I'll just see if i can include the artical this time.
Desert riddle unearthed: ancient 'Western' boat people
March 17, 2010
IN THE middle of a terrifying desert north of Tibet, Chinese archaeologists have excavated an extraordinary cemetery. Its inhabitants died almost 4000 years ago, yet their bodies have been preserved by the dry air
The cemetery is in China's north-west province of Xinjiang, yet the people have European features, with brown hair and long noses. Their remains, though lying in one of the world's largest deserts, are buried in upside-down boats. Where tombstones might stand, their cemetery sports a forest of phallic symbols, signalling an intense interest in procreation.
The long-vanished people have no name. Their origin and identity are still unknown. But many clues are emerging about their ancestry, their way of life and even their language.
Their graveyard, known as Small River Cemetery No. 5, lies near a dry riverbed in the Tarim Basin, a region encircled by forbidding mountains. Most of the basin is occupied by the Taklimakan Desert, a wilderness so inhospitable that later travellers along the Silk Road would edge along its northern or southern borders.
n modern times the region has been occupied by Turkish-speaking Uighurs, joined in the past 50 years by Han settlers from China.
The 200 or so mummies have a distinctively Western appearance. Some, including a well-preserved woman known as the Beauty of Loulan, were analysed by Li Jin, a geneticist at Shanghai's Fudan University, who said in 2007 that their DNA contained markers indicating an east Asian and even south Asian origin.
The mummies in the Small River Cemetery are, so far, the oldest discovered in the Tarim Basin. Carbon tests show that the oldest part dates to 3980 years ago.
Despite political tensions with the Uighurs over the mummies' origin, the Chinese said in a report published last month in the journal BMC Biology that the people were of mixed ancestry, having European and some Siberian genetic markers, and probably came from outside China.
The Small River Cemetery was rediscovered in 1934 by the Swedish archaeologist Folke Bergman and then forgotten for
66 years until relocated through GPS navigation by a Chinese expedition. Archaeologists began excavating it in 2003. Their reports have been translated and summarised by Victor Mair, a professor of Chinese at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert in the prehistory of the Tarim Basin.
As the Chinese archaeologists dug through the five layers of burials, Dr Mair recounted, they came across almost 200 black-and-red poles, each four metres tall. Many had flat blades, like the oars from a great galley.
At the foot of each pole were boats, laid upside down and covered with cowhide. The clothes on the bodies inside were still intact. They included felt caps with feathers tucked in the brim, and large woollen capes with tassels and leather boots. Underclothes consisted of woollen loincloths and skirts made of string strands.
Within each boat coffin were grave goods, including beautifully woven grass baskets, skilfully carved masks and bundles of the herb ephedra.
Several items resemble artefacts or customs familiar in Europe, Dr Mair noted. Boat burials were common among the Vikings. String skirts and phallic symbols have been found in Bronze Age burials of northern Europe.
The Tarim Basin was already quite dry when the Small River people entered it 4000 years ago. They probably lived at the edge of survival until the lakes and rivers on which they depended finally dried up around AD400.
Dr Mair believes their language could have been Tokharian, an ancient member of the Indo-European family of languages. Tokharian seems more closely related to the languages of Europe than to the languages of India and Iran.
NEW YORK TIMES