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Genes, language, and culture: an example from the tarim basin

Oxford Journal of Archaeology Volume 23 Issue 1, Pages 83 - 106

Genes, language, and culture: an example from the tarim basin
Christopher P. Thornton and Theodore G. Schurr


Summary.  The Tarim Basin 'mummies' of western China continue to fascinate scholars and the general public alike due to their 'Caucasoid' features, well-preserved material culture, and putative 'European' origins. However, there have been some uncritical efforts to link these archaeological cultures to those of other ancient Eurasian groups (e.g. the Celts) by applying syllogistic reasoning to multi-disciplinary evidence. In an attempt to provide a more cautious synthesis of the prehistory of the Tarim Basin, this paper will briefly summarize the archaeological, physical, and linguistic evidence that has been used to model human settlement of this region. These data will then be related to recent molecular anthropology research on modern populations of Central Asia, focusing especially on the Uighur in relation to their neighbours. While the genetic history of the modern peoples of a particular region is not necessarily related to their prehistoric antecedents, it is argued that the Tarim Basin experienced a surprising cultural and biological continuity despite immigration from both east and west into Xinjiang Province. This conclusion has a number of possible political ramifications in the present day that must be addressed in future literature on the subject.

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