Ancient Greeks artists could
have travelled to China
1,500 years before Marco Polo’s historic trip to the east and helped design the
famous Terracotta Army, according to new research.
The startling claim is based
on two key pieces of evidence: European DNA discovered at sites in China’s
Xinjiang province from the time of the First Emperor in the Third Century BC
and the sudden appearance of life-sized statues.
Before this time, depictions
of humans in China
are thought to have been figurines of up to about 20cm.
But 8,000 extraordinarily
life-like terracotta figures were found buried close to the massive tomb of China’s First
Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, who unified the country in 221BC.
The First Emperor's
Terracotta Army recruited outside China
The theory – outlined in a
documentary, The Greatest Tomb on Earth: Secrets of Ancient China, to be shown
on BBC Two on Sunday – is that Shi Huang and Chinese artists may have been
influenced by the arrival of Greek statues in central Asia in the century
following Alexander the Great, who led an army into India.
But the researchers also
speculated that Greek artists could have been present when the soldiers of the
Terracotta Army were made.
One of the team, Professor
Lukas Nickel, chair of Asian art history at ViennaUniversity,
said: “I imagine that a Greek sculptor may have been at the site to train the
Other evidence of connections
came from a number of exquisite bronze figurines of birds excavated from the
tomb site. These were made with a lost wax technique known in Ancient Greece
There was a breakthrough in
sculpture particularly in ancient Athens
at about the time when the city became a democracy in the 5th century BC.
Previously, human figures
have been stiff and stylised representations, but the figures carved on the
Parthenon temple were so life-like it appeared the artists had turned stone
Their work has rarely been
bettered – the techniques used were largely forgotten until they were revived
in the Renaissance when artists carved statues in the Ancient Greek style, most
notably Michelangelo’s David.
Dr Li Xiuzhen, senior
archaeologist at the tomb’s museum, agreed that it appeared Ancient Greece had
influenced events in China
more than 7,000km.
“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,”
the expert said.
“This is far earlier than we
“We now think the Terracotta
Army, the acrobats and the bronze sculptures found on site have been inspired
by ancient Greek sculptures and art.”
And Professor Zhang Weixing,
lead archaeologist at the tomb site, said: “The archaeological work undertaken
here recently is more important than anything in the last 40 years.
“By systematically examining
the First Emperor’s main tomb and subsidiary burials we have discovered
something more important even than the Terracotta Army.”
The mitochondrial DNA samples
revealed Europeans had settled down in China and died there during the
time of the First Emperor and even before then.
Hamish Mykura, of the
National Geographic Channel, which made the documentary with the BBC, said:
“The scope of these archaeological finds and what they mean for world history
“The new revelation that two
of the world’s ancient super powers may have been in contact is a vital
reminder today of the need for intercultural communication on a global scale.”
And BBC presenter Dan Snow
said: “I hope audiences will find the new evidence as astonishing and
thought-provoking as I did.
“It is extraordinary to think
that history as we know it is changeable.”