Mummy dearest : questions of identity in modern and ancient Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
The Uyghurs of China’s Xinjiang region have become "the other Tibet" in the eyes of the Western world, a title earned from their struggle for political autonomy from China’s Han-dominated central government. Some Uyghurs, frustrated by the suppression of their ethnic language, culture, and Muslim religious practices, have called for a separation from China and the creation of an independent state. These separatists are uniting the fragmented oasis communities of Uyghurs under a singular identity: the descendants of the Beauty of Loulan. This supposed ancestor is one of the many European-looking mummies which have been excavated from Xinjiang’s Taklamakan Desert over the past century. The Uyghurs are using the Beauty of Loulan to demonstrate that they, not the Han, have an ancestral claim to the region. This thesis reviews the current scholarship on the ethnic origin of the mummies and uses the case of the Beauty of Loulan to demonstrate how archaeology can influence the construction of modern identities.
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