Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Beauty of Xiaohe

She is 3,800 years old, but she still turns heads. The mummified remains of a Caucasian woman, found along the Silk Road in western China, will be part of an exhibit "Secrets of the Silk Road: Mystery Mummies of China," commencing 27 March 2010, at Santa Ana, California's Bowers Museum. That is a high resolution photo of her, above, and I invite you to download and examine it in detail. Quite simply remarkable, in every respect.

I have been endlessly fascinated by this story, which really originates a few years back with Jeannine Davis-Kimball (actually, it goes back to around 1895, to Sven Hedin, and Aurel Stein, but it is Davis-Kimball's popularization efforts we are discussing). It is one of the most significant stories of the twentieth century, but because it raises such a sensitive issue in Han China, we don't hear about it as much as we should. The sensitivity arises because the Tarim Basin mummies are indisputable evidence of Caucasian presence in northwestern China before that of the Chinese themselves.

What attracts me is the evidence that seems to indicate these people were shamans -- possibly a tribe or clan of magicians. According to one commentator:
"Some of the mummies were buried in woven plaids which I understand are remarkably similar to the clan plaids worn by the people who eventually settled in northern Scotland. Some of the mummies (female and male), possibly shamans, tentatively identified as such because of the grave goods with which they were buried, were uncovered wearing tall pointed hats made of felt - similar to how we depict "witches" in the west today (think of the hat worn by the Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 movie classic "The Wizard of Oz") - in addition to small woven cloth or felt bags filled with medicinal herbs (including cannabis) and herbs prized for their magical qualities, as well as other talismans. If my memory serves, a few of the 'shamans' were buried with colored throwing sticks -- perhaps for use in divination?"

Indeed it is the hats that first attracted me to these mummies. I vividly recall seeing one of the Tarim Basin mummies wearing a black "witch" hat almost exactly like the one from Wizard of Oz. -- the so-called "Witch of Subeshi." When I saw her, my heart skipped a beat.  It seemed so familiar. I like witches very much, you know? In the photo above, you see another sort found in the graves that is most interesting when compared to the common "lama's hat" we all recognize. I also note the presence of peaked caps or hats that have an uncanny resemblance to the seppelhut one always sees at Oktoberfest.

The seppelhut, in turn, bear some resemblance to that hats sometimes worn by Tibetan black magicians. Even the colors are the same: grey, with blue and white trim, although they are configured differently.

Jeannine Davis-Kimball is not without controversy, but I enjoy her work immensely. If you spend a little time with Google, on her name, you will not be disappointed. Also, I want to recommend a book by Elizabeth Wayland Barber, Mummies of Urumchi, which goes into all of this with more science than speculation.

I just know in advance I'm going to hear from Don Croner on this one.

I also found the following to be of considerable interest, particularly when one contrasts the genetic archaeology with the conventional, physical archaeology. This is from Taiwan Today:
Present-day India is the major geographical source of Asian populations, according to a paper published Dec. 11 in the international scientific journal “Science.”
The paper, the result of a five-year study involving 90 scientists from 10 nations, directly challenges the prevailing scientific view that human migration into Asia proceeded along two main routes, one located up north and the other down south.
According to the paper, after moving out of India human populations moved first in an eastward and then in a northward direction.
The conclusions were based on blood samples drawn from 1,928 participants belonging to 73 ethnic groups in Asia. From Taiwan, blood samples were taken from 48 people of Southern Min ancestry and 32 of Hakka ancestry.
The results show that the haplotype of the Southern Min population in Taiwan and that of the Southern Min population in Singapore are almost identical, according to Chen Chien-hsiun, an assistant research scientist at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at the Academia Sinica.
Based on these findings, it is certain that the Southern Min Taiwanese and the Southern Min Singaporeans both emigrated out of the southern parts of China, Chen added.
The haplotype of the Hakka population in Taiwan is also extremely similar to the haplotype of certain tribes in southern China, said Chen. This shows that the Taiwanese Hakka population emigrated from southern China, he said.
Genetic variations among different groups show that after human beings reached Asia, they used India as a new starting point and from there moved eastward along the sea coasts and northward up the Asian continent, the scientist said.
Some things are not recorded in history, but they are recorded in genetics. When one studies history through genetics one is engaged in “genetic archaeology,” he said.
I added emphasis to the above quote, to highlight some interesting aspects of the study. Obviously, the genetic evidence can reach back farther than our 3,800 year old beauty. I do know they have done genetic studies using these mummies, but I haven't seen the precise results.

UPDATED: See our latest post, Visit With the Beauty of Xiaohe, reporting on the Bowers Museum exhibition.

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15 reader comments:

Nick Vail said...

Love this topic!
Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

black "witch" hat ... and Tibetan black hats are the same....:-)

Anonymous said...

see here:

Editor said...

Well, yes and no. You will notice the point is made that the Black Hats symbolize the universe, whereas I don't feel that "witch" hats per se symbolize anything. Rather, I think they are an ethnographic study that illuminates contact between the mountain dwelling peoples of Europe and those of Asia.

You know, this is so interesting, we might have to get into it a bit more deeply in future posts.

Thank you for writing.

Anonymous said...

;-)please do..

Anonymous said...

I think the recent video production of Milarepa, Part I, shows Milarepa wearing a semi-pointy sorcerer's hat while bringing hail down on his enemies.

By the way, anyone seen or heard of part II? I'm hoping Orgyen Tobgyal will play Marpa, he looks the part. (As a somewhat renowned sorcerer in real life, he fit the role played in Milarepa I perfectly.)

Editor said...

You are correct. And it would not be out of the question to assign a European origin to the hat he wears in that scene.

I gotta get one of those.

Haven't heard so much as a rumor about production on M2.

What about Chungdrag Dorje for Marpa?

Just kidding....

Anonymous said...

french history of the cap


Anonymous said...

Interesting post! The Penn Museum in Philadelphia is featuring mummies from western China in their "Secrets of the Silk Road" exhibition come February. Check it out -

Anonymous said...

The hat more closely resembles those worn by Sythians( which would make sense given the history and geography of the region.

Anonymous said...

She's caucasian!

Unknown said...

"remarkably similar to the clan plaids worn by the people who eventually settled in northern Scotland"

Except, from what I have read (as a kilt fanatic), the clan patterns were adopted in the 1700's; either as English military uniform, or a clever marketing scheme by a wool merchant. Prior to that they were not clan patterns so much as "pretty". They were worn because they looked cool. (This is supported by the etymology, Roman and British historic references, and the fact that safron colouring was a symbol of royalty.

This would indicate plaid patterns should appear independently in several cultures.

Fascinating subject none the less. I am interested in reading more on the migratory patterns of the time. Most interestingly (to me), did the Caucasoid type migrate from this region, or to this region? When did the migrations begin? I'm curious to know the whens and wheres.

Anonymous said...

I'm completely taken by the woman's long hair and lashes. I've also seen on another site that she has a very beautiful profile. It is utterly fascinating, as is the whole subject. Too bad that everything not going as the Chinese want will be denied, destroyed or otherwise retconned.
On a nigh unrelated note: Please don't call these hats sepplhut (Note the lack of e). They're actually a kind of trachtenhut, or traditional costume hat. If you must, call them Oktoberfesthut. "Seppl" is a common Bavarian diminutive for the name Josef and is used by non-Bavarians as a belittling term. In fact, calling a Bavarian's or Austrian's pointy hat sepplhut is a very quick way to get them mad at you.
The blue and white band, by the way, is usually only used in Bavaria, as it represents the colours of the Bavarian flag, whilst Austrians use red and white, because of the same reason.

farm96744 said...

I don't think it's fair to criticize the Chinese authorities on this. The Tocharians have been clearly documented by them to be a genetic mixture between Caucasian and Asian haplotypes.

To take things into perspective; bear in mind that she is nearly 4000 years old; and is older than most ancient societies (including Ancient Greece and Ancient China).

If anything, this demonstrates that there has ALWAYS been a mixture of people, and we all share common (and beautiful) ancestors.

Anonymous said...

I definitely agree with farm96744. This phenomenon seems to be here for a particular reason- to show that we have a common bond that extends before the time of civilization. This may counter what evolutionists may say about our ancestry with the apes. It may be proof that we have been brought here to the Earth as a transcendent generation, a civilization that is of great intelligence. And, it shows that there is hope in the everlasting- in the persistence of beauty even beyond time. This is a very hopeful and powerful phenomenon!