DNA reveals surprising ancestry of enigmatic mummies buried in a Chinese desert

Stretching back 600 years, a number of mummies were found at a construction site in Ningxia province

DNA reveals surprising ancestry of enigmatic mummies buried in a Chinese desert

Two mummies, buried at a construction site in northern China, have been identified as the most well-preserved people to have ever been found alive, far more ancient than initially thought.

The mummies were found in a local river valley in Ningxia province after a health worker began noticing a distinct smell. DNA samples taken from two of the mummies unearthed at the site were analysed using mitochondrial DNA sequencing by the University of Leicester.

The researchers, which included scientists from Leicester and China’s Northwest University, say that the sperm of the mother had been turned back into the nuclei of the eggs and so the mummies are likely descendants of an ancient population of farmers known as Qi.

They say the mummy also appears to be a member of the Hui ethnic group who settled in the area during the time of the first Yellow Emperor.

“The astonishing team of scientist, archaeologists and students who successfully sequenced the mummies have allowed us to better understand how the entire world used to look in the years before the industrial revolution,” said Bo Chuanze, the professor of environment and biological sciences at Leicester who led the study, published in the journal Science.

The newly identified mummies lie 3,500ft beneath the ground. When the site, the Spring Trees Plantation, was first excavated, most of the soil and plant matter above the mummies was found to have been preserved while it had been displaced, creating an underground labyrinth of tunnels.

The dead bodies themselves have been kept together, apart from a few small details such as some bone structure, for 600 years since they were found.

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