Xiaohe Tombs in China

The Mystery of the Xiaohe Mummies in China

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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.

By John Black

Related Links

A Remarkable Rediscovery: The Xiaohe Tombs

Mysteries of the Xiaohe Tombs Xinjiang, China

Xiaohe Tomb complex

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