ancient human genomes from other eras to gain a deeper understanding about the history of human migration in the Eurasian Steppes.

The group’s findings were published in the journal Nature.

The 'Beauty of Xiaohe,' a 3,800-year-old mummy discovered in the Tarim Basin in far western China

The ‘Beauty of Xiaohe is a 3,800-year-old mummy that was discovered in the Tarim Basin, far west China.

After having been touring North America for several months, China temporarily barred the exposition of the mummies.

Officials didn’t give any explanation for the stoppage of the exhibition but there was speculation it might have been related to the mummy’s Western appearance as well as Chinese concerns about the implications that this may have on the region’s past.