Ancient DNA in Xinjiang

Via Dienekes, Ancient mtDNA from Sampula population in Xinjiang:

The archaeological site fo Sampula cemetery was located about 14âkm to the southwest of the Luo County in Xinjiang Khotan, China, belonging to the ancient Yutian kingdom. 14C analysis showed that this cemetery was used from 217 B.C. to 283 A. D. Ancient DNA was analysed by 364âbp of the mitochondrial DNA hypervariable region 1 (mtDNA HVR-1), and by six restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) sites of mtDNA coding region. We successfully extracted and sequenced intact stretches of maternally inherited mtDNA from 13 out of 16 ancient Sampula samples. The analysis of mtDNA haplogroup distribution showed that the ancient Sampula was a complex population with both European and Asian Characteristics. Median joining network of U3 sub-haplogroup and multi-dimensional scaling analysis all showed that the ancient Sampula had maternal relationship with Ossetian and Iranian.

The Ossetes are the most prominent of the northern Iranian speaking peoples which were once more expansive in their extant than the south Iranian languages we are more familiar with (e.g., Kurdish, Persian, etc.).


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Interestingly, I purchased a book a few years ago called the Mummies of Urumchi, by Elizabeth Wayland Barber, who is a textile expert, and she traced the tartan style cloth worn by the mummies to the North Caucasus region.

As a side not, she theorized that a single group, dressed in such Tartan, from the North Caucasus region started a range expansion, with some going West - to become Celts - and some going East - to become Tocharians.

Of course when I read that recent book, The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, I still think a case can be made that Indo-European languages were first spoken by the Kura-Araxes Culture, which seem to have introduced metal working, ox wagons and chariots to the North Caucasus/ Pontic Steppe area.


Ossetians do seem related with Scythians (and related stuff such as Sarmathians), probably their most direct descendants, at least culturally. But Ossetians live outside of the area of the Kura-Araxes culture and their origins seem steppary, not from the mountains. The Caucasus range hosts a number of unique linguistic families (NW Caucasian, NE caucasian, Kartvelian) that are not found elswhere but are arguably related to the pre-Indoeuropean substrate of the region (not the Caucasus only but Eastern Europe and highlands West Asia).

The (partial) kurgan burial practices of this culture would suggest it was Indoeuropean or IE-dominated but certainly there are older areas where this was practiced (specially the Samara valley cultures, normally considered the IE homeland). I would suggest tentatively that it could be a precursor of Hittites ir anything. The dates seem to fit pretty well, certainly, and IEs must have crossed the Caucasus in some way to become the historical Hitttes.

Your Caucasus link for Tocharian clothing anyhow is intriguing, as Tocharians, like Hittites, constitute clearly a separate branch of IE linguistically, distinct from the Western (European) and Eastern (Indo-Iranian) major branches. But Ossetians (and Scythians) belong to the Indo-Iranian branch quite clearly.

But please consider that the first (mostly westward) IE expansion pre-dates not wheel (that is at least as old as Sumer: Sumerians used heavy four-wheeled "war chariots" pulled by onagers) but the latter more effective two-wheeled chariots of the Bronze Age. IE expansion in Europe (east of the Rhin) is apparently a Chalcolithic pehnomenon. The Kura-Araxes culture is not older than the similar ones found in Ukraine (Seredny-Stog II), Eastern Germany and Poland (Baalberge and descendants) or the Eastern Balcans (several cultures), all of which were into kurgan burial and show rather clear links to their putative Samara valley cultural heartland. This Caucasus culture would be just one among several expanding branches, not the core.

I would guess most groups in Xinjiang to be pretty diverse in descent during every era, since it was most important as a trade route. Depending on the century, minimally there would be Tokharians, Scythianss and various other Iranian groups, and Turks, but also with a scattering of Chinese, Mongols, Indians, Tibetans, Arabs, probably Siberian peoples, and maybe even Jews, Syrians, Armenians, Caucasian peoples, or Finnic peoples.

By John Emerson (not verified) on 13 Jun 2008 #permalink

Interesting, I wonder if there is the possibility that the IE's folk brought many aspects of civilization to China and helped shape its technology. People always think China is isolated from western influences and independent but stuff like this shows its not true.

Civilization from Mongolid countries like China, people often assume evolved their civilization independent of the original civilizations of Mesopotamia, but I wonder, if that is true, its hard to believe that the Mongolid had no contact with Caucasid and learned their tech from them? ie. I've heard some people say that the Tocharians may have founded many aspects of China... is that a kooky theory?

if that is true, its hard to believe that the Mongolid had no contact with Caucasid and learned their tech from them?

Or vice versa. Some elements of Old World civilization are clearly eastern (or maybe double independent) developements. Even pottery was developed in Japan before Neolithic existed anywhere. But other most important stuff, from gunpowder and firearms to paper and bank notes are all eastern inventions. And some of the fundamental technologies on which Northern Europe modern progress is founded, like the heavy plough are also Eastern Asian inventions.

On the other hand there are certainly some stuff that must have gone from west to east, like the Zodiac and surely horse-related developements. But the Chinese civilization existed long before the Tocharians arrived to Uyghuristan (at least 2100 BCE vs c. 1800 BCE) and seems totally unrelated. Indeed one could question why some seminomadic barbarians of the steppes could create of promote any civilization anywhere. Where they eventually did (Greece, Anatolia), it was only after clear cultural hybridation with the pre-existing local cultures, to which they added basically a militaristic hierarchy and their cultural core elements (religion and language).


Whether it was Tocharians or Afansievo, people from the West brought many other thing to China and other East Asian nations, other than horses, they also brought cows - when I first looked at a Vietnamese menu and saw the word for beef was pronounced "bo", I was very surprized as this is the exact word in Irish Gaelic for cow. Oetzi the iceman shows that acupuncture, may have originated in Europe as Oetzi has tatoos on some of the main acupuncture points. They also brought metal working and the wheel.

Yes, thousands of years later the Chinese surpassed the West, only to be surpassed again by Europe and now we are in a period when China is rising again.

It has been speculated that the Yin period (starting 1350 BC) of the Shang dynasty (founded ca. 1600 BC) was influenced by a western people, possibly the Tokharians. A chariot in the Western style of that period has been found by archeologists.

The Shang dynasty is not mythical, but the much later legends about it don't necessarily match up well with the archeological data. It's a fruitful area of research, but conclusions are still uncertain. The Tokharian hypothesis is still on the table.

Victor Mair is a scholar who has advocated for Western (IE) influences. I'm also waiting for a book bu E. Shaughnessy which may illuminate the question.

The Chou dynasty was founded by Chinese from the border area on the steppe (1122 BC by tradition), and it has been speculated that they were "semi-barbarized" by Chinese standards. They were suppoered by many tribal groups, some of which may have been IE.

By John Emerson (not verified) on 16 Jun 2008 #permalink

Sorry guys: lost track of this one.

PConroy: I did not mean that my super-brief list of west>east ciltural loans was exhaustive or anything of the like. Certainly dolmens also travelled (quite mysteriously but leaving a clear archaeological trail) from west to east, though I'd be more skeptical of acupuncture being a western tradition personally - specially as the hypothesis is just based on some tatoos and not a single acupuncture needle has ever been found in any western archaeological site nor such tradition has persisted in any way in any western culture or subculture. But it might be, sure.

John: Probably horse and chariot were western cultural imports into Chinese culture and surely were mediated by Tocharians. But the Shang dynasty is not perceived as barbarian (i.e. foreign, non-Chinese) but as a local one. In fact the founder of the dynasty was from the East (coastal China), not the West. You may have a stronger point re. the Chou.