The Dawn of Civilisation
Zhoukoudian Village in Fangshan District is 48 kilometres southwest of Beijing, with the Taihang Mountains range in its west extending into the vast and fertile North China Plain, and the Zhoukou River flowing through it. Such a sight is typically found in any village in northern China.
The Discovery of Peking Man
Before the site of Peking Man was unearthed in Zhoukoudian, there were many presumptions, myths and legends concerning human origins. People argued over and tried to justify their theories by scouring for evidence.
In March 1918, the Swedish geologist Johan Gunnar Andersson (1874–1960), who came to China for archaeological research at the invitation of the Beiyang government (1912–1928) learnt that in the Chicken Bone Hill of Zhoukoudian on the outskirts of Beijing “dragon bones” were collected and used as medicinal materials by local people. He also heard that there were many caves and crevices filled with similar materials. Andersson soon realised that these “medicinal materials” were unusual yet worth exploring.
In the early summer of 1921, at Andersson's advice, the young Austrian palaeontologist Otto A. Zdansky (1894–1988) came to the Chicken Bone Hill of Zhoukoudian and began to excavate. By instinct, Andersson estimated that the remains of human ancestors could be found there.
Following the suggestion of Zhoukoudian locals, he moved to Dragon Bone Hill, where he unearthed many vertebrate fossils. In 1926, Zdansky found two human teeth among the Zhoukoudian fossils that were transported to Austria. At an historic moment, Zdansky knew that he was knocking on the door of modern human ancestry.
In 1929, two years after graduating from the Geology Department of Peking University, Pei Wenzhong was appointed to take full charge of excavations at Zhoukoudian. On December 2, 1929,
Pei excavated a human skull. This skull answered the question about the origin of humans and for the first time proved Darwin's hypothesis that humans descended from apes. From then on, the cave where the skull was unearthed became known as Zhoukoudian First Site.
Later, Chinese palaeoanthropologist Jia Lanpo (1908–2001) again stunned the world. In the 11 days since November 15, 1936, he found three Peking Man skulls at the Zhoukoudian First Site. Research indicated the human ancestry featured: low and flat skulls, prominent brow ridges, short faces, protruding mouths, an average brain volume of a little more than 1,000 millilitres, (about two-thirds that of modern humans), short and stocky stature, males an average of 156 centimetres in height, females an average of 144 cm in height, short legs, long arms, with heads leaning forward.
More Archaeological Excavations
In 1930, when cleaning up the southern boundary of the Peking Man Site, archaeologists found the Upper Cave Man Site. Located northeast of Dragon Bone Hill, it was a well-developed funnel-shaped karst cave in the southern section of the southern crevice of the Peking Man Site.
Upper Cave Man arrived here when the Peking Man Site was almost filled with geological deposits. Part of this is layered directly on top of Peking Man, though they were more than 200,000 years apart.
Since the discovery of the Upper Cave Man site at Zhoukoudian in the 1930s, experts have speculated there could be another early human site in the region. In 2001, in the Tianyuan Forest Farm five to six kilometres southwest of the Peking Man Site, a cave filled with ancient secrets was discovered, later named Tianyuan Cave.
Spreading Knowledge of Peking Man
In the winter of 1951, the then vice president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Zhu Kezhen (1890–1974), a renowned meteorologist, paid a visit to the Zhoukoudian Peking Man Site and suggested establishing an official exhibition hall there. In 1953, the “Exhibition Hall of Sinanthropus” opened to the public, covering an area of 300 square metres. In 1972, a new 1,000-square-metre exhibition hall was put into service and renamed “Exhibition Hall of Peking Man,” which adjusted its exhibition items and enabled visitors to visit all sites in 1978.
In 2014, the Zhoukoudian Peking Man Site Museum reopened after major renovation. Its exhibition area was expanded nearly sevenfold, integrating exhibitions, scientific research and education, and housing more than 1,600 exhibits. Some exhibits are now on show for the first time since they were unearthed more than half a century ago.
This site didn't only house primitive men but also witnessed the earliest wonders of human beings, drawing attention from around the globe. Moreover, Zhoukoudian Village in Fangshan District remains a promised land of local residents today.
An Exhibition Hall of Zhoukoudian Peking Man Site Museum
Artistic Rendering of Protection Project for Zhoukoudian First Site
Zhoukoudian Peking Man Site