Scientific work at the Zhoukoudian Peking Man Site in China lays 42 km south-west of Beijing, is still underway. So far, it has led to the discovery of the remains of Sinanthropus pekinensis, who lived in the Middle Pleistocene, along with various objects, and remains of Homo sapiens sapiens dating as far back as 18,000–11,000 B.C. The site is not only an exceptional reminder of the prehistorical human societies of the Asian continent, but also illustrates the process of evolution.
Peking Man Site at ZhoukoudianThe site at Choukoutien (today Zhoukoudian), located 42 km south-west of Peking (Beijing), was explored as early as 1921 by the Swedish geologist J. G. Anderson. The discovery in the sediment of a cave of hominid teeth and then, in 1926, of a whole skull by the Chinese archaeologist Pei Wen Chung (Pei Wen Zhong) excited universal interest, to which the works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin contributed notably. The chronology of the beginnings of human history generally accepted until then was overthrown by this discovery, since Sinanthropus pekinensis, or Homo erectus pekinensis, lived in the Middle Pleistocene epoch, 700,000-200,000 years before modern times, had mastered fire, and used a number of chipped stone tools.
Successive excavations in and around the cave brought to light a great number of incomplete human bones which, after anthropological study, were shown to belong to 40 different individuals. Some 100,000 objects, essentially rather rough chipped stone tools, numerous traces of domestic hearths, heat-affected stones, burnt bones, ash deposits, etc., as well as fossilized grains, were found. Not far from the main site, a second cave was found to contain remains of Homo sapiens sapiens, dated back to between 18,000 and 11,000 BC, together with a large quantity of other material: necklaces made with teeth, pierced shells and pebbles, bone needles, etc.
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Unfortunately the Sino-Japanese conflict, which began in 1937, interrupted the excavations with the most disastrous consequences: the remains of Sinanthropus pekinensis discovered prior to this date were dispersed or lost. Only the casts exhibited in the site museum and some isolated fragments preserved in Sweden remain to this day.
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Excavations undertaken after the war by archaeologists from the People's Republic of China have in part compensated for these losses through the discovery of a full jaw (1959) and several elements of cranium (1966). At the same time, other discoveries within China revealed hominids contemporary with Peking Man or older: Lantian Man, found in 1963-64 in Chansi (Shaanxi) Province; and Yuanmou Man, found in 1965 in Yunnan Province. Indeed, the Zhoukoudian site bears witness to the human communities of the Asian continent from the Middle Pleistocene to the Palaeolithic, and more generally illustrates the process of hominization that can only be fully apprehended on a worldwide scale and with the help of numerous examples.