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The Lost Peking Man Skeletons
 
 

The Cave of Peking Man

The Cave of Peking ManThe Site of Peking Man is located at Zhoukoudian Village, 48 kilometers southwest of Beijing. It is screened by mountains on the northwest with fertile land lying to its southeast. West of the Village stands the Dragon Bone Hill, noted for its large quantities of Chinese medicine dragon bone. The Chinese ape-man, also known as Peking man, lived some 690,000 years ago, in mid-period of Pleistocene epoch. Peking man chose Zhoukoudian as his residence because the limestone caves and crevices in the area provided an excellent habitat. The exposure of sedimentary strata around Zhoukoudian is quite extraordinary, especially those of the Pliocene and Pleistocene, and therefore attract geologists to visit the area. On the other hand, the area also bears rich Ordovician limestone with which the local habitants make lime. It is by quarrying the limestone that local habitants find, in some fissures, the so-called Dragon Bones, which scientists call fossils.

The first complete skull of Peking man was discovered in December, 1929 by Pei Wenzhong, a Chinese paleoanthropologist. Later,The Cave of Peking Man large-scale excavations were done on several occasions, amounting to 25,000 cubic meters of earthwork. In fact, a total of four early residential sites have been discovered on this hill. Besides those belonging to Peking man, the remains of a site occupied by Hilltop Caveman are the most representative. The bones of Peking Man discovered in the cave in the hill's north face include six complete or relatively complete skulls, eight skull fragments, six pieces of facial bone, 15 mandibles, 153 teeth, seven sections of broken femur, one broken shinbone, three pieces of upper arm bone, one clavicle and one wrist bone belonging to more than 40 individuals of different ages and sexes. In addition, 118 animal fossils have been found in the cave on the north face of the hill. It should be noted that with the exception of five teeth, one upper arm bone and one leg bone, all the original Peking man fossil remains, together with those of Hilltop Caveman, disappeared during World War II and have never been recovered.

At present, Zhoukoudian’s Dragon Bone Hill has an exhibition hall, which is divided into The Cave of Peking Manseven rooms. The first room exhibits fossil remains of Peking man, stone tools, and evidence of Peking man's use of fire. These exhibits also depict Peking man's external appearance and general living conditions. The second room demonstrates Hilltop Caveman's fossils, stone tools, bone needles, decorative objects and animal fossils. The third room illustrates fossils of man discovered in various parts of China, such as Dingcun Man, Hetao Man, Ziyang Man, Zhalainuoer Man and other fossil copies of the ancient jungle ape, southern ancient ape, Java Man, Neanderthal Man and Cro-Magnon Man that provide an overall understanding of human evolutionary development. The fourth room introduces the geological history of Peking man’s residence site and displays the process of human and animal evolution through different geological periods. The fifth and sixth rooms exhibit vertebrate fossils discovered in other locations around Zhoukoudian, including a display of fish fossils. The seventh room contains the fossils of some of the animals hunted by Peking man. Among them, the tiger and bear were considered Peking man's enemies. The discovery of elephant and rhinoceros fossils at the site demonstrates that the climate during the time of Peking man was far warmer than it is today.

In addition, one can see the actual caves in which Peking man and Hilltop Caveman lived. The cave at Site No.1 originally measured 140 meters from east to west. Its width was irregular and it had a height of more than 40 meters. The cave was first occupied approximately 500,000 years ago, and it is estimated that Peking Man maintained this residence over the course of a quarter of a million years.

 
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