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Heirs of the Tocharians: the Uyghur of the Tarim Basin
Background: The Tarim Basin extends across a vast area of what is today western China, at the
southern extent of the larger Altaian genetic region.10 The interior of the Tarim Basin is as desert
known as the Taklamakan (sometimes said to mean “you go in and you’ll never come out”),
which is one of the world’s largest sandy deserts. However, this forbidding desert was once the
Tarim Lake, a vast post-glacial lake that has gradually dwindled to become Lop Nur, a series of
scattered sand marshes. In earlier times, the waters of Lop Nur and the Tarim River supported
the cultures of the Indo-European speaking Tocharians and later the kingdom of Loulan. Today,
Lop Nur is used by the government of China as a test site for nuclear weapons.
Several mummies have been found in the Tarim Basin dating to as early as 1800 BC.
Some of these Tarim mummies have been described as having European-like bone structures and
in some cases light hair and eyes. Other physical analyses of these mummies have linked them
with early civilizations of the Eurasian steppe, the Oxus River and India.
The Tarim Basin is home to the Uyghur or Tokus-Oguz (“nine tribes”11), a Turkic
speaking people from the Altai Mountains to the north. The Uyghur once led the Uyghur
Khaganate, an empire of all Altaic tribes established in 744 AD that once extended from the Aral
Sea to Mongolia. In 840 AD, the Uyghur Khaganate was conquered by the Yenisei Kyrgyz
(described as “of yellow head and red face” in the Chinese historical text Tang Huiyao), who
burned the Uyghur cities, including the capital in Ordu Baliq near Karakorum in present day
Mongolia. Uyghur refugees fled to the south, where they founded smaller states and later
established themselves as civil servants in the Mongol Empire.
10 Genetic characteristics of the Altaian genetic region as a whole are discussed in the November 28, 2008
issue of DNA Tribes® Digest, available at: http://www.dnatribes.com/dnatribes-digest-2008-11-28.pdf.
11 Early Chinese sources describe neighboring peoples as Tu-Kiu (“strong” or “powerful”) and later Tujue,
and early Persian sources such as the Avesta describe nomads of Central Asia as Tuirya (who are thought to
have been Persian speaking). The Indo-European speaking Tocharians of the Tarim Basin were known as
Tocharoi to the Greeks, who classified them as Scythians. However, the first written use of the term
“Turk” to apply specifically to a Turkic speaking people was after 546 AD by the Ashina tribe, who called
themselves Gök türk (“Blue Turks”).
Although these terms are ascribed with separate etymologies in several languages, the local persistence of
phonetically similar ethnonyms among peoples usually though to be distinct might suggest the possibility
that Indo-European speaking populations such as the Tocharians might have been involved in the formation
of Turkic populations and cultures (perhaps in a process of genetic and cultural synthesis also involving
neighboring proto-Mongolic, Uralic, and/or Paleo-Siberian speaking peoples).
DNA Tribes® Digest December 26, 2008
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DNA Tribes patent pending analysis is available
exclusively from DNA Tribes. All rights reserved.
DNA Tribes® Digest December 26, 2008 Page 10 of 17
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Genetic analysis: Genetic contributions to the Uyghur from 32 world regions and thirteen
Europa sub-regions were estimated. Results are illustrated in Figure 6 and summarized in Table
5 below.
Figure 6: Estimated genetic contributions to Uyghur.
Genetic Region Estimated Contribution
Altaian 43.1%
North India 20.9%
North Chinese 6.2%
South Chinese 3.8%
Japanese 3.1%
Total East Asian 13.1%
Levantine 4.8%
Arabian 4.7%
Total Near Eastern 9.5%
Finno-Ugrian 5.6%
American Indian 5.5%
Other 2.4%
Table 5: Estimated genetic contributions to Uyghur.
Discussion: Results in Table 5 identified the greatest genetic contribution as Altaian (43.1%),
consistent with Uyghur origins in the Altai Mountains to the north. However, Uyghur also have
genetic characteristics that distinguish them from the Altaian genetic region as a whole. The
North India genetic contribution of 20.9% might reflect gene flow from peoples of the Indian
Subcontinent during periods of contact such as the Kushan Empire, believed to have been led by
DNA Tribes® Digest December 26, 2008
All contents © 2006-2008 DNA Tribes. DNA Tribes®
DNA Tribes patent pending analysis is available
exclusively from DNA Tribes. All rights reserved.
DNA Tribes® Digest December 26, 2008 Page 11 of 17
Web: www.dnatribes.com; Email: dna@dnatribes.com
Mail : DNA Tribes, P.O. Box 735, Arlington, VA 22216
Tocharians from the Tarim Basin. East Asian (13.1%) and Near Eastern (9.5%) genetic
contributions were also identified, suggesting contact with peoples to the east as well as the west
of the Tarim Basin. Also identified were Finno-Ugrian (5.6%) and American Indian (5.5%)
contributions, suggesting the possibility of further contacts with Uralic and Paleo-Siberian


source: DNA Tribes® Digest December 26, 2008