Human mobility in the Lop Nur region during the Han-Jin Dynasties: a multi-approach study

Abstract

The Lop Nur region, as the junction of the Silk Roads, played an important role in ancient human migration between the East and the West, especially during the Han-Jin Dynasties (second century CE to fourth century CE). However, the scale and volume of human mobility in the region remain poorly understood. Here, we present a multi-approach (wood identification, strontium and oxygen isotopes of tooth enamel and historical documents) to investigate the extent of human mobility in the Lop Nur region. From a Han-Jin Dynasties cemetery, the appearance of nonlocal wood might suggest the existence of human migratory behaviors in the Lop Nur region. Furthermore, a piece of lacquerware with the possible origin of eastern China and a large-scale mural tomb likely belonged to a Kushan emigrant indicate the existence of long-distance connections across the Asia interior. Strontium and oxygen isotope data show a highly mobile population in the Lop Nur region, and the great isotopic variation suggests that these immigrants have diverse origins. In context with historical documents, we infer that the Lop Nur region was once the political, economic, and cultural meeting place of various societies, and also a communication corridor on the Silk Roads during the Han-Jin Dynasties.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Prof. Janet Montgomery, Ms. Tessi Loeffelmann, and Ms. Lauren Kancle from Durham University for their helpful discussion and Ms. Li Youlian and Ms. Cui Linlin of IGGCAS for laboratory assistance. In addition, we are indebted to the editor Prof. Dorian Q Fuller and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments, which greatly improve the manuscript.

Funding

This work was funded by the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDB26020401), the National Science Foundation of China (41672177), and the Ministry of Science and Technology of the People’s Republic of China (2014FY210500).

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Wang, X., Shen, H., Wei, D. et al. Human mobility in the Lop Nur region during the Han-Jin Dynasties: a multi-approach study. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 12, 20 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-019-00956-8

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Keywords

  • Migration
  • Lop Nur region
  • Isotopic analysis
  • Silk Roads
  • Han-Jin Dynasties