Ten years or hundreds of years? Riddle over when 'fresh' mummy was buried
Luffy Sunday, November 18, 2007 World NewsWith a blank stare and sunken cheeks, his expression is as enigmatic as his origins.
Discovered by a shepherd in a remote corner of China, this perfectly preserved mummy offers a tantalising glimpse into the past.
The corpse, believed to be a man of 40, was dressed in a blue and white robe and covered with a cotton quilt. His papery skin is virtually intact and his black hair is scraped back into a pony tail.
Worlds away: The mummy, a man of about 40, was found covered with a quilt.
There are even signs of stubble on his face.
Some experts believe the man could have been lying under the soil for thousands of years.
Others say he could have died just centuries or decades ago.
As they wait for DNA tests to reveal his true age, scientists agree that his body has been well preserved by the salty, dry soil.
The shepherd who found him was tending his flock in Wensu County, part of the Xinjiang region in northern China in September, when he saw a hand sticking out of the ground and went to investigate.
Suspecting they had unearthed a violent crime, the Chinese police sealed off the area to allow further excavations.
But they soon realised the remains were probably ancient.
The shepherd has told archaeologists that he knows of two ancient tombs in the area.
He said he often grazed his sheep in the area where the discovery was made but had never seen a mummified body before.
Xijiang, which borders Tibet to the south and Mongolia to the east, has been a treasure trove for mummy hunters since the start of the 20th century.
Then, explorers, searching for ancient civilisations in Centra Asia, returned with tales of desiccated bodies with their features intact.
Part of the province, known as the Tarim Basin, contains the remote Taklamakan Desert - one of the world's largest.
Amazing: His well-preserved hand and nails are almost life-like
Its names translates as 'go in and you won't come out'.
About 100 desiccated bodies of ancient people, known as the Tarim Basin mummies, have been found there in the last few decades.
But they appear to have a closer resemblance to the Celts of Western Europe than to the modern-day Chinese.
Dating back 4,000 years, some have long reddish hair and European features. Some had dark brown or curly blonde hair.
Some were sacrificial victims.
One boy appeared to have been buried alive, while a woman had her eyes gouged out and limbs partially chopped off.
Although they are known as mummies, it is unlikely the bodies were deliberately preserved. Instead, the dry, salty desert slowed the natural decay and dried out the corpses.
The history of the bodies is unclear but archaeologists believe they were linked to Indo-Europeans and may be evidence of a trade route from East to West that predates the great Silk Road.
It is too soon to say whether the latest find is another Tarim-style mummy.
His hair is black and bunched at the back of his head in a Chinese manner.
His skin has sagged, particularly over his ribs and stomach but his teeth and nails are in good condition. Some scientists believe the ancient Chinese were as advanced as the Egyptians in the art of body preservation.