Xinjiang discovery provides intriguing DNA link

17:44, April 30, 2010      

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The DNA of some 4,000 year-old bodies unearthed five years ago in Xinjiang, in northwest China, provides scientific evidence of early intermingling between people of European and Asian origin.

Zhou Hui, a professor of life science and her team discovered that some of the earliest inhabitants of the Tarim Basin in the Taklamakan Desert were of European and Siberian descent.

The basin, where hundreds of well-preserved mummies have been found since the 1980s, has attracted great attention from scientists worldwide.

Professor Victor Mair of Pennsylvania University claimed in 2006, "From around 1800 B.C. the earliest mummies in the Tarim Basin were exclusively Caucasoid, or Europoid," after he studied DNA samples derived from five bodies unearthed in the basin.

However, Professor Jin Li of Shanghai-based Fudan University, announced in 2007 that the mummies' DNA in the basin's Loulan area, including the 3,800-year-old Loulan Beauty, indicated East Asian, even South Asian origin.

Many archaeologists have accepted that people living in the basin as early as 3,800 years ago, or the Bronze Age, were of European descent, with Asians, mainly from east Asia, only arriving during the Iron Age, Zhou said. "But when the population from Europe and Asia began 'intermarrying' in the area still remains a mystery," she added.

Zhou and her team got DNA samples from the bones and teeth of 20 mummies, around 4,000-year-old. They were all excavated at the Xiaohe cemetery in the basin in 2004 and 2005.

The analyzed DNA profiles included the mitochondrial DNA, which is exclusively passed down through the mother, and the Y chromosome, passed down from father to son.

We found that DNA from five of the seven males derived from their mother, belonged to a lineage that came from Siberia, most likely from south or eastern Siberia, while their Y chromosome indicated European ancestry, Li Chunxiang, another researcher with the team, told Xinhua.

The seven males' Y chromosome had similarities to ancient Europeans who wandered the Eurasian Steppe, stretching roughly 3,000 miles from west to east, mainly in Central Asia.

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