CHINA / Regional

DNA shows foreigner worked on royal tomb
Updated: 2006-06-29 06:17

DNA tests have identified the remains of what may prove to be China's first foreign worker - an early European who worked on the mausoleum of China's first emperor.

The DNA tests were done on remains from one of the laborers' tombs surrounding the mausoleum of Qinshihuang, in northwestern Shaanxi Province.

The mausoleum was built more than 2,200 years ago.

Scientists 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 contacts between the people in east Asia and those in what is now central Asia 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, Duan said.

Tan Jingze, an associate professor at Shanghai-based Fudan University, which conducted the DNA tests, said one sample had genetic features commonly associated with the Parsi in India and Pakistan, the Kurds in Turkmenistan and the Persians in Iran.

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

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, she said.

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

Duan 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 destroy them.