Solid as a warrior of the Caledonii tribe, the man’s hair is reddish brown flecked with grey, framing high cheekbones, a long nose, full lips and a ginger beard. When he lived three thousand years ago, he stood six feet tall, and was buried wearing a red twill tunic and tartan leggings. He looks like a Bronze Age European. In fact, he’s every inch a Celt. Even his DNA says so.
But this is no early Celt from central Scotland. This is the mummified corpse of Cherchen Man, unearthed from the scorched sands of the Taklamakan Desert in the far-flung region of Xinjiang in western China, and now housed in a new museum in the provincial capital of Urumqi. In the language spoken by the local Uighur people in Xinjiang, “Taklamakan” means: “You come in and never come out.”
The extraordinary thing is that Cherchen Man was found – with the mummies of three women and a baby – in a burial site thousands of miles to the east of where the Celts established their biggest settlements in France and the British Isles.
DNA testing confirms that he and hundreds of other mummies found in Xinjiang’s Tarim Basin are of European origin.
Neat to see how ancient peoples are always far more advanced that we thought they were.