Western contact with China began long before Marco Polo, experts say

12 October 2016 / BBC News

China and the West were in contact more than 1,500 years before European explorer Marco Polo arrived in China, new findings suggest.

Archaeologists say inspiration for the Terracotta Warriors, found at the Tomb of the First Emperor near today’s Xian, may have come from Ancient Greece.

They also say ancient Greek artisans could have been training locals there in the Third Century BC.

Polo’s 13th Century journey to China was the first to be well-documented.

However, Chinese historians recorded much earlier visits by people thought by some to have been emissaries from the Roman Empire during the Second and Third Centuries AD.

“We now have evidence that close contact existed between the First Emperor’s China and the West before the formal opening of the Silk Road. This is far earlier than we formerly thought,” said Senior Archaeologist Li Xiuzhen, from the Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum Site Museum.

A separate study shows European-specific mitochondrial DNA has been found at sites in China’s western-most Xinjiang Province, suggesting that Westerners may have settled, lived and died there before and during the time of the First Emperor.

Farmers first discovered the 8,000 terracotta figures buried less than a mile from the tomb of China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang in 1974.

However there was no tradition of building life-sized human statues in China before the tomb was created. Earlier statues were simple figurines about 20cm (7.9ins) in height.

To explain how such an enormous change in skill and style could have happened, Dr Xiuzhen believes that influences must have come from outside China. Read more…

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