Bringing legends to life

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Science  02 Dec 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6316, pp. 1094-1095
DOI: 10.1126/science.354.6316.1094

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Using ancient DNA techniques, geneticist Li Hui of Fudan University in Shanghai, China, hopes to demonstrate that some cherished Chinese myths are grounded in reality. His current passion is an exploration of the Three Sovereigns. Chinese credit the legendary sage-kings with laying the foundations of their culture: inventing silk and medicine, for instance, and fashioning China's written characters. Li says he has gleaned support for the Three Sovereigns legend from a vast database of DNA samples gathered around China. His team's studies of the Y chromosome—the male sex chromosome—trace about half of modern Chinese men back to three ancient groups. Li's quest has won cautious praise from some scholars. Others see a skein of nationalism running through the attempt to establish a cohesive Chinese culture predating China's first dynasty, the Xia.

  • * in Chengtoushan, China

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