Planning a trip down to the LA area this weekend for a potentially once-in-a-lifetime experience. Some of the astonishingly well-preserved Tarim mummies from China will be in a little Santa Ana museum, and considering I mentioned them in my thesis, I am definitely going to see them!

To explain my comment about once-in-a-lifetime, I quote a short passage from my thesis:

This subtle, perhaps unconscious, negation or belittling [can also be seen] in the behavior of the Chinese concerning the Tarim mummies, mentioned previously in this thesis. It is never stated directly, of course, but the information derived from these excavations is quite disturbing to current Chinese assumptions. When mummified Caucasians buried with worked bronze items and exquisitely woven cloth (including silk) are found to be older than any similar burials of people of Chinese extraction, it raises difficult questions about who exactly invented what, and who was there first. While this may seem insignificant to us, compared to the thrill of such marvelous ancient discoveries, it is apparently a matter of national pride to some of the Chinese. Consequently an attitude of what appears to be benign neglect pervades treatment of the mummies:

It is surprising that, at this rather late date and so far to the east, all of the individuals from Subeshi that Paolo and Victor examined were still clearly Caucasoid; there was not a single Mongoloid among them. The corpses and most of the artifacts were kept in a damp and cramped basement storage room at the Institute of Archaeology in Ürümchi. After their condition was revealed in the worldwide press, they were moved to a dusty upstairs room. Yet they are still completely exposed to the atmosphere (the windows of the room are kept open all year around); with the exception of several that have been moved to the museum, no measures have been taken to conserve the Subeshi mummies. The situation is particularly frustrating since Victor made a large donation to the Institute of Archaeology in 1994 that was specifically earmarked for the construction of glass cases for the Subeshi mummies. It was promised that the cases would be built in Shanghai and installed within a year, yet by 1999 nothing had been done. There is a desperate need to provide these precious specimens with surroundings that are better designed to ensure their preservation (from Mallory & Mair's "The Tarim Mummies," pgs. 25, 27)

This not-so-benign neglect extends to the graveyards as well. No effort has been made to stop grave robbers, who tear through body parts, strewing them around the desert in an effort to find anything of value. Unfortunately the true value of such graves is not in gold or other expensive items, but rather in the knowledge which can be gained through archaeological study of the mummies. As the authors unhappily note, "It is astonishing that, to date, no systematic archaeological study has been made of this or any other residential area associated with the prehistoric mummies of East Central Asia" (27)

I cannot help but wonder if my comments above could also explain why these fabulous artifacts are appearing in only two small museums in the US. Still, I'm thrilled they are at least here, within driving range for me.

More on this breaking story! Film at 11! :)

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