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Peking man

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Peking Man (Homo erectus pekinensis) models from the American Museum of Natural History, in New York city.

Peking Man is the common name for one of the original Homo erectus fossils to be discovered. It was unearthed between 1923–27 near Beijing China where its name is derived (Beijing was previously written 'Peking'). It was originally announced to be a new hominid species based on the discovery of a single tooth and named Sinanthropus pekinensis. Later discoveries of several skull caps and jaw bones revealed that Peking man was very human-like and it was reclassified as Homo erectus pekinensis.[1]


Sculpture of Peking Man (Homo erectus) - outside the Zhoukoudian cave system in Beijing, China.

The site where Peking man was discovered was identified by Johan Gunnar Andersson in 1921 as likely to contain ancient hominid fossils after locating deposits of quartz that were not native to the area. Excavations at Zhoukoudian over the next two years resulted in the discovery of two fossilized human molars, which Anderson announced in 1926.[2]

Davidson Black (an anatomist at Peking Union Medical College) who has previously searched for evidence of early man in Jehol (North China), then in Thailand[3] became excited by the discoveries,[4] and secured funding from the Rockefeller Foundation to perform excavations at Zhoukoudian. After locating a single human tooth in 1927 (which he reportedly wore in a gold locket on his watch chain[5]) claimed that he had discovered a new species of hominid and named it Sinanthropus pekinensis[6] (from Sino-, "China", and anthro-, "man"). A lower jaw, several teeth, and skull fragments were unearthed by Davidson Black in 1928 and he was rewarded with an $80,000 grant by the Rockefeller Foundation, which he used to establish the Cenozoic Research Laboratory.[2]

Excavations under the supervision of Chinese archaeologists Yang Zhongjian, Pei Wenzhong, and Jia Lanpo uncovered 200 human fossils (including 6 nearly complete skullcaps) from more than 40 individual specimens. Excavation came to an end in 1937 with the Japanese invasion, but resumed after the war, and parts of another skull were found in 1966. The Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1987. New excavations were started at the site in June 2009.[2]

Peking Man skull cap replicas (originals missing).

Lost Specimens

The original Peking Man fossils that were discovered by Black, Zhongjian, et al. were lost during World War II in a tragic transportation mishap, and have since not been recovered.[7] Fortunately some extremely fine plaster casts of the original fossils were made by Franz Weidenreich (an eminent physical anthropologist from the University of Chicago), which preserved specimens for further analysis.[8]

Prior to their disappearance, the fossils were stored at the Cenozoic Research Laboratory located in the Peking Union Medical College (PUMC), American Baptist medical teaching facility. In 1941, when it became clear that war between the US and Japan loomed, the Rockefeller Foundation agreed to send the fossils to the United States for temporary safekeeping. After packing them for transport, Hu Zhengzhi and Pei Wenzhong delivered them to the head of the Controller's Office of the PUMC for transport, but subsequent information regarding their disposition are described as a mass of conflicting details. Two crates containing the fossils were intended to be sent to the US embassy and transferred by the US Marine Corps based in the Beijing area to Qinhuangdao, the port for Tianjin. But the crates containing the fossils disappeared en route, and according to one report the marines placed in charge of transport were interned in Qinhuangdao and then transferred to a prison camp near Tianjin. [9]

For more than 60 years the Chinese and Japanese government agencies, not to mention the FBI and CIA, have been involved at various times to determine the whereabouts of the missing fossils. Most recently, on July 2, 2005 the Fangshan government authorities announced the establishment of a "working committee to locate the fossilized skulls of Peking Man".[9]

Although creationists have accused this loss as a potential act of fraud, much like piltdown man,[10] most, such an paleontologist Marvin Lubenow, regard it as a terrible loss of information regarding post-flood human variation.[7]

Similarity to Modern Humans

Franz Weidenreich, who performed the initial studies of the Peking Man fossils and made the plaster casts that preserved the specimens for future study, acknowledged that they showed a remarkable similarity to modern human and questioned their assignment as a separate species.

It would not be correct to call our fossil 'Homo erectus' or 'Homo erectus pekinensis'; it would be best to call it 'Homo sapiens erectus pekinensis'. Otherwise it would appear as a proper 'species' different from 'Homo sapiens' which remains doubtful, to say the least.


  1. Lamb, Andrew. ‘Southwest Colorado Man’ and the year of the one-tooth wonders Creation Ministries International. 2007.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Homo erectus pekinensis Wikipedia. Accessed January 12, 2012.
  3. The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Volume 2, page 251, 15th edition, 1992.
  4. Black, Davidson, Tertiary Man in Asia—the Chou Kou Tien discovery, Science 64(1668):586–587, 17 December 1926.
  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. Black, Anderson, On a lower molar hominid tooth from the Chou Kou Tien deposit, Palaeontologia Sinica, Series D, 7(1):1–28, 1927.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Lubenow, Marvin. Bones of Contention: A Creationist Assessment of Human Fossils. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004. p. 24.
  8. Lubenow, p. 27.
  9. 9.0 9.1 The Renewed Search for Peking Man China Heritage Newsletter, No. 3, September 2005.
  10. Sermonti, Giuseppe. Not from the apes Creation 15(3):13, June 1993
  11. Lubenow, p 125.

Additional information