The Independent reports on a surprising breakthrough in our understanding of Qin Dynasty China.
Ancient Greeks artists could have travelled to China 1,500 years before Marco Poloâ€™s historic trip to the east and helped design the famous Terracotta Army, according to new research.
The startling claim is based on two key pieces of evidence: European DNA discovered at sites in Chinaâ€™s Xinjiang province from the time of the First Emperor in the Third Century BC and the sudden appearance of life-sized statues.
Before this time, depictions of humans in China are thought to have been figurines of up to about 20cm.
But 8,000 extraordinarily life-like terracotta figures were found buried close to the massive tomb of Chinaâ€™s First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, who unified the country in 221BC.
The theory â€“ outlined in a documentary, The Greatest Tomb on Earth: Secrets of Ancient China, to be shown on BBC Two on Sunday â€“ is that Shi Huang and Chinese artists may have been influenced by the arrival of Greek statues in central Asia in the century following Alexander the Great, who led an army into India.
But the researchers also speculated that Greek artists could have been present when the soldiers of the Terracotta Army were made.
One of the team, Professor Lukas Nickel, chair of Asian art history at Vienna University, said: â€œI imagine that a Greek sculptor may have been at the site to train the locals.â€
Other evidence of connections to Greece came from a number of exquisite bronze figurines of birds excavated from the tomb site. These were made with a lost wax technique known in Ancient Greece and Egypt.
There was a breakthrough in sculpture particularly in ancient Athens at about the time when the city became a democracy in the 5th century BC.
Previously, human figures have been stiff and stylised representations, but the figures carved on the Parthenon temple were so life-like it appeared the artists had turned stone into flesh.
Their work has rarely been bettered â€“ the techniques used were largely forgotten until they were revived in the Renaissance when artists carved statues in the Ancient Greek style, most notably Michelangeloâ€™s David.
Dr Li Xiuzhen, senior archaeologist at the tombâ€™s museum, agreed that it appeared Ancient Greece had influenced events in China more than 7,000km.
â€œWe now have evidence that close contact existed between the First Emperorâ€™s China and the West before the formal opening of the Silk Road,â€ the expert said.
â€œThis is far earlier than we formerly thought.