A bizarre population of mummies has been discovered deep in a remote, central Chinese desert. The mummies, who can be traced back to approximately 4,000 years ago, may be the most well-preserved human remains ever found in the region.
For three years, Beijing researchers have been working on an investigation into the enigmatic mummies. A team of archaeologists excavated a Bronze Age grave in 2014 on Ping An Lake in the Shaanxi Province. The mound was covered with mud and lined with uneven piles of rocks that are 100 feet high and several miles long. Nearly seven thousand wooden arches found inside were constructed before the Bronze Age, the researchers theorized, and the mass graves remained untouched.
At first, it was unclear how the skeletons were preserved. They have a length of about 5 feet and weigh around 20 lbs. Three recovered skulls are missing the middle or right-side teeth, but none of the mummies have missing limbs. There were three different burials at the same site. The researchers analyzed the tissues and quickly discovered that the bones likely contained antelope skin and animal bones, indicating that the burial mounds were organic food stores and that the mummies were eating animal meat, fungi and insects.
The mummies were never buried in a specific section of the grave, so researchers began guessing that the mummies belonged to a special population that would gradually move to the region.
They found DNA from a human skull within a mound. When analyzed, the DNA appeared to be closely related to that from the extinct woolly mammoth, a discovery that makes the group of mummies more than 400,000 years old. Researchers believe that they belonged to a small community of early inhabitants living in Shaanxi before their demise thousands of years ago.
Because of the unusual acoustics of the burial mounds, scientists can only examine bones that line up perfectly on the mound. Two others have been found: A straight mound from at least 4,000 years ago, and another mound with multiple burial pits from the Bronze Age that were only partially obscured by dust. The most closely matching samples have been from skulls, skin and other tissue. It seems clear that no human bones are missing because only fragments of these tissues were at risk of losing its original calcium content.
“We are happy to have made a contribution to the cultural heritage of this remote location. We couldn’t be more proud,” a team member said.