Don’t let their names confuse you.
The desert mummies are often referred to by the names of the places
where they were found or now reside (museums). They are referred to
as Cherchan Mummies, Tarim Basin Mummies, Takla Makan Mummies, Urumchi
Mummies, the Desert Mummies, Qawrighut (where Loulan was found), etc.
This basin, full of pits of salt (where nothing can grow), became a
large cemetery. The greatest mystery is, "What were Caucasians
doing in China at this time?"
Pictures and book jacket courtesty of Dr. Elizabeth W. Barber
A Man (with ten hats) Three
Women and a Baby
Permission of Dr. Elizabeth W. Barber
It was five hundred years before King
Tut was born; a thousand years after the Ice Man fell asleep;
and the Romans and Greek empires were yet to rise when these people
were placed in their sandy graves.
When Dr. Mair, a professor of Chinese
studies at the University of Pennsylvania, first spotted the
mummies laying in oblivion as he was
touring the remote Urumchi Museum. (this part of China is wall
to wall desert with nasty windstorms and doesn't get much company)
A flash light was necessary to get a good view. They spoke to
him immediately and their faces told him they weren't Chinese
and that they would change a lot of history. Dr. Mair went right
to work to see that they were preserved and studied.
One person that Dr. Mair took to see
the mummies was Dr. Elizabeth W. Barber of Occidental College
in California. In her fascinating and entertaining book, The
Mummies of Urumchi, Dr. Barber tells many interesting things
about the Tarim Basin, its history and the man, three women, and
a baby found buried together in Cherchen (thus their "Cherchen"nicknames”).
Two of the women were badly decomposed,
but as you can see by the drawing of Cherchen Women and baby,
they were perfectly preserved. Their features are definitely European.
The Egyptians took their gold, the
Scythian’s their horses, these people took tons of clothes. The
first thing you notice about Cherchen Woman is that her chin strap
failed to hold her jaw shut. When a mummy’s mouth is open like
this it is called a mummy gape. She and the others were all painted
with a yellow substances that is believed to help preserve them.
Like the Cherchen Man, she has multiple tattoos on her face, and
red yarn through her ear lobes. She is over six foot tall, has
braided hair and took lots of clothes with her to the grave. She
and the other mummies that were found with her are on display
at the Museum in Urumchi where she is displayed in her long red
dress and deerskin boots.
The mummy of this three month old
baby found with them has little blue stones covering her eyes
and tiny wisps of red wool in her nostrils. All bundled up with
a blue hat, she had with her a cowhorn cup and a sheep udder nursing
bottle. Clothing indicates they were all part of the same household
buried approximately 1000 B.C.
Cherchen Man was around fifty years
old and 6 feet 6 inches tall. He had ten hats with him. One hat
looks Roman, another like a Merlin the Magician conical hat, a
Robin Hood cap, and a Monica Lewinski beret They would all go
well with his purply-red-brown, two piece suit; his long braided
hair and would be complimented by the red strand of wool looped
through both of his ear lobes. According to Dr. Barber, “Passing
from the face, one’s eye jumps between the violently colored leggings
and the purply-red-brown two-piece suit that covers most of the
man’s body. Originally the man wore soft white deerskin boots
to above his knees--the left one is still there, but the right
one has been torn away; revealing horizontal stripes of gaudy
red, yellow, and blue that put Ronald McDonald in the shade.”
Courtesty of Dr. V. Mair
“Beauty of Loulan” The oldest
mummies found in the Tarim Basin come from Loulan located at the east
end of the egg shaped Takla Makan Desert. Dressed only in shades of brown,
she was alive as early as 2000 B.C. during the era of Abraham and the
This woman was named the Loulan
Beauty because of her pretty face and hair.
Some of the Takla Makan mummies
found in the desert could have been sacrificial victims. A young woman
was found partially dismembered and her eyes had been gouged out. A baby
boy had apparently been buried alive.( Check out the Nova link to read
more about these fascinating mummies.) The desert basin is full of other
ancient burial sites. Only time will let the mummies tell the full story
of the secrets of their past.
Found in the Takla Maken Desert over the past
thirty years, the main mystery about these mummies is that they are Caucasians.
Almost perfectly preserved, they were essentially freeze dried in the
hot dessert air, Were they just a bunch of nomads who accidentally wandered
into China; or were they people on a mission?
Their clothes are still soft, bright and colorful.
One thing makes the mystery difficult
to solve, few artifacts or possessions were buried with the mummies. An
archeologist can tell a lot from a piece of pottery or a tool, these people
took tons of clothes with them. People like Dr. Mair and Dr. Barber are
using these as clues to unravel their past.
Every mummy has a story to tell and the stories
these mummies tell are rewriting of history. This is puzzling. Scientists
and historians are asking some very interesting about these mysterious
- How did they get there?
- Where did they come from?
- Is it possible they settled there thousands
of years earlier than history says?
- What were Caucasians doing in China?
- Did they ride horses over the high mountains
that ran along the Western border of China?
- Were they just a bunch of nomads who accidentally
wandered into China?
- Were they people on a mission?
The more you read about these mummies, the
more interesting they become. Over the past thirty years, as that they
have been uncovered in the Takla Maken Desert, these
mummies continue to have a lot to say.
Mummies with a Map
China is the world’s longest continuous civilization
and it was the source of the silk that led to the establishment of the
Silk Road. It was in the Takla Makan Desert, along this ancient road,
that these mysterious mummies were found.
A pair of 2000 year old Chinese mummies found
along the Silk Road in 1996 are telling
us a lot about their understanding of time and the stars. This couple,
a man and woman, show the degree of sophistication that existed during
their time. The couple lived during the Han Dynasty under the rule of
Han who established Confucianism as
the official ideology of China.
They were still wearing their beautiful silk
clothes and had a star map and an ancient text on astronomy with them.
In addition, the man had a bow and arrows while the lady brought along
such necessities as a bronze mirror, a double edged comb, and cosmetics.
If you think tattoos
are an original biker idea, your wrong! The oldest tattoos belong
to Otzi, the Iceman. Egyptians, Tarim Basin and Siberian mummies
have all been found with tattoos.
Do It Yourself
In Japan, Buddhist
priests began the process of becoming mummies three years before
they died by starving themselves and ingesting chemicals to preserve
them when they died.