The DNA of Chinese villagers with Western features was tested to determine whether they are descendants of a "lost legion" of 1st c. B.C. Roman soldiers. Residents of Liqian in Gansu Province, including long and broad noses, light skin, and fair hair.
This idea was first put forward in the 1950s by Professor Homer Dubs at Oxford University, but was ideologically unwelcome under Chairman Mao. Tests of 93 blood samples have since found that the DNA of some villagers is 56% Caucasian in origin, leading to speculation that they descended from legionaries led by Roman general Marcus Crassus who escaped after the army's defeat in 53 B.C. Roman-style artifacts and tombs containing 6' skeletons have been excavated, and the tourism industry is capitalizing on the Roman connection.
According to the scientific media:
Genetic testing does not bear out the theory. After analyzing the DNA of 227 males, researchers concluded in the Journal of Human Genetics that "they greatly deviate from Central Asian and Western Eurasian populations. Further phylogenetic and admixture analysis confirmed that the Han Chinese contributed greatly to the Liqian gene pool....Overall, a Roman mercenary origin could not be accepted as true according to paternal genetic variation, and the current Liqian population is more likely to be a subgroup of the Chinese majority Han." Most historians believe that the Romans and the Chinese had only indirect contact through trade along the Silk Road. According to Italian classicist and anthropologist Maurizio Bettini, "For it to be indisputable, one would need to find items such as Roman money or weapons that were typical of Roman legionaries....Without proof of this kind, the story of the lost legions is just a legend."
The DNA of the Urumqi mummies from China's Tarim Basin 2,000 years earlier, however, has yielded more conclusive proof of Western influence on the Eastern world. Genetic testing shows that their lineage is a mixture of Eastern European and native Siberian, suggesting intermarriage between European traders and local women.