Ancient China and the great Roman empire have been known to engage in trade via the old route we now know today as the Silk Road. However, new evidence has been unearthed that may prove the relationship between the two empires may have been more than just business.
In a Roman cemetery in London, Museum of London researchers recently discovered two individuals of Asian ancestry buried among the remains of other citizens of ancient London, according to the Times (via Daily Mail). Evidence seemed to be pointing to a stronger tie between the Roman Empire and Imperial China, civilizations that are 5,000 miles apart, separated by mountain ranges and difficult terrain.
According to analysts, the two skeletons unearthed at the site in the Southwark area are highly likely to be Chinese, with bones reportedly originated between the periods 2nd and 4th Century AD. Previous finds have only unearthed one person of Asian ancestry on sites that dated back to the Roman Empire.
The findings suggest that the two great empires may have had a deeper connection than previously thought. Historical accounts suggest the Chinese were curious about the “tall and virtuous” Romans, while the Romans found the Chinese mysterious.
Museum of London archaeologist Dr. Rebecca Redfern wrote in the Journal of Archaeological Science how they found the mystery:
“The expansion of the Roman Empire across most of western Europe and the Mediterranean, led to the assimilation and movement of many ethnically and geographically diverse communities.
”Many people traveled, often vast distances, for trade or because of their occupation, for example in the military, or their social status, for example if they were enslaved.
“Its power and wealth meant that it also had trade connections for raw materials and products, such as silk throughout Europe, Africa and also to the east, including India and China.”
Michigan State University forensics experts studied the other remains and found that while two were Asian, at least four of the 22 skeletons found were from Africa. Five of the individuals seemed to have come from the Mediterranean.
The discovery suggests that the London suburb may have been an ancient bustling cosmopolis with a rich immigrant population who may have had similar status to locals living in the area.
The Chinese remains may have in fact belonged to ancient immigrants who had settled in the area, possibly even to have set up their own businesses. Such evidence, experts suggest, point to an ancient Europe with much more foreigners than previously thought.
More studies are set to be conducted on the finds to further establish exact origins of the bones.