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Horse-mounted invaders from the Russo-Kazakh steppe or agricultural colonists from western Central Asia? A craniometric investigation of the Bronze Age settlement of Xinjiang

Authors

  • Brian E. Hemphill,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Sociology and Anthropology, California State University at Bakersfield, Bakersfield, California 93311-1099
    • Department of Sociology and Anthropology, California State University at Bakersfield, Bakersfield, CA 93311-1099
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  • J.P. Mallory

    1. School of Archaeology and Palaeoecology, Queen's University, Belfast, Northern Ireland BT7 1NN, UK
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Abstract

Numerous Bronze Age cemeteries in the oases surrounding the Täklamakan Desert of the Tarim Basin in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, western China, have yielded both mummified and skeletal human remains. A dearth of local antecedents, coupled with woolen textiles and the apparent Western physical appearance of the population, raised questions as to where these people came from. Two hypotheses have been offered by archaeologists to account for the origins of Bronze Age populations of the Tarim Basin. These are the “steppe hypothesis” and the “Bactrian oasis hypothesis.” Eight craniometric variables from 25 Aeneolithic and Bronze Age samples, comprising 1,353 adults from the Tarim Basin, the Russo-Kazakh steppe, southern China, Central Asia, Iran, and the Indus Valley, are compared to test which, if either, of these hypotheses are supported by the pattern of phenetic affinities possessed by Bronze Age inhabitants of the Tarim Basin. Craniometric differences between samples are compared with Mahalanobis generalized distance (d2), and patterns of phenetic affinity are assessed with two types of cluster analysis (the weighted pair average linkage method and the neighbor-joining method), multidimensional scaling, and principal coordinates analysis. Results obtained by this analysis provide little support for either the steppe hypothesis or the Bactrian oasis hypothesis. Rather, the pattern of phenetic affinities manifested by Bronze Age inhabitants of the Tarim Basin suggests the presence of a population of unknown origin within the Tarim Basin during the early Bronze Age. After 1200 B.C., this population experienced significant gene flow from highland populations of the Pamirs and Ferghana Valley. These highland populations may include those who later became known as the Saka and who may have served as “middlemen” facilitating contacts between East (Tarim Basin, China) and West (Bactria, Uzbekistan) along what later became known as the Great Silk Road. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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