New discoveries show that China and the West were in contact more than 1,500 years before Marco Polo arrived in Asia.
Archaeologists say the inspiration for the terracotta warriors found in the tomb of the first emperor near present-day Xi’an may have come from ancient Greece.
Researchers also say that ancient Greek craftsmen were able to train locals there in the 3rd century BC.
Marco Polo’s 13th-century voyage to China was considered the first by a European.
Senior archaeologist Li Xuzheng of the Mausoleum Museum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang said: “We now have evidence that there was close contact between China of the First Emperor and the West before the official opening of the Silk Road. This is far earlier than we thought earlier. “
A separate study shows that Europe-specific mitochondrial DNA was found in places in China’s westernmost province of Xinjiang, suggesting that Westerners may have settled, lived and died there before and during 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.
But there is no tradition in China to build life-size human statues before the tomb is created. Earlier statues were simple figurines about 7.9 inches high.
To explain how such a huge change in skills and style could have taken place, Dr. Li Xuzheng believed that the influence must have come from outside China.
“We now believe that the Terracotta Army, acrobats and bronze sculptures found on the site were inspired by ancient Greek sculptures and art.” she said.
According to Professor Lucas Nickel of the University of Vienna, statues of circus acrobats recently discovered in the tomb of the First Emperor support this theory.
Lucas Nickel believes that the First Emperor was influenced by the arrival of Greek statues in Central Asia in the century after Alexander the Great, who died in 323 BC.
“I suppose a Greek sculptor may have been there to train the locals,” he said.
Other discoveries include new evidence that the tomb complex of the First Emperor is much larger than originally thought and 200 times larger than the Egyptian Valley of the Kings.
They also include the mutilated remains of women believed to be high concubines of the First Emperor and the skull of a man with a crossbow bolt embedded in it.
The skull is believed to have belonged to the eldest son of the First Emperor, who is believed to have been killed along with others during a power struggle after the emperor’s death.