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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Unexpected human phenotypes

A "phenotype" is what you look like--the physical expression of your genes, and here are three people whose phenotypes aren't what you'd necessarily expect:

I haven't been able to locate the ultimate origin of these images, so I can only speculate on the parts of the world where these people originate and on their ancestry. The two Asians could easily be from Hong Kong, and thus their appearance could be the result of having very recent British ancestors. But there's at least one other option: they could come from western China or western Mongolia.

There is a large "belt" of mixed-race people stretching across what used to be called "Turania" and is now called "Turkestan"; the easternmost part of Turkestan is the land of the Uighur people. They call it either Uighurstan or East Turkestan; the Chinese call it "Xinjiang," meaning "eastern frontier." Here are a few pictures of Uighurs:

While not all Uighurs look like this, these individuals clearly have Caucasian ancestry, as do most people from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and so forth. But while the Turkmen and Uzbek primarily get their Caucasian genes from Iranian peoples, the Uighurs appear to be at least partially European in their makeup...which might explain the occasional blue eyes and red hair found in Uighurstan. Four thousand years ago, Uighurstan was inhabited by a people known today as the Tocharians, whose mummies are well-known to anyone versed in the history of China:

The above is probably the best known of the Tarim Basin mummies: a 5'9" blond man with the partial remnants of a moustache. Below we have the brown-haired "Beauty of Xiaohe," sometimes called the "Witch of Xiaohe" because of the pointy hat she was buried in:

And here is the auburn-haired "Beauty of Loulan," a hyper-petite (4'9" tall), 4000-year old female who is considered by many Uighurs to be "the Mother of the Uighur Nation":

Where did the Tocharians come from? With modern DNA testing, we've managed to narrow down their origins in the approximate area of the Ukraine, and textile and other archaeological remains suggest the same thing.

Where did they go? Well, judging from the living individuals above, it wouldn't be wrong to say "the Tocharians didn't go anywhere!" Except that it would be wrong. There's strong evidence to suggest the Tocharians were pushed out of the lands they'd occupied for 3000 or more years by the invading Xiongnu--a people who'd gain infamy a century or so later when they invaded Europe: those implacable foes of Rome, the Huns. The Tocharians initially settled in Afghanistan, but further westward invasions forced subsequent migrations. There is some evidence that they were pushed all the way back into the land they'd left 5000 years or so before--the Ukraine!

Regardless of where they wound up, the genetic legacy of the Tocharians still lives on among the Uighurs.

As for that blond dude up there in the first three, I'm not sure what's up with that. I'm going to do some digging around the 'net to see if I can determine where he might have come from.


  1. Greetings:
    About the photographs on your blog - do they belong to you? I am searching for some Uighur images to feature on a publication that I edit. Please contact me with the information.

  2. The girl is from Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan if i remember well. Just try "kyrgyz eyes " on Google image and you'll see :)