Sunday, May 27, 2007

Mitochondrial DNA evidence reveals European man found in 1400-year-old Chinese tomb

Human remains found in a 1,400-year-old Chinese tomb belonged to a man of European origin, DNA evidence shows.

Chinese scientists who analyzed the DNA of the remains say the man, named Yu Hong, belonged to one of the oldest genetic groups from western Eurasia.

The tomb, in Taiyuan in central China, marks the easternmost spot where the ancient European lineage has been found (see China map).

"The [genetic group] to which Yu Hong belongs is the first west Eurasian special lineage that has been found in the central part of ancient China," said Zhou Hui, head of the DNA laboratory of the College of Life Science at Jilin University in Changchun, China.

Hui led the research, which will be published in the July 7 issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Mixed Cultures

The tomb containing Yu Hong's remains has been undergoing excavation since 1999.

It also contains the remains of a woman of East Asian descent.

The burial style and multicolor reliefs found in the tomb are characteristic of Central Asia at the time, experts say.

The people pictured in the reliefs, however, have European traits, such as straight noses and deep-set eyes.

"The mixture of different cultures made it difficult to confirm the origin of this couple, and the anthropologists also could not determine the race of these remains, owing to the partial missing skulls," Hui said.

To learn more about the history of the couple, Hui's team studied their mitochondrial DNA, a type of DNA inherited exclusively from the mother that can be analyzed to track human evolution.

Carvings found in the tomb depict scenes from his life, showing him to have been a chieftain of the Central Asian people who had settled in China during the Sui dynasty (A.D. 580 to 618).

The carvings suggest that his grandfather and father lived in northwest China's Xinjiang region and were nobles of the Yu country for which he is named.

Yu Hong died in A.D. 592, at the age of 59. His wife, who died in A.D. 598, was buried in the same grave.