Image copyright AFP/Getty Image caption Mummies from the Qilinxiang site in China
Ancient mummies have been found at a remote desert site in China, which has revealed their remarkable ancestry.
The Qilinxiang mummies – three adult females and two adolescent males – were buried along with a female shepherd.
Analysis of their DNA found that four of the mummies are related to Chinese diaspora families from Africa, while the other three were individuals from Central Asia.
The scientists say they know little about the history of the burials.
The mummies were found in Qilinxiang – a remote desert site in China’s Chongqing, Hunan and Guizhou provinces.
Archaeologists who excavated and photographed the 15 mummies say they are from a unique group, perhaps made up of only one or two generations old.
The mummy women had a range of hair and skin colour, and a total of 732 barcodes were found on their stomachs – indicating they were each eating only a single meal per day.
“The barcodes indicate these individuals were facing the desert, and the food around them must have been scarce,” said study co-author Zhang Sun, director of the Institute of Paleolithic and Prehistoric Archaeology at the Agricultural University of China.
“Our results suggest the phenomena of [unidentified] ‘Frankenmummies’ with extreme low lifespans – some without sex organs – has been replicated in this desert town, and this led to the establishment of the Qilinxiang mummies.”
The researchers analysed the DNA of the mummies and were able to identify four individuals directly related to Chinese diaspora families from Africa who settled on the plains of central China.
Meanwhile, the remaining mummies are from individuals who are not related to any of the shared people who settled in the region.
What is the context of the excavation?
An artificial tomb is seen at Qilinxiang, where ancient mummies have been found
Image copyright AFP/Getty Image caption A picture of the burial ground, after it was fully excavated
The mummies were found in a site called Wingyu, a large-scale mining facility where subterranean monoliths were used to uncover iron ore deposits.
Work at the site ceased in 2004 but archaeologists have begun to unearth parts of the mine.
Some of the extracted material will later be tested for uranium and iron.
“Studies of the Hadzoite specimens at Qilinxiang have revealed the sites birthplace as Latakia Province of Sudan and its weathering and structure closely resemble that of ancient Khartoum’s period, most likely in the 17th century BC,” said study co-author Chi Tao, also at the Agricultural University of China.
The above image shows the four Egyptian mummies in Egypt, dating back from the 3rd or 4th centuries BC
The study was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.