AskDefine | Define sinanthropus

Dictionary Definition

Sinanthropus n : genus to which Peking man was formerly assigned [syn: genus Sinanthropus]

Extensive Definition

Peking Man (now sometimes 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. More recently, the finds have been dated from roughly 500,000 years ago.

Discovery and identification

Swedish geologist Johan Gunnar Andersson and American palaeontologist Walter W. Granger came to Zhoukoudian, China in search of prehistoric fossils in 1921. They were directed to the site at Dragon Bone Hill by local quarry men, where Andersson recognised deposits of quartz that were not native to the area. Immediately realising the importance of this find he turned to his colleague and announced, “Here is primitive man, now all we have to do is find him!”
Excavation work was begun immediately by Andersson's assistant Austrian palaeontologist Otto Zdansky, who found what appeared to be a fossilised human molar. He returned to the site in 1923 and materials excavated in the two digs were sent back to Uppsala University in Sweden for analysis. In 1926 Andersson announced the discovery of two human molars found in this material and Zdansky published his findings.
Canadian anatomist Davidson Black of Peking Union Medical College, excited by Andersson and Zdansky’s find, secured funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and recommenced excavations at the site in 1927 with both Western and Chinese scientists. A tooth was unearthed that fall by Swedish palaeontologist Anders Birger Bohlin which Davidson places in a locket around his neck.
Davidson published his analysis in the journal Nature, identifying his find as belonging to a new species and genus which he named Sinanthropus pekinensis, but many fellow scientist were sceptical of such an identification based on a single tooth and the Foundation demanded more specimens before they would give an addition grant.
A lower jaw, several teeth and a skull fragments were discovered were unearthed in 1928. Black presented these finds to the Foundation and was rewarded with an $80,000 grant that he used to establish the Cenozoic Research Laboratory.
Excavations at the site from 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. These excavation came to an end in 1937 with the Japanese occupation.
Fossils of the Peking Man were placed in the safe at the Cenozoic Research 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 whom 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. 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.

Subsequent Research

Excavations at Zhoukoudian resumed after the war, and parts of another skull were found in 1966. To date a number of other partial fossil remains have been found. The Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1987.

Paleontological conclusions

The first specimens of Homo erectus had been found in Java in 1891 by Eugene Dubois, but were dismissed by many as the remains of a deformed ape. The discovery of the great quantity of finds at Zhoukoudian put this to rest and Java Man, who had initially being named Pithecanthropus erectus, was transferred to the genus Homo along with Peking Man.
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 Weiner of the Weizmann Institute of Science concluded that they had not found evidence that the Peking Man had used fire.

Relation to modern Chinese people

Some Chinese paleoanthropologists have asserted in the past that the modern Chinese are descendants of the Peking Man. However, modern genetic research does not support this hypothesis. A recent study undertaken by Chinese geneticist Jin Li showed that there was no inter-breeding between modern human immigrants to East Asia and Homo erectus, contradicting the Peking Man-hypothesis and affirming that the Chinese descended from Africans in accordance with the Recent single-origin hypothesis. However, some paleontologists see continuity in skeletal remains.

Popular culture

  • Canadian science-fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer won an Aurora Award for his 1996 short story "Peking Man," which connects the lost bones to the Dracula legend; the story first appeared in the anthology Dark Destiny III: Children of Dracula edited by Edward E. Kramer, and is reprinted in Sawyer's collection Iterations.
  • 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.
  • Peking Man's bones is the subject of an episode of the Japanese Anime "Lupin the 3rd" titled: Jumping the Bones
  • 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

See also

Further reading

  • Shapiro, H. L. Peking Man (Book Club Associates, London, 1976).
  • Jake Hooker - The Search for the Peking Man (Archaeology magazine March/April 2006)


sinanthropus in Arabic: إنسان بكين
sinanthropus in Danish: Sinanthropus pekinensis
sinanthropus in German: Peking-Mensch
sinanthropus in Spanish: Hombre de Pekín
sinanthropus in French: Homme de Pékin
sinanthropus in Italian: Homo erectus pekinensis
sinanthropus in Dutch: Pekingmens
sinanthropus in Japanese: 北京原人
sinanthropus in Korean: 북경원인
sinanthropus in Polish: Człowiek pekiński
sinanthropus in Portuguese: Homem de Pequim
sinanthropus in Russian: Синантроп
sinanthropus in Finnish: Pekingin ihminen
sinanthropus in Vietnamese: Người vượn Bắc Kinh
sinanthropus in Contenese: 北京人
sinanthropus in Chinese: 北京人
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