Tests found that the DNA of some villagers in Liqian, on the fringes of the Gobi Desert in north-western China, was 56 per cent 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…
The genetic tests have leant weight to the theory that Roman legionaries settled in the area in the first century BC after fleeing a disastrous 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 himself was beheaded, but some legionaries were said to have escaped the fighting and marched east to elude the enemy.
They supposedly fought as mercenaries in a war between the Huns and the Chinese in 36BC – Chinese chroniclers refer to the capture of a “fish-scale formation” of troops, a possible reference to the “tortoise” phalanx formation perfected by legionnaries. The wandering Roman soldiers are thought to have been released and to have settled on the steppes of western China.
The theory was first put forward in the 1950s by Homer Dubs, a professor of Chinese history at Oxford University.
Even if not true, it is a great story.