Lost le­gion

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - BOOKS -

GE­NETIC test­ing of vil­lagers in a re­mote part of China has shown that nearly two thirds of their DNA is of Cau­casian ori­gin, lend­ing sup­port to the the­ory that they may be de­scended from a “lost le­gion” of Ro­man sol­diers.

Tests found that the DNA of some vil­lagers in Liqian, on the fringes of the Gobi Desert in north-western China, was 56% Cau­casian in ori­gin. Many of the vil­lagers have blue or green eyes, long noses and even fair hair, prompt­ing spec­u­la­tion that they have Euro­pean blood.

A lo­cal man, Cai Jun­nian, is nick­named Cai Luoma, or “Cai the Ro­man”, and is one of many vil­lagers con­vinced that he is de­scended from the lost le­gion.

Ar­chae­ol­o­gists plan to con­duct digs in the re­gion, along the an­cient Silk Route, to search for re­mains of forts or other struc­tures built by the fa­bled army unit.

“We hope to prove the leg­end by dig­ging and dis­cov­er­ing more ev­i­dence of China’s early con­tacts with the Ro­man Em­pire,” Yuan Honggeng, the head of a newly-es­tab­lished Ital­ian Stud­ies Cen­tre at Lanzhou Uni­ver­sity, in Gansu prov­ince, told the China Daily news­pa­per.

The ge­netic tests have lent weight to the the­ory that Ro­man le­gionar­ies set­tled in the area in the first cen­tury BC af­ter flee­ing a bat­tle. The clash took place in 53BC be­tween an army led by Mar­cus Cras­sus, a Ro­man gen­eral, and a larger force of Parthi­ans, from what is now Iran, bring­ing to an abrupt halt the Ro­man Em­pire’s east­wards ex­pan­sion.

Thou­sands of Ro­mans were slaugh­tered and Cras­sus be­headed, but some were said to have fled east. – © The Daily Tele­graph UK 2010

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