For four millennia their secrets lay hidden beneath the desert sands, the final resting place of a mysterious civilisation. And since their discovery in 1934, the Tarim mummies in China have perplexed historians and archaeologists.

But a remarkable new study has found that the origins of the inhabitants of the ancient graveyard in the Taklimakan desert north of Tibet lie in Europe.

A team of Chinese geneticists have analysed the DNA of the Bronze Age cadavers and found that they are of mixed ancestry, displaying both European and Siberian genetic markers.

One expert in Chinese history at the University of Edinburgh said the tests revealed a "fascinating development". Professor Paul Bailey said the findings confirmed long-held suspicions that they had travelled to the autonomous region of Xinjiang from the West, well before the opening of the Silk Road in the 2nd century BC.

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