West of Beijing)
Peking Man Site & Museum (
Zhoukoudian Village, Fangshan (daily ; ¥30; bus #917 from Tianqiao near the Temple of Heaven).
Locals have known about the collection of bones found on this craggy hillside 30 miles southwest of Beijing for a long time, hence the Chinese name, Longgu Shan, or Dragon Bone Hill. The Swedish explorer Johann Gunnar Andersson was the first to document the area, but it wasn’t until Chinese anthropologist Pei Wenzhong’s discovery of a complete skull in 1929 that Zhoukoudian really hit the headlines.
This was a time when the theory of evolution was being fiercely contested by creationists and sinanthropus pekinensis with his stout frame and broad facial features seemed to offer definitive proof that man evolved from the ape. Peking Man, as the find became known, was actually some 40 individuals who lived in 20 caves dotted about the hillside between 700,000 and 500,000 years ago.
It became clear that they had mastered fire, hunted large animals in groups, but that they had only basic tools and a limited capacity for verbal communication.
However, only a few years after the discovery, the Japanese invasion in 1937 put a stop to excavations and, unbelievably, the five skulls and 147 teeth found were lost somewhere along the way! Although some partial skull casts remain and there are a few interesting bits and pieces in the museum such as a model of Peking Man and a sabertooth tiger skull (all of which are clearly labeled in English), subsequent excavations have unearthed nothing that matches the 1929 finds.
Thus, while Zhoukoudian is UNESCO World Heritage listed and one of the most important anthropological sites on the planet, its story is better than the reality and is only really of interest to anthropology buffs. One can only hope that the villagers, who used to drink the ground “dragon’s” bones in medicinal teas, haven’t slurped the last relics of Beijing’s earliest inhabitants!
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