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.
The Xiaohe Cemetery (Chinese: 小河墓地; pinyin: Xiǎohé mùdì), literally "Little River Cemetery" and also known as Ördek’s Necropolis, is a Bronze Age site located near Lop Nur, in Xinjiang, Western China. It contains about 330 tombs, about 160 of which were looted by grave robbers before archaeological research could be carried out.
The cemetery resembles an oblong sand dune. From it the remains of more than 30 people, the earliest of whom lived around 4,000 years ago, have been excavated. The bodies, which have been buried in air-tight ox-hide bags, are so well-preserved that they have often been referred to as mummies.
While the mummies appear to be mostly caucasoid, analysis of their genetic makeup has revealed that they represented an admixed population, that combined both West Eurasian and East Eurasian ancestry. Their paternal lineages were almost exclusively West Eurasian, while their maternal lineages were a mixture of east and west Eurasian.
The Xiaohe cemetery complex contains the largest number of mummies found at any single site in the world to date. The bodies are likely to have been transported significant distances for burial at Xiaohe, as no contemporaneous settlement is known to have existed near the tomb complex.
Discovery and early excavations
A local hunter named Ördek found the site around 1910. Later, in 1934, 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. 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.
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 (or Beauty of Loulan).
Description of the tombs
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.
Genetic analyses of the mummies showed that the maternal lineages of the Xiaohe people originated from both East Asia and West Eurasia, whereas all of the paternal lineages had links to modern populations of West Eurasia.
Mitochondrial DNA analysis, which reveals the maternal ancestry, showed that maternal lineages carried by the Xiaohe people include West Eurasian haplogroups H, K, U5, U7, U2e, T and R*; East Asian haplogroups B5, D and G2a; haplogroups of most likely Central Asian or Siberian origin C4 and C5; as well as typically South Asian haplogroups M5 and M*. On the other hand, nearly all (11 out of 12 - or around 92%) of surveyed paternal lines are of West Eurasian haplogroup R1a1, and one is of exceptionally rare basal paragroup K*. The geographic location of this admixing is unknown, although south Siberia is likely.
According to a comment posted on 18 July 2014 by Hui Zhou, one of study's co-authors, the Xiaohe R1a1 lineages belonged to a specifically European branch rather than the more common Central Asian R-Z93.
- List of Bronze Age sites in China
- Loulan Kingdom (Kroraina)
- Tarim mummies
- Miran (China)
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