Chinese scientists have carefully stripped a 2,800-year-old mummy, only to find the corpse underneath the delicate attire of a possible shaman priest had decayed and broken at the neck and arms.
But research work on the mummy would continue, said Dr. Li Xiao, head of the heritage bureau in Turpan, of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
"We didn't expect the mummy to be so badly decayed, but technically, it won't prevent us from confirming his status and further research on the history of shamanism in northwest China," said Li, a noted historian.
The Caucasian-looking mummy was unearthed from a cluster of ancient tombs in Turpan in 2003 and research has been going on since.
Scientists stripped the mummy last week hoping to better preserve it and find out more about the clothing, culture and life of the time the shaman lived, Li said.
The mummy had seemed perfectly intact in his heavy outfit: a leather coat, a knitted mantle as well as hat and boots, said Jia Yingyi, a researcher with the regional museum of Xinjiang.
"His clothing was largely brown: a brown-and-red mantle with triangular webbing and pants of the same color and with wavy patterns," he said.
Archaeologists found a sack of marijuana leaves buried alongside the the mummy.
He also wore huge earrings of copper and gold, and a turquoise necklace, and held a copper laced stick in his right hand and a bronze axe in the left. His hands were crossed in front of his chest.
"From his outfit and the marijuana leaves, we assume he was a shaman," said Li. "He must have been between 40 and 50 years old when he died."
He said the corpse was about 1.2 meters long and his legs were at least 80 centimeters.
The man was the best preserved and most decoratively-dressed of 600 mummies excavated in 2003 from a cluster of 2,000 tombs in Turpan. A dozen of the mummies are believed to have been shamans.
Archaeologists assume the tombs, which date from the Bronze Age to the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), belonged to several big clans.
The tombs also produced a wide variety of stone implements, bronzeware, colored chinaware pieces and knitwear.
Shamanism used to be common in many parts of north China and shamans, who were believed to be able to communicate with the gods and conjure up the dead, enjoyed a high status.