Xiaohe Tomb complex

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Xiaohe Tomb Complex
Map of the Lop Nor region by Folke Bergman 1935.jpg
Map of the Lop Nur region, Xinjiang, China by Folke Bergman 1935. The Xiaohe Tomb complex is marked as Ördek’s Necropolis near the center of the map.
Xiaohe Tomb complex is located in China
Xiaohe Tomb complex
Location of Xiaohe Tomb complex in China
Location  China
Region Xinjiang
Coordinates 40°20′11″N 88°40′21″E / 40.3364°N 88.6725°E / 40.3364; 88.6725

The Xiaohe 'Little River' Tomb complex[needs IPA] refers to a bronze-age burial site located near Lop Nur, in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of western China. It is an oblong sand dune, from which more than 30 well-preserved mummies, buried in air-tight ox-hide bags, have been excavated. The mummies, the earliest of which date from around 4000 years ago, appear Caucasoid. Genetic analysis, however, revealed an admixture of population from the East and West, with the paternal lineage exclusively west Eurasian, and the maternal lineage a mixture of east and west Eurasian.[1] The entire Xiaohe Tomb complex contains about 330 tombs, about 160 of which have been looted by grave robbers.[2] The Xiaohe remains contains the largest number of mummies found at any single site in the world to date.[3] No human settlement has been found near the tomb complex; the bodies were therefore likely to have been transported from elsewhere for burial at this site.


Discovery and early excavations[edit]

A local hunter named Ördek found the site around 1910. Later, in 1934, partly with Ördek's help, Swedish explorer and archeologist Folke Bergman located the site which he named Ördek’s Necropolis. The tomb complex appeared as a small oval mound, and the top of the burial mound was covered with a forest of erect wooden posts whose tops had been splintered by strong winds.[4] Oar-shaped wooden monuments and wooden human figures were found at the site. The coffins were assembled over the bodies which had become mummified. Bergman excavated 12 burials and recovered approximately 200 artifacts that were transported back to Stockholm. Bergman noted the surprising resemblance in the clothing, especially the fringed loin-cloths, to Bronze Age grave finds in Denmark, but dismissed any direct connection.

Small Europoid Mask,[citation needed] Lop Nur, China, 2000-1000 BC

Later rediscovery and excavations[edit]

In October 2003, an excavation project, organized by the Xinjiang Cultural Relics and Archaeology Institute, began at the site. A total of 167 tombs have been uncovered since the end of 2002, and excavations have revealed hundreds of smaller tombs built in layers. In 2006, a coffin wrapped with ox hide in the shape of a boat was found. It contained a remarkably intact mummy of a young woman, which came to be called the Beauty of Xiaohe.[5][6]

Description of the tombs[edit]

Each tomb is marked by a vertical poplar post near the upper end of the coffin. A skull or horn of an ox may be suspended from the post. The ends of the posts can be either torpedo-shaped or oar-shaped, representing the phallus and vulva respectively. The male burials were marked with the oar-shaped posts, while the female burials were marked with the phallic posts. Bows and arrows were found with the male burials. The posts and coffins may be painted red. Each coffin is made of two massive pieces of plank assembled over the body, resembling an overturned boat, and then covered with cowhides. A few special tombs containing females have an extra rectangular coffin on top covered with layers of mud. Small masks of human faces and wooden human figures may accompany the burials. Twigs and branches of ephedra were placed beside the body.[7][8]

Genetic studies[edit]

Genetic analysis of the mummies showed that the Xiaohe people were an admixture from populations originating from both the West and the East. The maternal lineages of the Xiaohe people originated from both the East and the West, whereas the paternal lineages all originated from the West.[1]

Mitochondrial DNA analysis, which reveals the maternal ancestry, showed that the Xiaohe people carried both the East Eurasian haplogroup (C) and the West Eurasian haplogroups (H and K). The East Eurasian lineage C, which is the dominant haplogroup found in the remains, suggests that the east Eurasian component in the Xiaohe people originated from Siberian populations, especially the southern or eastern Siberian populations. The mtDNA haplogroup H and K are common in Western Europe, suggesting that west Eurasian component of the maternal ancestry observed in the Xiaohe people might have close relationship with Western Europeans.

The Y chromosomal DNA analysis, which reveals paternal lineage, showed only the West Eurasian haplogroup R1a1a in the male individuals.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Chunxiang Li, Hongjie Li, Yinqiu Cui, Chengzhi Xie, Dawei Cai, Wenying Li, Victor H Mair, Zhi Xu, Quanchao Zhang, Idelis Abuduresule, Li Jin, Hong Zhu and Hui Zhou (2010). "Evidence that a West-East admixed population lived in the Tarim Basin as early as the early Bronze Age". BMC Biology 8 (15). doi:10.1186/1741-7007-8-15. PMC 2838831. PMID 20163704. 
  2. ^ "Burial Site from the Bronze Age, Lop Nur, Xinjiang.". www.china.org.cn. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  3. ^ Jan Romgard (2008). "Questions of Ancient Human Settlements in Xinjiang and the Early Silk Road Trade, with an Overview of the Silk Road Research Institutions and Scholars in Beijing, Gansu, and Xinjiang" (PDF). Sino-Platonic Papers (185). 
  4. ^ Folke Bergman: Archaeological Researches in Sinkiang.
  5. ^ "Silk Road Documentary Unearths Latest Findings". china.org.cn. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  6. ^ Samuel Hughes (Jan–Feb 2011). "When West" (PDF). The Pennsylvania Gazette. 
  7. ^ V. H. Mair (2006). "The rediscovery and complete excavation of Ördek's Necropolis" (PDF). Journal of Indo-European Studies 34 (3/4): 273–318. 
  8. ^ Nicholas Wade (March 15, 2010). "A Host of Mummies, a Forest of Secrets". New York Times. 


  • Folke Bergman: Archaeological Researches in Sinkiang. Especially in the Lop-Nor Region. (Reports from the Scientific Expedition to the Northwestern Provinces of China under the Leadership of Dr. Sven Hedin / Scientific Expedition to the North-Western Provinces of China: Publication 7). Thule, Stockholm 1939.
  • Sven Hedin und Folke Bergman: History of an Expedition in Asia 1927–1935. Reports: Publication 25: Part III 1933-1935, Statens Etnografiska Museum, Stockholm 1944.
  • Folke Bergman: Travels and Archaeological Field-work in Mongolia and Sinkiang: a Diary of the Years 1927-1934. In: Sven Hedin und Folke Bergman: History of an Expedition in Asia 1927–1935. Part IV: 1933–1935. General reports, travels and field-work. (Reports: Publication 26.), Statens Etnografiska Museum, Stockholm 1945.
  • V. H. Mair: The rediscovery and complete excavation of Ördek's Necropolis. In: Journal of Indo-European Studies 34, 2006, No. 3/4, p. 273–318.
  • Alfried Wieczorek und Christoph Lind: Ursprünge der Seidenstraße. Sensationelle Neufunde aus Xinjiang, China. Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen, Mannheim. Theiss, Stuttgart 2007. ISBN 3-8062-2160-X

External links[edit]

  • Further reading
  • Downloadable article: "Evidence that a West-East admixed population lived in the Tarim Basin as early as the early Bronze Age" Li et al. BMC Biology 2010, 8:15. [1]

Coordinates: 40°20′11″N 88°40′21″E / 40.3364°N 88.6725°E / 40.3364; 88.6725