Saturday, March 27, 2010

Bronze Age Mummies

Recall the wonderful The Mummies of Urumchi in the 1990s? The book about the dessicated remains of tall, blue-eyed people who'd died thousands of years ago, and were buried wrapped in plaid-style blankets--not in Europe, but in China--presented archaeologists with a riddle: Did Europeans migrate to China during the Bronze Age?

Apparently so, because Chinese bulldozers, preparing the ground for Chinese engineering projects over the last few decades have been uncovering more European-in-appearance mummies. Now we have The Tarim Mummies, and they are touring! Today, the exhibit opened at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana--a mere stone's throw away (assuming you have the pitching arm of a titan).  Here's the Yahoo story.The centerpiece of the exhibit--this "Beauty of Xiaohe"--has a feather in her hat, flaming red hair, and eyelashes you could paint with.

This pictures has been reprinted at several blogs, so I'll join the crowd. Far from being an anomaly, the scholarly consensus seems to be that these mummies represent a migrating people who lived north of Tibet from 2000 BC to the 4th or 5th century AD.

Professor Victor H. Mair talked to The Los Angeles Times about the mummies. (He was quoted in the Yahoo story too.) Apparently a lot of testing has not been done on the mummies-Mair suggests an examination of their stomachs is in order. CT scans and other tests are also lacking.

It's good, IMHO, that the Chinese authorities have not rushed to rip open bodies to get at every possible microbiological clue about the mummies. Sure, we'd all like to know more, but invasive tests may not be the smartest course. Given the strides that science makes decade by decade, what's invasive and destructive today may be scannable tomorrow.

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