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Theory of Roman descendance
The area of the former Liqian city is known for its inhabitants. Some people there have Caucasian-like physical traits, such as Aquiline noses, blond or light-colored hair, blue or green eyes, and fairer skin tone. In the 20th century, theories have developed suggesting some inhabitants may be descended from Roman legionaries.
In the 1940s, Homer H. Dubs, a professor of Chinese history at the University of Oxford, made a connection between Liqian and ancient Rome. He suggested the inhabitants were descendants from Roman prisoners of war from the Battle of Carrhae. These troops were resettled by the victorious Parthians on their eastern border and, according to Dubs, may have become mercenaries who took part in the Battle of Zhizhi between the Chinese and the Xiongnu in 36 B.C. Records by Chinese chroniclers mention the capture of a "fish-scale formation" of soldiers, which Dubs believed referred to the testudo formation, a Roman phalanx surrounded by shields on all sides.
Several investigations have been conducted since. Rob Gifford commented on the theory and described it as one of many "rural myths." One DNA study found that "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." Genetic testing in 2005 revealed that 56% of the DNA of some Zhelaizhai residents was Caucasian in origin but the testing did not determine whether they were descended from Romans, Tocharians or Iranian peoples. People with Caucasian-like traits existed in central Asia centuries before the Romans; Tarim mummies and some south Siberian populations included light-haired individuals. To date, no artifacts which might confirm a Roman presence, such as coins or weaponry, have been discovered in Zhelaizhai.
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- Zhou, Ruixia; An, Lizhe; Wang, Xunling; et al (June 2007). "Testing the hypothesis of an ancient Roman soldier origin of the Liqian people in northwest China: a Y-chromosome perspective". Journal of Human Genetics 52 (7): pp. 584–591. doi:10.1007/s10038-007-0155-0. PMID 17579807.
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