Peking Man

Peking man
Temporal range: Pleistocene
Sinathropus pekinensis.jpg
First cranium of Homo erectus pekinensis (Sinanthropus pekinensis) discovered in 1929 in Zhoukoudian, today missing (replica)
Scientific classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Suborder: Haplorhini
Infraorder: Simiiformes
Family: Hominidae
Subfamily: Homininae
Tribe: Hominini
Genus: Homo
H. e. pekinensis
Trinomial name
Homo erectus pekinensis
(Black, 1927)

Sinanthropus pekinensis Black, 1927

Peking Man (Homo erectus pekinensis, formerly known by the junior synonym Sinanthropus pekinensis) is a group of fossil specimens of Homo erectus, dated from roughly 750,000 years ago,[1][2] discovered in 1929–37 during excavations at Zhoukoudian (Chou K'ou-tien) near Beijing (at the time spelled Peking), China.

Between 1929 and 1937, 15 partial crania, 11 mandibles, many teeth, some skeletal bones and large numbers of stone tools were discovered in the Lower Cave at Locality 1 of the Peking Man site at Zhoukoudian. Their age is estimated to be between about 750,000 and 300,000 years old.

Most of the early studies of these fossils were conducted by Davidson Black until his death in 1934. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin took over until Franz Weidenreich replaced him and studied the fossils until he left China in 1941. The original fossils inexplicably disappeared in 1941, but excellent casts and descriptions remain.

History of discovery

Reconstruction of Peking man at Gothenburg Natural History Museum

Swedish geologist Johan Gunnar Andersson and American palaeontologist Walter W. Granger came to Zhoukoudian, China in search of prehistoric fossils in 1921. They were directed to the site at Dragon Bone Hill by local quarrymen, where Andersson recognised deposits of quartz that were not native to the area. Immediately realising the importance of this find he turned to his colleague and announced, "Here is primitive man; now all we have to do is find him!"[3]

Excavation work was begun immediately by Andersson's assistant Austrian palaeontologist Otto Zdansky, who found what appeared to be a fossilised human molar. He returned to the site in 1923, and materials excavated in the two subsequent digs were sent to Uppsala University in Sweden for analysis. In 1926 Andersson announced the discovery of two human molars in this material, and Zdansky published his findings.[4]

Canadian anatomist Davidson Black of Peking Union Medical College, excited by Andersson and Zdansky's find, secured funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and recommenced excavations at the site in 1927 with both Western and Chinese scientists. Swedish palaeontologist Anders Birger Bohlin unearthed a tooth and Black placed it in a gold locket on his watch chain.[5]

Black published his analysis in the journal Nature, identifying his find as belonging to a new species and genus which he named Sinanthropus pekinensis, but many fellow scientists were skeptical about such an identification on the basis of a single tooth, and the foundation demanded more specimens before it would agree to grant additional money.[6][failed verification]

A lower jaw, several teeth, and skull fragments were unearthed in 1928. Black presented these finds to the foundation and was rewarded with a US$80,000 grant that he used to establish the Cenozoic Research Laboratory.

Excavations at the site under the supervision of Chinese archaeologists Yang Zhongjian, Pei Wenzhong, and Jia Lanpo uncovered 200 human fossils (including six nearly complete skullcaps) from more than 40 individual specimens. These excavations came to an end in 1937 with the Japanese invasion.

Excavations at Zhoukoudian resumed after the war. The Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1987.[7] New excavations were started at the site in June 2009.[8][9]


The most complete fossils, all of which were portions of the skullcap (calvariae), are:

  • Skull II, discovered at Locus D in 1929 but only recognized in 1930, is an adult or adolescent with a brain size of 1030 cc.
  • Skull III, discovered at Locus E in 1929 is an adolescent or juvenile with a brain size of 915 cc.
  • Skulls X, XI and XII (sometimes called LI, LII and LIII) were discovered at Locus L in 1936. They are thought to belong to an adult man, an adult woman and a young adult, with brain sizes of 1225 cc, 1015 cc and 1030 cc respectively.[10]
  • Skull V: two cranial fragments were discovered in 1966 which fit with (casts of) two other fragments found in 1934 and 1936 to form much of a skullcap with a brain size of 1140 cc. These pieces were found at a higher level, and appear to be more modern than the other skullcaps.[11]

A number of fossils of modern humans were also discovered in the Upper Cave at the same site in 1933.

The fossils were stored at the Union Medical College in Peking. Eye-witness accounts state that in 1941, while Beijing was under Japanese occupation, but just before the outbreak of hostilities between Japan and the Allied Forces during the Second World War, the fossils were packed into two large crates and loaded onto a US Marine vehicle bound for the port of Qinhuangdao in northern China, close to the Marine base at Camp Holcomb. From there they were to be sent by ship to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, but the fossils vanished en route. There is a possibility that Camp Holcomb is the location of the missing Peking Man fossils. The fossils were being shipped to Tientsin in November 1941, and the ship that was tasked with transporting them, the President Harrison, could not have docked at Tientsin itself. The ship never arrived, and the bones were lost. In a story relayed many years later to his son, a US Marine digging foxholes during 1947 when the base was under attack by Chinese Communists found a box full of bones but reburied it.[12]

Various attempts have been made to locate the fossils, but so far without success. In 1972 US financier Christopher Janus offered a US$5,000 reward for the missing skulls; one woman contacted him asking for $500,000, but she subsequently vanished.[13] In July 2005, to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, the Chinese government set up a committee to find the bones.

Rumours about the fate of the bones range from their having been on board a Japanese ship (the Awa Maru), or an American ship that was sunk, to being ground up for traditional Chinese medicine.[14] Four of the teeth, however, are still in the possession of the Paleontological Museum of Uppsala University.[15] Some opponents of the science of evolution think that the fossils may have been a fabrication, and that their disappearance was intentional.[16]


The first specimens of Homo erectus had been found in 1891 by Eugène Dubois in Java, dubbed "Java Man" , but were at first dismissed by many as the remains of a deformed ape. The discovery of the great quantity of finds at Zhoukoudian put this to rest and Java Man, who had initially been named Pithecanthropus erectus, was transferred to the genus Homo along with Peking Man.[17]

Contiguous findings of animal remains and evidence of fire and tool usage, as well as the manufacturing of tools, were used to support H. erectus being the first "faber" or tool-worker. The analysis of the remains of "Peking Man" led to the claim that the Zhoukoudian and Java fossils were examples of the same broad stage of human evolution. The specimens of Lantian Man, discovered in 1963 and published in 1964, were added to the genus as Sinanthropus lantianensis.[18]

Lantian Man was later[year needed] reclassified as a subspecies of Homo erectus, and the genus Sinanthropus is now disused. Both Peking Man and Java Man are now classified as members of Homo erectus, although Java Man, at about 1.5 to 0.4 million years, includes fossils that are significantly older than Peking Man, at about 0.7 to 0.4 million years.

In 1985, Lewis Binford claimed that Peking Man was a scavenger, not a hunter.[citation needed]

Relation to modern humans

A full-body sculpture of Peking Man, at the Zhoukoudian Site Museum (2017 photograph).

Franz Weidenreich (1873 – 1948) considered Peking Man as a human ancestor and specifically an ancestor of the Chinese people,[19] as seen in his original multiregional model of human evolution in 1946.[20] This view was widely accepted, and in the 1950s it was considered a human ancestor at least by some scholars.[21] Chinese scholarly literature in the 1950s included the view was that Peking Man in some ways resembled modern Europeans more than modern Asians,[22] a position that was partly ideological or chauvinistic, preferring to attribute "primitive" traits to Europeans rather than to Chinese.[23]

During the 1980s to 2000s, the multiregional origin model was eclipsed by widespread acceptance of recent African origin, although a 1999 study noted a perceived continuity in skeletal remains,[24] and a minority view even attempted to derive modern humans from China rather than Africa.[25] Since the 2010s, the question has been re-opened in terms of archaic admixture to the modern human lineage.[26] East Asians are now known to be partially descended from "Denisovans" (or "Asian Neanderthals"), which show morphological similarities both to certain younger East Asian fossils such as Penghu 1[27][28] and to Chinese specimens of Homo erectus.[29]

See also


  1. ^ Paul Rincon (11 March 2009). "'Peking Man' older than thought". BBC News. Retrieved 22 May 2010.. A 26Al/10Be dating published in 2009 suggests they are in the range of 680,000–780,000 years old: Shen, G; Gao, X; Gao, B; Granger, De (March 2009). "Age of Zhoukoudian Homo erectus determined with (26)Al/(10)Be burial dating". Nature. 458 (7235): 198–200. Bibcode:2009Natur.458..198S. doi:10.1038/nature07741. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 19279636. S2CID 19264385.
  2. ^ "'Peking Man' older than thought". BBC News. 11 March 2009. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  3. ^ "The First Knock at the Door". Peking Man Site Museum. In the summer of 1921, Dr. J.G. Andersson and his companions discovered this richly fossiliferous deposit through the local quarry men’s guide. During examination, he was surprised to notice some fragments of white quartz in tabus, a mineral normally foreign in that locality. The significance of this occurrence immediately suggested itself to him and turning to his companions, he exclaimed dramatically "Here is primitive man; now all we have to do is find him!"
  4. ^ "The First Knock at the Door". Peking Man Site Museum. For some weeks in this summer and a longer period in 1923 Dr. Otto Zdansky carried on excavations of this cave site. He accumulated an extensive collection of fossil material, including two Homo erectus teeth that were recognized in 1926. So, the cave home of Peking Man was opened to the world.
  5. ^ Swinton, W.E., Physician contributions to nonmedical science: Davidson Black, our Peking Man, Canadian Medical Association Journal 115(12):1251–1253, 18 December 1976; p. 1253.
  6. ^ "Morgan Lucas" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 April 2008.
  7. ^ "Unesco description of the Zhoukoudian site".
  8. ^ ""Peking man" site to be excavated after 72 years". People's Daily Online. 25 June 2009. Retrieved 16 August 2010.
  9. ^ "Rescue Excavation of Peking Man Site Kicks Off". Chinese Academy of Sciences. 29 June 2009. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 16 August 2010.
  10. ^ Weidenreich (1943), pp. 5–7.
  11. ^ Jia & Huang (1990).
  12. ^ Amy Bucci (22 March 2012). "Are the Lost Peking Man Fossils Buried Under a Parking Lot in China?". National Geographic Society. Retrieved 28 March 2012.
  13. ^ Janus, Christopher G.; Brashler, William, The Search for Peking Man, Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., New York, 1975
  14. ^ Bucci, Amy (22 March 2012). "Are the Lost Peking Man Fossils Buried Under a Parking Lot in China?". Explorers Journal. National Geographic. Retrieved 7 January 2014.
  15. ^ Frängsmyr (2012), p. 60.
  16. ^ Hamblin, Jacob Darwin (2005). Science in the Early Twentieth Century: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781851096657.
  17. ^ Melvin, Sheila (11 October 2005). "Archaeology: Peking Man, still missing and missed". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 20 April 2008. The discovery also settled a controversy as to whether the bones of Java Man – found in 1891 – belonged to a human ancestor. Doubters had argued that they were the remains of a deformed ape, but the finding of so many similar fossils at Dragon Bone Hill silenced such speculation and became a central element in the modern interpretation of human evolution.
  18. ^ Woo, J. (1964). "Mandible of Sinanthropus lantianensis". Current Anthropology. 5 (2): 98–101. doi:10.1086/200457.
  19. ^ Schmalzer (2008), p. 98.
  20. ^ Alan R. Templeton. "Genetics and recent human evolution" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 May 2013. Retrieved 13 August 2010. Cite journal requires |journal=
  21. ^ Schmalzer (2008), p. 97.
  22. ^ Zhu Xi, Women de zuxian [Our Ancestors] (Shanghai: Wen hua shenghuo chubanshe, 1950 [1940]), 163. (reference by Schmalzer, pg 97)
  23. ^ Peking Man and the Politics of Paleoanthropological Nationalism in China, Barry Sautman in The Journal of Asian Studies Vol. 60, No. 1 (Feb., 2001), pp. 95–124
  24. ^ Shang; Tong, H.; Zhang, S.; Chen, F.; Trinkaus, E.; et al. (1999). "An early modern human from Tianyuan Cave, Zhoukoudian, China". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 104 (16): 6573–8. Bibcode:2007PNAS..104.6573S. doi:10.1073/pnas.0702169104. PMC 1871827. PMID 17416672.
  25. ^ Geoffrey G. Pope, "Craniofacial Evidence for the Origin of Modern Humans in China", Yearbook of Physical ANthropology 35 (1992), 243–298.
  26. ^ Peter J. Waddell, "Happy New Year Homo erectus? More evidence for interbreeding with archaics predating the modern human/Neanderthal split" (2013), arXiv Quantitative Biology 1312.7749, 1–29.
  27. ^ Fahu Chen; Frido Welker; Chuan-Chou Shen; Shara E. Bailey; Inga Bergmann; Simon Davis; Huan Xia; Hui Wang; Roman Fischer; Sarah E. Freidline; Tsai-Luen Yu; Matthew M. Skinner; Stefanie Stelzer; Guangrong Dong; Qiaomei Fu; Guanghui Dong; Jian Wang; Dongju Zhang; Jean-Jacques Hublin (2019). "A late Middle Pleistocene Denisovan mandible from the Tibetan Plateau" (PDF). Nature. 569 (7756): 409–412. Bibcode:2019Natur.569..409C. doi:10.1038/s41586-019-1139-x. PMID 31043746. S2CID 141503768.
  28. ^ Warren, Matthew (1 May 2019). "Biggest Denisovan fossil yet spills ancient human's secrets". Nature. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  29. ^ E. Andrew Bennett; Isabelle Crevecoeur; Bence Viola; Anatoly P. Derevianko; Michael V. Shunkov; Thierry Grange; Bruno Maureille; Eva-Maria Geigl (2019). "Morphology of the Denisovan phalanx closer to modern humans than to Neanderthals". Science Advances. 5 (9): eaaw3950. doi:10.1126/sciadv.aaw3950. PMC 6726440. PMID 31517046.

References and further reading

External links

Coordinates: 39°43′59″N 115°55′01″E / 39.733°N 115.917°E / 39.733; 115.917

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