During an excavation beneath the Tarim Basin of western China, archeologists were pleasantly surprised to discover a little over 100 mummified corpses dating back over 2000 years ago. But Victor Mair, a college professor, was downright stupefied when he came skull-to-skull with some of the blonde-haired and long nosed Tarim mummies being displayed at a museum. So in 1993, Mair returned to collect DNA samples and the tests validated his hunch that the bodies were of European genetic stock.
One of the most famous of the TarimBasin mummies is the body of a young woman known as "The Beauty of Loulan". Dressed in a felt cap and colourful robes, she has a high cheek-boned face and is clearly Caucasian. Her face is so well-preserved that you can see all of her long eyelashes. She was buried with a beautifully-woven basket of grain besides her, as were many other mummies found in the area. China is understandably wary of foreign archaeologists, given how much of the area’s heritage has already been removed to the West. Unfortunately, many Silk Road artifacts in the BerlinMuseum were destroyed during World War Two when the building was bombed by the Allies, so Western claims of superior standards of guardianship are extremely hard to justify. So who were the mysterious mummies of the TarimBasin? Ancient Chinese texts from as early as the first millennium BC do mention groups of far-east dwelling caucasian people referred to as the Bai, Yeuzhi, and Tocharians. None, though, fully reveal how or why these people ended up there.
These are mysteries that linguists and archaeologists are currently trying to solve. But without access to all the evidence, only a fragmented picture remains of the people who inhabited the Taklamakan before the sands moved out to claim them.