Crassus’ Lost Army … Spinning out of Control

OMG!  The whole Crassus-lost-army-siring-Chinese-folks thing is getting increasingly silly. We mentioned the other day a piece from a Chinese source which brought up the story again, reminding folks of what the “study” in question actually said.  As far as I can tell from the original report, there hasn’t been any ‘new’ study other than the one previously-mentioned. Despite that, the Telegraph has spun this story in a very sensational way. Here’s their ‘lede’:

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.

… when we look for further details, all we get is:

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.

Has there been a new study? Are there new results? What journal was it published in?  Whatever the case, the remainder of the Telegraph piece is just a rehash of the People’s Daily item, without the ‘contrary’ opinion. As Adrian Murdoch noted on Twitter, “Shame on the Telegraph”. It gets worse though … even Harry Mount buys into the admittedly ‘romantic’ idea. His reasons:

For all the romance of the story, I tend to think it might well be true. People don’t move very much unless they’re forced to by war, famine or natural disaster. That’s why you still get a lot of people called Evans in Wales, and McDonald in Scotland; they’ve stayed near the spot where their surnames first emerged half a millennium or more ago.

The further away the original settlement of a new immigrant group – like the Romans in the East or, indeed, in Britain – the less we tend to believe it; particularly if the immigrant group then leaves, as the Romans left Britain in 410AD.

But the Romans left behind their DNA in Britain (confusing as it is to call them Romans – most of the legionaries on Hadrian’s Wall were in fact from Gaul, in modern France). The same goes for other civilisations; green and blue-eyed Afghans claim descent from Alexander the Great’s troops, who got as far as India in the 4th century BC, and I see no reason to disbelieve them, either.

Howzabout a couple millennia-worth of potential genetic incursions? I mean really … I’m sure if someone tested some of the First Nations people here in Canada, they’d find some traces of ‘Roman blood’. Will we make the leap to suggest that some lost army managed to make it to Six Nations territory? Cross-disciplinary research is all fine and good, but let’s not make it into fodder for the pyramidiots and others of that ilk, who will ultimately be jumping on this.

In any event, what’s really sad about this — and it’s the same thing I complained to the BBC about once upon a time — is that the Telegraph has a certain auctoritas amongst newspapers around the world, and now there’s a risk of this unsubstantiated viewpoint zipping its way around the world and presented as fact. Already, e.g., the piece from the Telegraph has appeared in Canada’s National Post and Montreal Gazette

The articles:

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem viii kalendas decembres

Aulus Persius Flaccus, scriptor romanus
Image via Wikipedia
ante diem viii kalendas decembres

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