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Monday, July 1, 2019

Almost everything you ever wanted to know about the Xiaohe-Gumugou cemeteries

I'm reading an interesting and very comprehensive new archeological thesis about the Tarim Basin mummies. It's freely available via Uppsala University's DiVA portal here:

Shifting Memories: Burial Practices and Cultural Interaction in Bronze Age China: A study of the Xiaohe-Gumugou cemeteries in the Tarim Basin

The author, Yunyun Yang, has some suggestions for the future direction of research on the topic:

1. Analysis of Y chromosomal DNA on the males from 4th-1st layers of the Xiaohe cemetery: it is not clear if they were genetically distinct from the Afanasievo (and Yamnaya) males, and consistent to the Andronovo males.

2. More research on ancient DNA of the six males buried in type I the sun-radiating-spokes graves: the six males were so different in the Gumugou cemetery, and we don't know who they were. In this study, it has been suggested that they came from the parallel Andronovo horizon, and preserved some of their original social identities.

3. Analysis of the white sticky materials painted on the dead’s hair, faces, and bodies: it is not clear what this material is. It might be application of dairy/milk products with some holy functions. And the interesting point is why the dead was painted on such materials, for holy reasons, and/or was embalmed that way for preventing decay of the dead bodies?

4. Research on the use of Ephedra plants: Ephedra twigs were common and important in both cemeteries. Were they related to the “Soma” in ancient India (Vedas) and/or “Haoma” in ancient Iran (Avesta)? Were the Ephedra twigs related to the body painting (whitish sticky materials painting on skins of the dead)? Was there a common use of Ephedra plant in more nomadic groups in the Eurasian Steppe?

5. Research on the comparisons between the Andronovo burials and the stone circular-kerbs with stone-pits in Xinjiang: a major obstacle to such research is the language barriers, with the material published in English, Chinese and Russian. Such research is, however, essential to understand the conjunction of the geographical areas, the expansion of nomadic groups, the spreading of horses and wagons (linked to the noble groups of the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE) in central China), the formation of the Silk Road in this area (till the expansion of Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE)), the moving of Indo-Iranians, the expansion of Scythians (900 BCE-400 CE), etc.

I agree, but I'd also add that we need a good number of ancient Y-chromosome and genome-wide samples from across space and time in the Tarim Basin, including and especially from attested Tocharian-speaking communities. That's really the only way to figure out whether the Tarim Basin mummies belonged to the speakers of Indo-Iranian or Tocharian languages, and whether the latter were introduced into the region by migrants from the Afanasievo culture.


Yang, Yunyun, Shifting Memories: Burial Practices and Cultural Interaction in Bronze Age China: A study of the Xiaohe-Gumugou cemeteries in the Tarim Basin, URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-386612

Update 2/7/2019: OK, it looks like there's a paper coming soon with Iron Age samples (~200 BCE) from eastern Xinjiang. As far as I know, this was likely to have been a Tocharian-speaking region at the time. In any case, BAM files for the samples have already been uploaded to the European Nucleotide Archive and the accompanying text suggests that they harbor Yamnaya-related ancestry (see here).

See also...

Another look at the ancient mtDNA from Xiaohe, Tarim Basin

On the doorstep of India

The mystery of the Sintashta people

Late PIE ground zero now obvious; location of PIE homeland still uncertain, but...


Davidski said...

In fact, samples from Silk Road sites where Tocharian was spoken have apparently been sequenced and analyzed already.

Anyone know the results?

Andrzejewski said...

"Through detailed comparisons of the construction of coffins and monuments, the dress of the dead, and the burial goods assemblages, this study provides an overview of the social structural development, from the Gumugou group’s heterogenous condition to the Xiaohe group’s homogeneous and mature state."

So Gumugou group was Andronovo/Afanasievo without any local admixture but the Xiaohe group was admixed with local autochthonous foragers?

Andrzejewski said...

@Davidski "In fact, samples from Silk Road sites where Tocharian was spoken have apparently been sequenced and analyzed already."

Tocharians' endonym could've been ārśi-käntwā

Aram said...

Maybe this was already posted. A new Tocharian C language is discovered. The implication is that the Tocharian had a wider geographic distribution than was imagined.

Davidski said...

Here's an interesting addition to that blog post...

After I sent my little summary piece off to you, it occurred to me that there's another semi-implication to the establishment of Tocharian C in the greater Lop Nor region. It would strengthen the case (certainly not prove it, of course) for thinking the mummies may have been pre-Proto-, Proto- or early post-Proto-Tocharian speakers. The mummies would have been there at the right time, and now the right place, to have been attested Tocharian ancestors.

Davidski said...

If anyone's interested, I'm getting hundreds of hits from this clip at Youtube about the Tollense Valley battle.

Arza said...

Tarim Basin mummies are here!

Ancient genomes reveal Yamnaya-related ancestry and potential source of Indo-European speakers in Iron Age Tianshan

Jilin University

10 individuals from Shirenzigou site were shotgun sequenced in this study. The site is located in eastern Tianshan mountain and was dated to around 2200BP


Dragos said...

If anyone's interested, I'm getting hundreds of hits from this clip at Youtube about the Tollense Valley battle.”

What do you mean ?

Davidski said...

Thanks Arza.

I've updated my blog post with the good news.

Davidski said...


What do you mean?

I mean that there are a lot of people coming to this blog from that Youtube page. I don't really know why, but I assume it's because the video clip has a link to this blog in it somewhere.

Davidski said...


What are the Y-haplogroups of these Iron Age Xinjiang samples?

Dragos said...

Good work

Wastrel said...

I think some caution is required. 1200BC would be nearly 2,000 years before Tocharian is attested, so couldn't really be connected to the Tocharians. A lot can happen in 2,000 years. There may very well have been Afanasievo in the region in 1200BC, but that doesn't mean that the Tocharians two thousand years later were descended from them. For example, there were both Anatolians and Indo-Aryans in Turkey, but the Pontic Greeks a thousand years later weren't descended from either of them (at least, not as a nation, though presumably there may have been substrates).

The paper actually seems to say 200BC, which is a lot more interesting, but is still 700-800 years before Tocharian is first attested, so still far from conclusive.

Davidski said...

Yeah, I meant to type ~200 BCE.

Arza said...

@ Davidski

Dunno, I just found them.

I'm currently downloading ERR3327971 hoping that it's not a female and the quality is sufficient to say anything about Y-DNA.

Dragos said...

We might guess they’d be R1a-Z93; R1b, incl something like PH155; and some Qs

Santosh Rajan said...

First of all I am an amateur on this subject, but very interested, and completely confused by the above.
1) Afanasievo was contemporary to repin according to Antony, or maybe yamnaya according some others. Andronovo came a 1000 years later from Sintashta. Surely radiocarbon dating can tell you who they are?
2) If they had R1a-Z93 surely they were Sintashta.
3) If they where afanesievo we should find some other y haplogroup.

Sorry I just don't get it if somebody can enlighten me.
Thank you.

Vinitharya said...

If they are R1a, it doesn't mean they are not Tocharian. Turkic peoples have some R1b and the ancestors of the Uygurs could have brought it and not the Tocharians. It is merely a knee-jerk reaction to say people who spoke Centum languages were R1b uniformly; there is an R1a group, Z284, that is connected to Germanic Nordic people.

Davidski said...


These people were agropastoralists who lived near the entry point into Xinjiang a few centuries before Tocharian A, B and apparently C were attested in the region. See here...

So there's a good chance that they were early Tocharian speakers, or at least took part in their formation. If they end up looking closely related to Sintashta, then that could mean that Tocharians were closely related to Sintashta.

Matt said...

I would guess that these samples would be quite similar to the Tian Shan 2000 YBP set from Damgaard's paper (Wusun, Tian Shan Saka, Tian Shan Hun, etc). Probably 25-33% East Eurasian. They may be more East Eurasian though. Predominantly northern/steppe with some southern Central Asian aspects. It'll be interesting in terms of giving more detailed information around testing continuity in the Tarim Basin and when the present day mix emerged.

Davidski said...


Maybe, but Damgaard's samples weren't from Xinjiang, but from the western slopes of the Tianshan.

If anything, the Chinese samples from Xinjiang are likely to be very similar to these Bronze Age samples from the Mongolian Altai, which is on the way into Xinjiang from the steppe.

Davidski said...

This is the archeological site. They had camels there...


Arza said...

... and palomino horses:


Bob Floy said...


I think Santosh was confused about the uncertainty as whether the samples are connected to Afanasevo or Andronovo, since there's such a big gap between the two. It seems like the authors shouldn't be confused about that.

Huck Finn said...

Re horses BTW, even modern Finnhorse (and only that) is related to Przewalski i.e. Botai horse, as recently indicated by an Estonian Saaremaa Iron Age sample, too:

Matt said...

@David, that could be possible; I'm simply going with what seem like the geographically and temporally closest populations we have sampled so far and assuming no special advantage in colonizing the region for populations from the steppe zone to the north (whether that's an advantage at surviving in that environment or an advantage in getting there in the first place). Both sets of populations seem dominantly Yamnaya related in the West Eurasian fraction of autosome in any case, so either is fairly consistent with the little we know from that snippet. We'll have to wait and see what happens from the dna.

Davidski said...


Since we're on the topic of Indo-Europeans from the Tarim Basin and surrounds, here's some blog trivia for you: my avatar is an ancient bust of a Yuezhi man.

Arza said...

@ Davidski

These are not the samples we are looking for, I'm afraid.

ERR3327970 1GB + 1GB SRZ_F004
ERR3327971 1GB + 1GB SRZ_M010
ERR3327976 5GB + 5GB SRZ_M819
ERR3327977 4GB + 5GB SRZ_M820
ERR3327979 642MB + 769MB SRZ_X3

No Y-DNA data. Practically no data at all.

M819 - BAM 10.1GB, after slicing (chr1-22XYM) 151.1MB, chrX 8.1MB, chrY 45.8KB
M820 - BAM 9GB, after slicing (chr1-22XYM) 53MB, chrX 2.9MB, chrY 124.6KB

Both have chrX/genome ratio ~5.4%. Females most likely.

At least from the description we know that some autosomal analysis is possible. Still better than mtDNA-only.

Arza said...

Ancient DNA sheds light on the genetic origins of early Iron Age Philistines.
Feldman et al.,Science Advances, 2019
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

The ancient Mediterranean port-city of Ashkelon, identified as “Philistine” during the Iron Age, underwent a dramatic cultural change between the Late Bronze- and the early Iron- Age. It has been long debated whether this change was driven by a substantial movement of people, possibly linked to a larger migration of the so-called “Sea Peoples”. Here, we report genome-wide data of ten Bronze- and Iron- Age individuals from Ashkelon. We find that the early Iron Age population was genetically distinct due to a European related admixture. Interestingly, this genetic signal is no longer detectible in the later Iron Age population. Our results support that a migration event occurred during the Bronze- to Iron- Age transition in Ashkelon but did not leave a long-lasting genetic signature.

Santosh Rajan said...

According to Narasimhan et al, the andronovo came to bmac via the Inner Asia Mountain Corridor around 1800BC. The eastern, northern and western parts of the Tarim basin are right next to IAMC. The oldest mummies 1800 BC were found at Qäwrighul which is in the north-eastern edge of the tarim basin. Clearly they must be R1a-Z93.

Something even more intriguing is that from the western edge of the tarim basin there is a direct route to the swat valley. Which is now on the karokaram highway.

It is possible that the swat valley Indo-aryans took that direct route instead of continuing down the IAMC to BMAC.

Ric Hern said...

What was the dominant Motherlines among the Afanasevo Culture ? How do they compare to Andronova ?

Ric Hern said...

It will be interesting if H15 and H6a1b made it into Tocharians...