In previous articles, I suggested that the earliest Tarim mummies were an isolated population of Ancient North Eurasians with around 15% extra East Asian ancestry. The genetics are accurate, but it’s possible that they were actually Bronze Age migrants, rather than an indigenous population that had been isolated in the Tarim Basin for thousands of years.
Looking at their genetic profile, it seems that they belonged to the West Siberian Hunter-Gatherer (WSHG) cluster that inhabited Central South Siberia, Central Asia (Kazakhstan), and the Altai-Mongolia region during the early Holocene. This included populations like the Botai.
The WSHG of the Altai-Mongolia region were significantly ethnically replaced by Indo-European Afanasievo-Yamnaya migrants during the Early Bronze Age, while the WSHG of Siberia and Kazakhstan were ethnically replaced by Sintashta-Andronovo migrants (also from Europe) during the Middle-to-Late Bronze Age.
It’s possible that the earliest Tarim population migrated into the Basin to escape the invading Europeans. The timing definitely adds up: Afanasievo ancestry flooded the Dzungarian Basin, just north of Tarim, shortly before the earliest Tarim mummies were buried, around 2100 BC, and the subsequent population of Dzungaria harbored mixed ancestry from WSHG and Afanasievo.
Furthermore, the WSHG Tarim mummies exhibited stereotypical steppe-like cultural traits since their earliest burial sites were founded. For example, they were reliant on agro-pastoralism and consumed dairy. This indicates that they practiced a steppe-like lifestyle before entering the basin.
The original genetic study on these WSHG mummies — which claimed that they were indigeneous “Asians” (very annoying disinformation) — suggested that their steppe-like cultural traits were acquired secondhand via contact with the Afanasievo-dominated regions to the north.
I find this quite bizarre, since their own research shows that the earliest Tarim mummies practiced dairy pastoralism and there is no evidence of human habitation in the Tarim Basin before the WSHG mummies. It seems like the authors were desperate to paint the mummies as indigeneous, non-European “Asians.”
In my opinion, the mummies being Bronze Age migrants is the most logical explanation. Unfortunately, this isn’t as mystical as discovering an isolated population of Ancient North Eurasians, but it’s still cool that we now know what the Ancient North Eurasians looked like. Well, we know what ANEs with 15% East Asian ancestry look like, which is close enough.
Below is a compilation of Xiaohe mummies from a cemetary that was confirmed to be genetically WSHG. They seemed to have had a thing for pointed felt hats with feathers in them.