Peking Man was discovered in Zhoukoudian village, which was listed as a world cultural heritage site in 1987. Zhoukoudian is a small village situated about 50 km southwest of Beijing. Embraced by a chain of mountains from the northwest and rolling hills from the northeast, the village opens to the vast Huabei plains.
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 find was the only existing human fossil from this period in Beijing. The site is not only an exceptional reminder of the prehistorical human societies of the Asian continent, but also illustrates the process of evolution.
In the history of palaeoanthropology, the discovery of Peking Man was not the first one of its kind; however, the discovery established a definite status of this kind in the human evolutionary history. In 1891-92, a Dutch scientist, Dubois (1858-1940), found a hominid fossil of an ancient man at Java, Indonesia. A skullcap, a broken mandible, three teeth, and a large femur were unearthed. In 1894, Dubois named the specimens Pithecanthropus erectus, that is, erected ape-man. Dubois took the specimens to Holland in 1895 and it was immediately known all over the world. Heated debate arose: one party claimed the fossil to be of human, although they are crude and robust, while Dubois and his followers argued that the fossil occupies the stage of transitional form between ape and man. Someone argued that the fossils were of extinct large long-armed ape, or orangutan. Others claimed the fossils are of an idiot or abnormal man.
As another representative of ape-man, Peking Man came on stage under such historical background. However, the fate of findings concerning Peking Man appeared as irrefutable proof. Homo erectus is different from the ape in physical characters and cranial capacity. He was able to engage in creative behavior, develop culture, control fire, and hunt big animals. The discovery of Peking Man enabled one to solve the long-lasting polemics that had continued since the discovery of Java man in the 19th century and proved that Homo erectus evolved from the ape. It has established the erect man stage, which occupies the intermediate stage in human evolution. The discovery brought a sudden progress in the theory of human origin and evolution. Peking Man stands as an everlasting monument in the history of paleoanthropological research.
Until today, Peking Man holds as ever a realistic and scientific value. The Peking Man Site is representing the most comprehensively and systematically studied site of Homo erectus. The Peking Man Site also provides the more precise scientific data for the study of the evolution, behavior, and paleoenvironment of Homo erectus than contemporary African and European sites.
Like other erect man who appeared in Middle Pleistocene, the skeletal morphology of Peking Man, excluding the skull, is rather similar to that of modern man. The only difference is that the perichondrial bone of the appendicular is thicker and the endochondral cavity smaller in Peking Man than in modern man. Based on femoral length, Peking man's height is about 156 cm for the male and 144 cm for the female. His skull, if compared with that of modern man is robust, low and flat, the supraorbital or eyebrow is protruded forward, and the occipital bone is apparently of a sharp angle. The cranial capacity is larger compared with Homo abilis of South Africa and Java man of Indonesia, but smaller than that of modern man. The average cranial capacity of Peking Man is measured 1059 ml. The tooth of Peking Man is larger and more robust than that of Homo sapiens. An enamel ring, or cingulum, on the tooth crown is a characteristic of early man.
Anthropologists and archaeologists alike agree that the morphological evolution was slower than the change in the behaviour and ways of living. The tool making technology can be the important quantitative criterion to evaluate human progress. Archaeologists confirm that the development of stone tools made by Peking Man shows the progress of Peking Man better than his physical remains.
Besides Peking Man fossils, a lot of mammal fossils, artifacts, and ashes are also found at the site. They are excellent material for the study of human evolution and prehistory.
According to brief statistics made in 1955, the excavation of the Peking Man Site took 1,873 days with extended 178,965 work days. The sediments dug out were about 20,000 cubic metres at the main localities, 4,200 cubic metres elsewhere. The restorable specimens collected were 1,221 boxes, or 375 cubic metres. To speak on the grand scale of excavation, there is no such undertaking ever in the history of excavation in the world. A brief summary of the report on the results of excavation is as follows:
The stone tools and the brought-in unused rock materials from outside are no less than 100,000 pieces and the examined items are more than 17,000 pieces.
Peking Man makes tools with vein quartz, quartz crystals, flint, and sandstones. People of this cave not only use cobble and boulder as raw material but also collected vein quartz exposed by the weathering process in the fissures of limestone, coal, and granites. Peking Man applies three flaking techniques: Block-on-Block, or Anvil technique, direct percussion, and bipolar technique
Another mark of Peking Man's cultural progress is the use of fire. At the locality there are four ash layers interspersed relatively widely. The uppermost ash layer is found on the huge limestone floor of the third layer west to Gezitang. There the limestone floor between the west-east walls of the cave stretches 12 metres in width with a thickness of about 5 metres. Two big piles of ash residues remained on this big limestone block. Peking Man utilized the limestone floor as their habitation site so the ash residue was deposited. This piling of ash suffices to tell Peking Man had the ability to control fire.
Middle upper ash layer, or the 4th layer, is very thick. The thickest part is more than 6 metres. In this ash layer, there was a large quantity of stone tools and fossils of micro mammals, i.e. rodents and bats etc. The middle lower ash layer is between Layer 8 and Layer 9. The thickest part is near the southern fissure and is 4 metres in thickness. Lower ash layer is at layer 10. The thickness of ash residue is around 1 metre. The ash residue appears purple, yellow, white, and black. The black materials were distributed usually at the bottom part and were easy to be differentiated from other sediments. Ash residue in colour is clear, the quality is not at all granules, contains much moisture, and is light when dehydrated.
Black material is treated chemically and the carbon is extracted. It is not of oxidized manganese. Among the black material of the bottom portion of Gezitang, semi-burnt charcoal was found. This, without a doubt, proves that the black material is a botanical carbon.
In the ash residue deposit, there was a quantity of burnt stone and charred bones. Burnt limestone turned into powder and charred bones changed colour of between various hues of black, purple, white, gray, and green etc. Some of them were cracked and have been transformed by fire. Charred hackberry seeds were found in quantity as well. Many of them were black, purple, and greyish white etc.
Peking Man's use of fire is a great achievement. The use of fire enabled defence of wild beasts in the cave. It also provided light during night, provided warmth in the habitation, and offered cooking of raw food which helped digestion, thereby promoted early man's physical condition and health.
The sporo-pollen analysis made it clear that the period when Peking Man resided at this site was during the interglacial period. It was almost similar as nowadays or slightly warmer. The field and mountain valley were vegetated with deciduous trees and grasslands. Mountains and hilly areas were abounding in coniferous trees.
In the temperate zone, there grew a great variety of species and families of trees. It not only supplied the firewood, but also edible fruits and seeds. Yet the hackberry seed that is found in the cave deposits was apparently a food of Peking Man. Sporo-pollen analysis proves that there were many species grown outside the cave such as nut, hazel nut, pine, elm, and rose etc. The fruits and seeds were the constituents of Peking Man's diet.
Hunting was an important means of early man's adaptation to environment. Because meat was the source of calories and protein supply needed for man, Peking Man not only depended on gathering, but also on hunting. According to nearly a hundred species of fossil mammals found in the cave, Peking Man could hunt small animals as well as large animals.
Since Peking Man could use tools, he could catch animals of his size. The deer fossil found inside the cave was calculated in terms of mandibles. The thick-jaw-bone deer amounted more than two thousand individuals. The Pseudaxis grayi amounted not less than one thousand individuals. The two species of deer must have been the major target for hunting by Peking Man. Analysis of the deer antlers shows that Peking Man hunted more of Peking sikine deer during the summer and early autumn and hunted the thick-jaw-bone deer in the early winter.
Peking Man was a cave dweller, toolmaker, fire user, gatherer, and hunter. In view of fossil records and cultural remains, he was superb in his capability of adapting himself to environment with his adaption to physiological structure and technical ability.
Zhoukoudian is world famous for the remains of the so-called Peking Man. This Chinese apeman lived in the big cave for about 300,000 years intermittently, 670,000 to 410,000 years ago.
After several smaller finds, in 1929 the first complete skull of Peking Man was discovered by Peiwenzhong of Beijing University. They first classified it as Sinanthropus pekinensis. Unfortunately the skull of the first Peking Man was lost during the Anti-Japanese War and its whereabouts are still a mystery.
After this discovery large-scale excavations were done on several occasions, some 26,000 cubic meters of earth were dug out. The results of those excavations were bone fossils of over forty individuals of different age and sex, one hundred thousand pieces of stone implements and a large number of animal fossils. The Peking Man was reclassified as Homo erectus pekinensis.
The most impressive detail of the excavations were several layers of ashes containing charcoal and charred bones. This proved that Peking Man had learned to use fire, a milestone in the development of man. The life of the Peking Man was reconstructed, as the life of a hunter. Looking for prey from his hill, hunting big animals and cooking it in his cave. If no big animals are at hand, members of his own kind are not rejected.
Unfortunately, when the Japanese invaded China in 1937, excavation at the Peking Man site was suspended. In 1947 all the fossils disappeared and it was thought that an attempt was made to smuggle them to America, sadly they have never been traced. Following the founding of the People's Republic of China, the work has been renewed and finds now include six intact skulls, parts of ten arm and other bones, twelve broken facial bones, fifteen lower mandibles and 157 teeth. In all these represent over 40 individuals of varying ages and sex.
There is no denying the fact that Peking Man Site turned out to be a tremendous contribution to both Chinese and world history, from which we could learn a lot about the origin of human beings.
1. The Peking Man Cave or Locality 1:
On the western side of Zhoukoudian Village, there are two parallel hills. The one on the east is lower and called Dragon-bone Hill. It is 220 metres long in north-south direction and 190 metres wide in east-west direction. Its peak is 140.6 metres above sea level and is 66 metres above the river bed of Baerhe. On the northern slop of the Dragon-bone Hill, there is a huge cave. Judging by the deposits inside it, the cave has a length of about 140 metres east-west, but its north-south span is about 40 metres in width at the most. Its western end is the narrowest and is only 2 metres wide. On the northern side of the cave, a fissure is extending northwards and its width is about 7 metres.
Peking Man cave is a karst cave developed in limestone of Ordovician age (about 450 million years ago). Since Zhoukouhe Stream and the karst cave were connected with each other, a quantity of sand-gravel flew inside the cave. The rough and deep ditches inside the cave were gradually filled, thereby forming a flat surface. The eastern entrance gradually expanded as weathering took place. After that, Peking Man entered the cave through eastern hill to settle there. He was at first inhabited at the eastern part of the cave near the entrance. The roof portion was completely preserved but there was sufficient light inside the cave so as to facilitate their activities without difficulty. Due to the collapse of roof rocks of the eastern cave, the entrance became completely blocked and Peking Man was obliged to turn to the western entrance of the cave. The period the cave was almost completely filled with sediments might be sometime around 230,000 years before present. When Peking Man left the cave and moved elsewhere it was no longer suitable for hominids' habitation.
Before excavation, the cave was completely filled with deposits more than 50 metres in depth. The deposits were divided by scientists into 17 layers from top to bottom. The absolute age of the 13th layer is about 730,000 years old, that is to say, layers 14 to 17 are formed before the Middle Pleistocene. Layer 10, the lowest layer bearing Peking Man fossil, is dated about 500,000 years ago, while Layer 3, the upmost layer bearing Peking Man fossil, is dated from 230,000 to 250,000 years ago. Thus, Peking Man had lived in the cave for about 260,000 years.
2. Locality 4 or New Cave:
The cave is situated 70 metres south of Locality 1. It measures 4 metres high, 9.5 metres wide, and 116 metres above sea level. Its entrance is formed by a narrow and long fissure and opens southwards. Its terminal end enlarges to form a big hall. The entrance was blocked by mixed deposits. It was opened after the excavation in 1973. A left upper first molar of early Homo sapiens, an intermediate form between Homo erectus of Locality 1 and late Homo sapiens of Upper Cave, was discovered in the cave. Some paleoanthropologists call the human fossil New Cave Man. This locality yielded also a small quantity of stone tools, ash layer, burnt stone, charred bones, hackberry seeds, and more than 40 species of mammalian fossils. Its absolute age is dated about 200 000 to 100,000 years before present. Its geological age is attributed to Late Pleistocene.
3. Locality 15:
Situated 70 metres south of Locality 1, about 10 metres west of Locality 4. The original appearance of the locality was a cave or a fissure, but it completely collapsed and left only piles of broken rocks. It was discovered in 1932 and excavated from 1934 to 1937. The excavated area measures 13 metres east-west, 16 metres north-south. The deposits measure 10 metres in depth which can be divided into three layers. The upper layer is mainly of light yellow earth with worm-like wedges of calcified substance in central portions. The middle layer consists of a large mass of limestone, ash with charred bone, and hackberry seeds. The lower layer contains light reddish earth with pieces of limestone. Stone tools and mammalian fossils were distributed in all of these layers. The excavated stone tools count about 10 thousands pieces include cores, flakes, etc. It is one of the representative middle Palaeolithic industries of China. Discovered mammalian fauna is composed of 33 species, such as thick jaw deer, Gray's sika, rhinos, sheep etc. Its age is equivalent to that of New Cave, that is, the early stage of the Late Pleistocene.
Professor Jia Lanpo thinks that the New Cave and Locality 15 might connect with Locality 1 by some unknown tunnels and therefore they are worth of new excavation.
4. Upper Cave:
Situated at the upper part of Dragon-bone Hill, hence the cave was so named. The northern part of the cave is close to the southern fissure of Peking Man Cave. The original entrance of Upper Cave is open to the north. The altitude of the cave is about 125 metres. The cave is about 13.5 metres long, 5.6 metres wide and composed of 4 parts: cave entrance, upper chamber, lower chamber and lower recess. It was discovered in 1930 during investigation of the border of the Peking Man Cave deposit and was excavated in 1933-34. The bottom layer of Upper Cave was directly deposited above the first layer of Peking Man Cave deposit.
Three well preserved skulls and a skull cap of Upper Cave Man were unearthed from the lower chamber. Some pelvic and femur bones were found nearby the skulls. All human bones represented about 10 individuals. Anthropologists have attributed Upper Cave Man to Late Homo sapiens. His absolute age is dated about 27 thousand years before present. On the left side of the skull of an elderly Homo sapiens, a perforated shell and perforated fox's canine were recovered. Animal fossils of entire skeletons were found and interpreted to be there after falling into natural traps.
The deposits of Upper Cave are composed of pine tree loam and limestone breccia. The bottom earth is reddish and partly concretion. From 20 metres deep, about 860 cubic metres of deposits were removed at the time of excavation. There were 25 artifacts, a polished antler, a bone needle, 141 ornaments including 125 perforated animal teeth, three perforated shells, a perforated ovoid pebble, one perforated supra-orbital of fish, four bones perforated with transverse farrows, and 7 perforated stone beads. In addition to fish and amphibian fossils, 47 species of mammalian fossils were found. The geological age is of late stage of the Late Pleistocene.