Thursday, September 15, 2016

PEKING MEN AND SOME EARLY WESTERNERS (Intermediate-Advanced level)

The earliest known Chinese are called Sinanthropus, or “Peking man,” because the finds were made near that city. In World War II, the United States Marine guard at our Embassy in Peking tried to help get the bones out of the city before the Japanese attack. Nobody knows where these bones are now. The Red Chinese accuse us of having stolen them. They were last seen on a dock-side at a Chinese port. But should you catch a Marine with a sack of old bones, perhaps we could achieve peace in Asia by returning them! Fortunately, there is a complete set of casts of the bones.
Peking man lived in a cave in a limestone hill, made tools, cracked animal bones to get the marrow out, and used fire. Incidentally, the bones of Peking man were found because Chinese dig for what they call “dragon bones” and “dragon teeth.” Uneducated Chinese buy these things in their drug stores and grind them into powder for medicine. The “dragon teeth” and “bones” are really fossils of ancient animals, and sometimes of men. The people who supply the drug stores have learned where to dig for strange bones and teeth. Paleontologists who get to China go to the drug stores to buy fossils. In a roundabout way, this is how the fallen-in cave of Peking man at Choukoutien was discovered.
Peking man was not quite as tall as Java man but he probably stood straighter. His skull looked very much like that of the Java skull except that it had room for a slightly larger brain. His face was less brutish than was Java man’s face, but this isn’t saying much.
Peking man dates from early in the interglacial period following the second alpine glaciation. He probably lived close to 350,000 years ago. There are several finds to account for in Europe by about this time, and one from northwest Africa. The very large jawbone found near Heidelberg in Germany is doubtless even earlier than Peking man.
The beds where it was found are of second alpine glacial times, and recently some tools have been said to have come from the same beds. There is not much I need tell you about the Heidelberg jaw save that it seems certainly to have belonged to an early man, and that it is very big.

Another find in Germany was made at Steinheim. It consists of the fragmentary skull of a man. It is very important because of its relative completeness, but it has not yet been fully studied. The bone is thick, but the back of the head is neither very low nor primitive, and the face is also not primitive. The forehead does, however, have big ridges over the eyes. The more fragmentary skull from Swanscombe in England has been much more carefully studied. Only the top and back of that skull have been found. Since the skull rounds up nicely, it has been assumed that the face and forehead must have been quite “modern.” Careful comparison with Steinheim shows that this was not necessarily so. This is important because it bears on the question of how early truly “modern” man appeared.
Recently two fragmentary jaws were found at Ternafine in Algeria, northwest Africa. They look like the jaws of Peking man. Tools were found with them. Since no jaws have yet been found at Steinheim or Swanscombe, but the time is the same, one wonders if these people had jaws like those of Ternafine.

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