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The Tarim Mummies: Ancient China and the Mystery of the Earliest Peoples from the West Hardcover – Jun 29 2000

4.1 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Thames and Hudson (June 29 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0500051011
  • ISBN-13: 978-0500051016
  • Product Dimensions: 26.1 x 18.3 x 3.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 Kg
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #671,488 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


A major contribution to the history and archaeology of a remote and little known part of the world. -- Brian Fagan

Facinating and well-researched...certain to prove controversal. -- Colin Renfrew

This book is of outstanding significance . . . essential reading for archaeologists and scholars of ancient history. -- Social and Behavioral Sciences, C. C. Lamberg-Karlovsky, January 2001

About the Author

J.P. Mallory, Professor of Archaeology at the Queen's University, Belfast, is the author of In Search of the Indo-Europeans, published by Thames and Hudson. Victor H. Mair is Professor of Chinese at the University of Pennsylvania and has been instrumental in bringing the Tarim mummies to the notice of Western scholars.

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
...what it is, mainly, is a discussion about the cultural name and the language of the mummies might be. This is fine, and should occupy a chapter, but half the book is specifically related to trying to pin down a name out of Chinese and European sources and where they came from from archaeological and linguistic knowledge.
It seemed to me that the book might better have concentrated on what could be learned of their culture from what we DO know from their burials and with comparisons to how people live in those regions today. There is no in-depth analysis of the items (beyond what you can see for yourself in the photographs) nor comparison of cultural details or even explaining what a nomadic lifestyle would be like, nor discussion of specific practices that might suggest their beliefs. And when mention is made it is done briefly so they can get on with their analysis of the historical basis of Central Asia. Clearly they chose their emphasis simply because they have such limited access to the mummies themselves.
There are several chapters at the end that spell out all the competing ideas of how the Tarim basin may have been populated, which probably belonged in a anthropological journal. But I cannot say the book is not interesting to reade, its just that I kept waiting for a close study of cultural comparisons right until the book ended. For this reason I liked Barber's book better, for her close appraisal of Tarim fabrics and then to speak of how they might have been made. One feature of the mummies was the women with "witch" hats. The authors simply say the real witch's hat was Puritan dress from the 17th century and then blithely go on. Now somehow I believed the Puritans were Christians not pagans, but maybe I'm wrong.
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Format: Hardcover
I don't consider myself a fan of "popular" treatments of specialized subject matter, but I couldn't help wishing the authors had even just a hint of a flair for writing.
This volume explores the mystery of the caucasoid mummies found in the heart of central Asia along the ancient silk route. It is written by two eminent scholars actively involved in research on the mummies, so readers can be forgiven for assuming the authors' qualifications would result in an exceptional book. Not so. Sadly, this book suffers from the curse of an overly academic approach. It's a real shame, too, considering the unusual nature of the mummies, their fantastic state of preservation, and the detective work required to reconstruct their story from a relatively few tantalizing clues.
Readers interested in this subject will be pleased with the color photos included, and I don't mean to suggest that this book is not worth reading--far from it--however, the writing is unremittingly turgid, the conclusions predictably cautious and wishy-washy, and when all is said and done it is sadly unsatisfying.
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Format: Hardcover
I've had a life long interest in ancient history and have studied it to the MA level. In my exposure to the process of learning the subject, it often seemed to me that somehow god casts a spotlight on earth's stage and the historic cast of one civilization takes center stage does its part and departs. When the curtain rises again, another character steps forward to play its part. None of these individual civilizations seems to have much to do with any of the others. The student is left with little sense of connection and even the time lines seem disconnected. This book is amazing if for no other reason that the highlighted culture(s) of which the mummies were a part are peripheral, marginal ones lying between the East and the West. In attempting to describe the origins of the mummies and the population movements that they indicate, the authors provide a more thorough description of the intereactions of East and West. It's as if all the "characters" are on stage together during any given "act" giving the reader a far more comprehensive view of world history in the making than any other book on an individual topic. In acheiving their overall goal of describing the mummies and their background--cultural, linguistic, genetic, and historic--Mallory and Mair have also achieved a tour de force which puts more of human history into perspective. I expected to learn a great deal about the Tarim mummies of the Taklamakan Desert, I did not anticipate putting much of what I already knew of the ancient world into a more understandable framework. A very impressive book.
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Format: Hardcover
....[As] one who has participated in an aspect of this research-the
extent to which at least some of the later Xinjiang mummies may have
been Northeast Iranians (Saka, et al.), who subsequently had an impact
on both China and Japan-I can attest that Mair and Mallory have
critically assessed every possible explanation before concluding that
the great bulk of this Europoid population, esepcially in the later
period, were in all probability Tocharian speakers of one sort or
another (the earliest Europoids in the region may have been archaic
Iranians, an idea recently suggested by my colleague Dr. Elizabeth
J. W. Barber). Moreover, the textile evidence, intensely researched
by Dr. Barber (see her widely-praised book THE MUMMIES OF URUMCHI,
W.W. Norton & Co., 1999), reinforces the conclusion that the
Europoids who settled in the Tarim Basin in the latter part 2nd
millennium, B.C.E., shared a common origin with a variety of Western
Indo-European speakers, including the Celts, whose textiles were
preserved in the salt-filled graves at Hallstatt (ca. 1300-400
B.C.E.). This, of course, also points squarely in the direction of the
Tocharians, who, despite the fact that they were the easternmost of
the attested ancient Indo-European speakers, shared a great many
specific linguistic features in common with the Western group,
especially the Celts. (Incidently,...the pointed "witches
hat" is in fact deeply embedded in the ancient Brythonic-and,
by extension, Celtic-culture and predates the 17th century Puritan at least two millennia.
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