Contact between the East and the West probably began more than 5,000 years ago - 3,000 years earlier than previously thought.
New research on relics unearthed along the famous Silk Road, an ancient commercial route linking China and Central Asia, has led to the conclusion.
Li Shuicheng, an archaeology professor with Peking University, said many people held that East-West exchanges started after the opening of the Silk Road more than 2,000 years ago, but archaeological discoveries showed the date was much earlier.
Li said a dozen mace heads dating back between 3,000 and 5,000 years - extremely similar to those used by kings of ancient Egypt - had been excavated in Northwest China.
The oldest of the mace heads found in Gansu and Shaanxi provinces and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in Northwest China can be traced back 5,500 years ago, Li said.
"Many experts shared the view that the mace heads were not a product of ancient Chinese civilization, but were transported from the West," said Li.
Most mace heads unearthed in Northwest China are made of stone, jade or bronze, and are in the shape of balls, peaches and pentagrams, according to Li.
Some of them even carry colored drawings.
Their shapes and functions were surprisingly similar to those of ancient Egypt, Li told an International Symposium on the Silk Road sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, in Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi Province.
The symposium was attended by experts and scholars from 29 countries and regions worldwide.
Li said the origins of civilizations were various and exchanges between different cultures were not "invasions." Central Asia and Xinjiang were the major regions where ancient Chinese and Western civilizations influenced and mingled with each other.
Li's views were echoed by many experts attending the event earlier this month. Wang Jianxin, a leading archaeologist and professor with Xibei (Northwest China) University, said exchanges between nomadic tribes of Asia and Europe began before the opening of the Silk Road in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220).
According to Wang, exchanges occurred through the vast region between the Tianshan Mountains and Altay Mountains, officially recognized as the "Oasis Silk Road" - also known as the "Prairie Silk Road" - in the Han Dynasty. The road links prairies in Mongolia, Central and West Asia and Europe.
Archaeological discoveries and research in recent decades have shown that this region was an important path for exchanges between eastern and western nomadic tribes as early as the Bronze Age, dating back 3,000 to 4,000 years, Wang said.
The fact that unearthed utensils of nomadic tribes, exhibited in museums of European and Asian countries, were surprisingly alike, indicating that the "Prairie Silk Road" had played an important role in early East-West exchanges, Wang noted.
"Cultural influence is mutual and the earliest date for East-West exchanges might surpass our imagination," said Wang Hui, deputy director of Gansu Provincial Archaeological Institute, who has long devoted himself to archaeological excavations along the Silk Road.
Wang said wheat originated in West Asia and the earliest wheat seeds unearthed in the region were 10,000 years old.
But wheat seeds dating back more than 4,000 years had been unearthed in Gansu Province, Northwest China.
Professor Victor H. Mair of the University of Pennsylvania, the United States, praised Li Shuicheng's view as "brave," "just" and "objective."
(China Daily December 25, 2002)