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Peking Man Site (World Heritage Site)


Peking Man (sometimes now called Beijing Man), also called Sinanthropus pekinensis (currently Homo erectus pekinensis), is an example of Homo erectus. The remains were first discovered in 1923-27 during excavations at Zhoukoudian (Choukoutien) near Beijing (Peking), China. The finds have been dated from roughly 250,000-400,000 years ago in the Pleistocene.

Original fossils

First studies began at Zhoukoudian in 1921 with an investigation of a number of caves in the limestone there. According to later accounts of Otto Zdansky, who was working for geologist Johan Andersson, a local man lead western archaeologists to what is today known as the Dragon Bone Hill, a place full of fossilized bones. Zdansky began his own excavation and eventually found bones that resembled human molars. In 1926, he took them to the Peking Union Medical College, in Peking, where Canadian anatomist Davidson Black analysed them. He later published his finds in the journal Nature.

The first specimens of Homo erectus had been found in Java in 1891 by Eugene Dubois, with the Java Man initially being named Pithecanthropus erectus but later transferred to the genus Homo.

The Rockefeller Foundation agreed to fund the work at Zhoukoudian. By 1929, Chinese archaeologists Yang Zhongjian and Pei Wenzhong, and later Jia Lanpo, had taken over the excavation. Over the next seven years, they uncovered fossils of more than 40 specimens including 6 nearly complete skullcaps. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Franz Weidenreich were also involved.

Excavation ended in July 1937 when the Japanese occupied Beijing. Fossils of the Peking Man were placed in the safe at the Cenozoic Laboratory of the Peking Union Medical College. Eventually, in November 1941, secretary Hu Chengzi packed up the fossils so they could be sent to USA for safekeeping until the end of the war. They vanished en route to the port city of Qinghuangdao. They were probably in possession of a group of US marines who the Japanese captured when the war began between Japan and USA.

Various parties have tried to locate the fossils but, so far, without result. In 1972, a US financier Christopher Janus promised a $5,000 (U.S.) reward for the missing skulls; one woman contacted him, asking for $500,000 (U.S.) but she later vanished. Janus was later indicted for embezzlement. In July 2005, the Chinese government founded a committee to find the bones to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

There are also various theories of what might have happened, including a theory that the bones had sunk with a Japanese ship Awa Maru in 1945.

The Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1987.

Paleontological conclusions
Because all the pre-war findings at Zhoukoudian were lost during transit to the USA, subsequent researchers have had to rely on casts and existing writings from the original discoverers.

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. This is also the official view of the Chinese Communist Party.

This interpretation was challenged in 1985 by Lewis Binford, who claimed that the Peking Man was a scavenger, not a hunter. The 1998 team of Steve Weirner of the Weizmann Institute of Science concluded that they had not found evidence that the Peking Man had used fire.

Popular culture
The discovery of Peking Man is referred to in the book The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan.
Peking Man is part of the central plot in the mystery Sleeping Bones by Katherine V. Forrest.
A Peking Man fossil is among those which can be found in the Nintendo DS video game Animal Crossing: Wild World.
Peking Man is part of the central plot of Philip K. Dick's The Crack In Space"
Peking Man is part of the plot of Clive Cussler's Flood Tide
Peking Man is the main part of the central plot of Carolyn G. Hart's mystery novel Skulduggery, set in San Francisco's Chinatown in the early 1980s. ISBN 0-7862-2672-2
Sega and Vivarium's "Seaman 2 Peking Genjin no Ikusei Kit" (Peking Man Growth Kit) for the PlayStation 2 will let players interact with a 20 centimeter tall Peking Man clone.

Jake Hooker - The Search for the Peking Man (Archaeology magazine March/April 2006)