The ‰mummies of Urumchi

by E. J. W. Barber

Paper Book, 2000



Call number

GN778.C5 B37


New York [etc.], Norton & C., 2000


In the museums of Ürümchi, the windswept regional capital of the Uyghur Autonomous Region (also known as Chinese Turkestan), a collection of ancient mummies lies at the center of an enormous mystery. Some of Ürümchi's mummies date back as far as 4,000 years--contemporary with the famous Egyptian mummies but even more beautifully preserved. Surprisingly, these prehistoric people are not Asian but Caucasoid--tall, large-nosed and blond with thick beards and round eyes. What were these blond Caucasians doing in the heart of Asia? What language did they speak? Might they be related to a "lost tribe" known from later inscriptions? Few clues are offered by their pottery or tools, but their clothes--woolens that rarely survive more than a few centuries--have been preserved as brightly hued as the day they were woven. Elizabeth Wayland Barber describes these remarkable mummies and their clothing, and deduces their path to this remote, forbidding place. The result is a book like no other--a fascinating unveiling of an ancient, exotic, nearly forgotten world. A finalist for the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize. Illustrated… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member herschelian
Ten years ago I spent a very cold snowy week in Urumchi waiting for my husband to pitch up from the Mongolian border. To while away the time, I went to the local museum which although technically open had all the lighting switched off. After some persuasion, which involved the greasing of palms, I
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persuaded one of the museum attendants to leave her cosy little room at the entrance and let me follow her through freezing, dark corridors to a gallery where she finally switched on a couple of lights and there, in dusty glass cases, I saw these amazing mummies. I had not known what I was going to see, and had no background information about them, but they were absolutely fascinating, and made me realise just how long the Silk Road had been in existance as one of mankind's great thoroughfares across our globe. A couple of years later this book was published and I fell on it with glee. It helped me understand what I had seen and put it in historical context. Barber is an expert in ancient textiles, so much of the book is devoted to the fabrics found wrapping and clothing the mummies however if anyone is paying a visit to this remote western part of China it is a book well worth reading in advance as it explains so much about the region and it's ancient history.
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LibraryThing member dylkit
I would recommend reading the hardback version rather than the paperback..the maps and photos are reduced to the point of uselessness. And some of the maps weren't that great to begin with.

That said, this is a highly readable account. The detailed analysis is a visual one - based on close
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observation of how textiles were made and fashioned into garments. It does not contain a forensic analysis of the bodies themselves.

It is a shame the book is being sold as a 'mystery' with the (possible) blue -eyed, tartan- weaving folk presented (by the publisher, not the author)as some kind of lost tribe of Celts. It is an interesting account in its own right and the preservation of the textiles and the features of the mummies is amazing enough without a need to sensationalise.
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LibraryThing member SHCG
240 pages of information with extensive index & bibliography
LibraryThing member RGKronschnabel
A Weaver looks at the mummies being found in Western China. A great book on the history of weaving, or rather, the evolution of weaving.


Original publication date



0393320197 / 9780393320190


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