China’s famous terracotta warriors may owe their inspiration to the Ancient Greeks. Scientists at the site have unearthed DNA and other evidence suggesting that China and the West were in contact as early as the third century B.C. This newly theorized date of contact predates explorer Marco Polo’s visit to China by over 1,500 years.
Forty years ago, a farmer discovered a startling sight when digging among his cabbages: a human head. The head turned out to belong to one of 8,000 terracotta soldiers found near the old Chinese capital of Xianyang.
Further excavations unearthed a grand funerary complex in honor of the First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang Di, who died in 210 B.C. (though not before uniting warring kingdoms, ending feudalism, and building the Great Wall of China). The terracotta soldiers and accompanying cavalry, acrobats and sculptures were apparently meant to protect the emperor for eternity.
The statues were unlike anything unearthed before in China. Prior statuary had only been about 8 inches tall and fairly stylized. In contrast, the terracotta army is life-sized and intricately detailed.
Scientists and historians working on the tomb have recently uncovered trace amounts of European DNA from skeletons buried near the site. This suggested that Westerners may have lived in the area, even before the rule of the First Emperor. This finding contradicts century-old beliefs about when the first contacts between East and West occurred.