The Mummies of Urumchi

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9780393045215: The Mummies of Urumchi

A fascinating exploration of the mysterious, perfectly preserved Caucasian mummies of western China. In the museums of rmchi, the windswept regional capital of the Uyghur Autonomous Region in Western China-what we know as Chinese Turkestan-a collection of ancient mummies lay at the center of an enormous mystery. Some of rmchi's mummies date back as far as 4,000 years-contemporary to the famous Egyptian mummies, but even more beautifully preserved, especially their clothing. Surprisingly, these prehistoric people are not Oriental but Caucasian-tall and large-nosed and blond with round eyes (probably blue). Where did they come from? What were these blonds doing in the foothills of the Himalayas? Few gifts are put into the graves of the dead, making it difficult for archaeologists to pinpoint any cultural connections from clues offered by their pottery and tools. But their clothing-woolens that rarely survive more than a few centuries-has been preserved as brightly hued as the day each was made. Elizabeth Wayland Barber describes these remarkable mummies, their clothing, and the world to which they so mysteriously belonged, piecing together their history and peculiar Western connections both from what she saw in rmchi and from the testimony of those who explored along the Silk Road centuries earlier. The result is an entertaining and informative unveiling of an ancient and exotic world.

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Review:

The 2000-year-old mummies of Ürümchi, found in central Asia along the famed Silk Road trading route, are so well preserved as to show clearly that they seem to be of Caucasoid origin. Where did these people come from? Where did they go? You can find their pale-skinned, light-haired descendents among the people of the region, but the story of their presence in this forbidding land leaves more mysteries than it answers. Mass migrations during the Bronze Age scattered many peoples across Europe and Asia, and these startlingly lively-looking mummies may help answer some questions about this period of human history. Their intact, fantastically colored and patterned clothing captures much of author Elizabeth Wayland Barber's attention--she is an expert on prehistoric textiles. Her enthusiastic descriptions of the sewing skills of these migrant people, while focusing on details, lend an immediacy to this fascinating tale. Black-and-white as well as color photos, maps, and diagrams illustrate Barber's colorful tale of anthropology. --Therese Littleton

About the Author:

Elizabeth Wayland Barber is the author of Women’s Work and The Mummies of Ürümchi. Professor emerita of archaeology and linguistics at Occidental College, she lives in California.

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