The 'Beauty of Xiaohe', which China has pulled out of an exhibition in the US
For her advanced years, she looks remarkable. Despite nearing the ripe old age of 4,000, long eyelashes still frame her half-open eyes and hair tumbles down to her remarkably well-preserved shoulders.
But the opportunity for new audiences in the United States to view the "Beauty of Xiaohe" – a near perfectly preserved mummy from an inhospitable part of western China – has been dealt a blow after it was pulled from an exhibition following a sudden call from the Chinese authorities on the eve of opening. The reason for pulling the mummy and other artefacts from the show remained unclear yesterday (Chinese officials were on New Year holiday) but there were suggestions that the realities of modern Chinese politics may have had a part to play.
The mummy was recovered from China's Tarim Basin, in Xinjiang province. But her Caucasian features raised the prospect that the region's inhabitants were European settlers.
The government-approved story of China's first contact with the West dates back to 200BC when China's emperor Wu Di wanted to establish an alliance with the West against the marauding Huns, then based in Mongolia. However, the discovery of the mummies suggests that Caucasians were settled in a part of China thousands of years before Wu Di: the notion that they arrived in Xinjiang before the first East Asians is truly explosive