By Dr. Alexander Jacob
Traditionally archeologists and historians have supposed that the civilization of China, with an origin at approximately 1700 B.C. (give or take a century or so), evolved almost in isolation from the rest of the world. In recent years, however, amazing evidence has emerged that white people were present in eastern Turkestan (where Red China in recent times has tested its thermonuclear weapons) at an even earlier date. And these Caucasian people gave China the chariot, as well as metallurgical and textile technology. They may even have given Chinese civilization its start.
One of the most extraordinary anthropological revelations of the 20th century was the re cent discovery of 4,000-year-old Euro poid desiccated human remains (generally, though not very accurately, called “mummies”) in the Tarim Basin of Cen tral Asia. The mummies, as we shall re fer to them, were found in Sinkiang, also known as the Uighur Autonomous Region, located north of Tibet and southwest of Mongolia, in an area that has been claimed by China since the 19th century.
The bodies are those of white people, who did not undergo an Egyptian-style mummification process but were preserved by the extreme dryness of the local climate.
These archeological finds demonstrate a very ancient Aryan (Indo-European) presence in an area we now call part of China, which may have been responsible for the transmission of chariot use, metallurgy and weaving techniques to the various other peoples of the region, including the Chinese themselves.
It is known that the Chinese borrowed a number of words dealing with wheels and chariots from Indo-European sources. Archeology tells us that the art of making spoked wheels, and thus chariots light enough to be drawn by horses, was developed at the western end of Asia, around the southern Urals, in the third and early second millennia B.C. We do not know for certain that the mummy people used chariots, but given the known facts, it seems likely that they did, and that they transmitted this know-how to the Shan tribe of Chinese. There is no doubt that a sizable chunk of ancient Chinese vocabulary came from Indo-European—not only to do with chariotry, but also in architecture, divination, healing and other matters.
Continuing excavation turned up a few bronze trinkets, plus the marks left by metal tools used to shape wood found in the mummy graves. Since it is believed the bronze age began in the Near East around 3000 B.C., a date of 2000 B.C. would tally for a bronze age site in the Tarim Basin. Current archeological evidence indicates that the bronze age in “China proper” didn’t get under way until nearly 1500 B.C. If the use of bronze began centuries earlier in the Tarim country next door, it throws into doubt the doctrine that Chinese civilization grew up entirely separately from Near Eastern innovation on all fronts, that the Chinese invented such seminal crafts as metalworking and writing quite independently.
Unfortunately the mummy people put little in the way of metal or pottery into their graves, possibly having a taboo against such use of newfangled items. However, we have a wealth of textiles from the graves, and cloth and the words associated with it can tell many tales. In our own English language, such words as “weave” and “sew” are very ancient, coming down to us from the Proto-Indo-European language. Other words, like “felt,” were borrowed from other sources along the way. The situation with the mummy people seems to be similar. Their cloth has survived well enough (notably from a series of mummies found near Hami, or Qumul) to show an uncanny resemblance to a series of textiles of the same age from Central Europe, woven by the ancestors of the Kelts, fellow Indo-Europeans living at the other end of Eurasia.
The Tarim bodies did not undergo a mummification process similar to that of the ancient Egyptians, but simply were preserved by the extreme dryness and saltiness of the climate and soil, much like the similarly misnamed Inca “ice mummies” and the Siberian (Paz ryk) “mummified ice maiden.”
Much mystery still surrounds this early central Asian tribe, whose name is unknown. Scholars have not yet been able to ascertain precisely whether these “mummy people” were proto-Scythians, proto-Kelts or both.
The earliest of the mummies found in the Tarim Basin can be dated to around 2000 B.C., that is, before either the earliest Indic Mitanni kingdom in Western Asia (ca. 1600 B.C.) or the first flowering of the Indic culture in the Indus Valley (ca. 1500 B.C.). The mummies bear no records of their linguistic or religious status, and the Indo-European Tokhar ian (also spelled Tocharian) language of the region is attested from a much later date (3rd-8th centuries A.D.) than the mummies, which can only tentatively be identified as belonging to the ancestors of the Tokharian speakers. (See pages 8-9 for a sidebar article on the Tokharians.)
Tokharian is a “centum” language, un like the “satem” Indo-Iranian languages.1 The pictorial representations of the historical Tokharians, however, exhibit Indo-Iranian attire, while the To kharian texts themselves are related to the Buddhist religion, which the Tokharians may have been instrumental in conveying to their Chinese neighbors.
The collection of scholarly essays edited by Prof. Victor Mair in The Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Peoples of Eastern Central Asiasheds some focused light on the mysterious origins of the Tarim Basin mummies. These two volumes continue an earlier collection of essays edited by Prof. Mair, which appeared in the Journal of Indo-Euro pean Studies, 23 (fall/winter 1995) on the same subject of the Europoid mummies and their possible links to the Tokhar ians. The earlier collection contains some valuable studies by J.P. Mallory, D.Q. Adams and D. Ringe on the archeological and linguistic affiliations of the Europoid peoples of eastern Central Asia and of the Tokharians, as well as an intriguing article by James Opie on the probable connection between the To khar ians and the Guti and Tukri tribes of what is today called Iran.2
The Mair volumes are unfortunately too technical for the average lay reader, who would profit more from reading Elizabeth Barber’sMummies of Ürümchi. (See our ad on the back inside cover.)
One of the scenarios explored by Miss Barber is that the Uighurs may be the descendants of the Tokharians, despite the language difference. (Uighurs speak a Turkic language; Tokharians of course used an Indo-European tongue.)
1 What have sometimes been called the “western” and “eastern” groups of the Aryan family of languages are distinguished, roughly, by their use of “c” (pronounced “k”) in the west or “s” in the east, in words like “centum”/ “satem” (from the Avestan, pronounced “shatem”) (= “hundred”). Most linguists no longer automatically divide the family in two in this way, partly because they wish to avoid implying the Indo-Europeans underwent an early split into two branches—although the terms are still used. Also, this trait is only one of several patterns that cut across the lines of the 11 or so different subfamilies of Indo-European.—Ed.
2These people were called, in ancient Greek records, the Getae.
The Mummies of Ürümchi, Elizabeth W. Barber, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1999.
The Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Peoples of Eastern Central Asia, two vols., clothbound, 899 pp., ed. V.H. Mair, Institute for the Study of Man, 1133 13th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20005, 1998.
The Silent Past, Ivar Lissnar, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1962.
Δευτέρα, 22 Μαρτίου 2010
The White ‘Mummies’ Of Ancient China
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