Tarim Mummies: Ancient China and the Mysteries of the Earliest Peoples in
P. Mallory &
the latest book about the Tarim mummies. The book will necessarily
be compared to Barber's The
Mummies of Ürümchi, which described the Cherchen mummies
(a sub-category of the Tarim mummies) in masterful detail.
Mallory and Mair's book
is a different book
altogether. It will disappoint those who want a beautifully-written, compelling
story of the Tarim mummies (à la Barber). It will not disappoint anyone,
however, who wants to know more about the 500+ mostly-Caucasian mummies found in
this part of the world and expects the photos to go along with it. Make no mistake: their book is well-written, but it is
written in the scholarly "we" in most chapters, which serves to
distance the reader a bit. The best chapters are the ones that are most personal: an
introduction and two chapters on the mummies themselves.
These two exciting
chapters include well-detailed descriptions (often with drawing and photos)
of specific mummies that have been found and not always well-publicized.
These include the Beauty of Loulan (called Korarän here), the Scream Baby (with
its poignant and disturbing story) and a number of mummies found in Subeshi (part of
the Turpan group). These latter mummies include three "witches" (so
named because of their tall thin hats--quite unusual and well-displayed in the
book). The most recent discovery, as of the book's publication, was the Yingpän
mummy which featured a face mask, possibly made from layers of hemp.
A well-designed book, The Tarim
Mummies presents a
thorough background on the migration of people and languages into the Tarim
basin area. Like Barber's, it also includes a chapter on textiles. But the main
source of interest will be Chapters 5 (The Mummies Themselves) and 10 (Who Were
With 190 excellent
illustrations, including 13 color photos.