DNA tests reveal 1st foreign worker in China
www.chinaview.cn 2006-06-28 16:40:42

    XI'AN, June 28 (Xinhua) -- Chinese archaeologists have discovered the remains of what may prove to be the country's first foreign worker -- an early European who labored on the mausoleum of China's first emperor.

    The discovery was made after DNA tests on human remains from one of the laborers' tombs surrounding the mausoleum of Qingshihuang, in northwestern Shaanxi Province, which was built more than 2,200 years ago.

    Archaeologists found the foreign remains among 121 shattered human skeletons in a tomb about 500 meters from the famous museum housing the life-sized terracotta warriors and their horses and weapons.

    The discovery means that contacts between the people in east Asia and those in what is now central Asia actually began a century earlier than the previously supposed Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) period, said Duan Qingbo, head of the Qinshihuang Mausoleum Excavation Team under the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Cultural Heritage.

    Scientists collected bone fragments from 50 sets of remains in the laborers' tomb that was unearthed in 2003 and from these extracted 15 DNA samples. Most of the bodies were males aged from 15 to 55, said Duan.

    "We found one sample had genetic features commonly associated with the Parsi in India and Pakistan, the Kurds in Turkmenistan and the Persians in Iran," said Tan Jingze, an associate professor with the modern anthropology research center under Shanghai-based Fudan University, where the DNA tests were conducted.

    The foreigner was a man who died in his 20s and was ethnologically a European, said Tan.

    He might have been captured in the north where nomads roamed between east and west Asia and been sent to work at the burial ground, said Tan.

    "It's an inspiring discovery, but we're not sure if there are more foreigners involved in the construction of the mausoleum," she said.

    Scientists would find it difficult to collect more DNA samples from the tomb as it had suffered serious water erosion and the skeletons, which have been piled in layers, were so badly preserved that any movement would lead to their complete destruction, said Duan.

    Despite international interest in the underground palace, archaeologists suspended excavations of the Qinshihuang Mausoleum in 2003 as they could not protect relics from environmental degradation, he said.

    "It would be impossible to take any DNA samples in the near future from nearly 200 other laborers tombs in the area," said Duan.

    Qinshihuang, the first man to unite China, was the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) and is often described as ruthless.

    According to historical records, he mobilized more than 700,000 workers to build the mausoleum in Lintong County, 35 km east of the provincial capital Xi'an, soon after he get into throne.

    It took 38 years and thousands of people's lives to finish the gigantic project which is 70 meters high and covers an area of 56 sq km, according to "Shi Ji", or historical records, compiled by famous Chinese historian Sima Qian, who lived in the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-24 AD).

    The mausoleum was accidentally discovered by a group of farmers in March 1974 when they were digging a well for irrigation in the region and was listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO in December 1987.

    Archaeologists found 181 key accompanying tombs, including the famous Terra-cotta warriors and horses pits and a few have been excavated, Duan said. Enditem

Editor: Mo Hong'e
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