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Mummy Found, Suspicious of Missing Scientist 26 Years Ago

A Chinese expedition has found a mummy on the brink of Lop Nur, where a well-known scientist was mysteriously missing nearly 26 years ago.


Another expedition is now prepared for ascertaining identity of the mummy, which was found near the place where Peng Jiamu, a recognized biochemist who led a scientific investigation across Lop Nur, was reported missing.


Xia Xuncheng, a former deputy to Peng, said Thursday in an exclusive phone interview with Xinhua, "We're not sure about identity of the mummy, but it's really near the place we lost Jiamu."


Xia, 72 years old, and his expedition team are scheduled to leave their base in Dunhuang City, northwest Gansu Province, for a mission to retrieve the mummy in desert of Lop Nur, a former nuclear weapons experiment site.


Peng and his fellow scientists were stalled in June 1980 in the southeast brink of Lop Nur, out of edible water and fuel. After asking for rescues via telegram, Peng decided to look for water sources on his own. He left their camp on June 17, leaving a note: "I'm going eastward for wells, Peng, at 10:30 June 17." He has never appeared in any form since then.


On June 23, Xinhua led all other media to report the missing of Peng, who was born in 1925 and was occupying the post as the vice president of the Xinjiang Branch of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).


The mummy Xia's team is trying to retrieve was stumbled upon by another CAS scientist Dong Zhibao last winter in an unrelated research voyage.


Xia quoted Dong as saying that there were no clothes or other belongs scattered around the mummy.


According to the country's archaeological and scientific research rules, any human corpses found in research must be kept intact and not be removed without authorization. Thus, Dong decided to specifically mark the finding and leave the place. Most places of Lop Nur usually deny any human access until spring when it is warm again.


Xia said, "Jiamu wore furred shoes and took two cameras and a water bottle with him while leaving the camp."


"If we are able to find any of those evidences," he said, "we might assume that the mummy was Jiamu."


"But we still need to do some DNA matching between the sample we will take from the mummy and Peng's hereditary relatives," said Xia, who himself is a prominent desert scientist skilful at collecting samples.


After Peng was missing, the CAS, supported by the People's Liberation Army, organized three large-scale search and rescue missions, but all failed to find any traces of Peng except some of his footprints.


By press time, Xinhua has sent a news group, including a photographer, to Lop Nur, which was the largest lake in the arid northwest part of China.


The human ear-shaped Lop Nur is regarded as the world's driest place. A number of pathfinders in history lost their lives or were missing in the 100,000-square kilometers place, where it is extremely hot during daylight and lethally chilly at night.


(Xinhua News Agency April 14, 2006)


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