The famous Terracotta Army, a collection of sculptures depicting the warriors of China’s first emperor, may have been influenced by ancient Greek artists, a new research suggests.
A team of experts, which includes archaeologists and historians from international institutions, theorizes that ancient Greek sculptors may have traveled to China and trained local craftsmen 1,500 years even before Marco Polo’s arrival.
The new claim, which may change an age-old belief about the earlier contact between the East and the West, is based on DNA remains found on the site and how the statues looked heavily influenced by Greek sculptures at the time.
“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. This is far earlier than we formerly thought,” Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum senior archaeologist Li Xiuzhen told The Guardian.
“We now think the Terracotta Army, the acrobats, and the bronze sculptures found on site, have been inspired by ancient Greek sculptures and art.”
The 8,000 terracotta statues, which for centuries have been buried with the remains of China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang, were discovered in 1974 by local farmers in Xi’an’s Lintong District. The three massive pits in the burial complex also contained 150 cavalry horses and 130 chariots pulled by 520 horses.
Before the creation of the life-sized statues of the terracotta, the Chinese have been observed to depict human forms in miniature figurines that were usually only 20 cm tall. The research team noticed the sudden change in size and style of the sculptures in the terracotta army.
The style of terracotta acrobats and bronze figures of animals in the royal tomb even matched those of the ancient Greek art of the same time period.
Traces of European mitochondrial DNA from skeletons buried nearby the site have also been discovered by the researchers, suggesting that early Westerners might have settled in the area during, or even before the rule of the First Emperor.
Scientists also believe that Greek artists could have been there when the Terracotta Army statues were being made.
“I imagine that a Greek sculptor may have been at the site to train the locals,” Lukas Nickel, chair of Asian art history at Vienna University in Austria, told The Guardian.
The BBC documentary “The Greatest Tomb on Earth: Secrets of Ancient China”, to be shown on Sunday, is set to further discuss the theory.