August 21, 2016

Mitochondrial DNA of ancient Tocharians


It seems there is still something to learn about the ancient Tocharian mummies of Uyghuristan:

Chunxiang Li et al., Analysis of ancient human mitochondrial DNA from the Xiaohe cemetery: insights into prehistoric population movements in the Tarim Basin, China. BMC Genetics 2016. Open accessLINK [doi:10.1186/s12863-015-0237-5]



The Tarim Basin in western China, known for its amazingly well-preserved mummies, has been for thousands of years an important crossroad between the eastern and western parts of Eurasia. Despite its key position in communications and migration, and highly diverse peoples, languages and cultures, its prehistory is poorly understood. To shed light on the origin of the populations of the Tarim Basin, we analysed mitochondrial DNA polymorphisms in human skeletal remains excavated from the Xiaohe cemetery, used by the local community between 4000 and 3500 years before present, and possibly representing some of the earliest settlers.


Xiaohe people carried a wide variety of maternal lineages, including West Eurasian lineages H, K, U5, U7, U2e, T, R*, East Eurasian lineages B, C4, C5, D, G2a and Indian lineage M5.


Our results indicate that the people of the Tarim Basin had a diverse maternal ancestry, with origins in Europe, central/eastern Siberia and southern/western Asia. These findings, together with information on the cultural context of the Xiaohe cemetery, can be used to test contrasting hypotheses of route of settlement into the Tarim Basin.


  1. C4 could potentially have come via the Steppe, as it's been found in early kurgans too.

    1. It's true (found in Ukraine since at least Neolithic if I'm correct) but it's also true that C in general, its "mother" CZ and its "grandmother" M8 are East Asian by origin.

      And C4 itself is not at all specific of West Eurasia, on the contrary: it is found in Native Americans (C4c) and several Siberian peoples (C4a and C4b). See this for instance:

      So IMO the assignment to the East Asian category is correct, and it is also the case in the Eastern European Neolithic.


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