Dragon Bone Hill: An Ice-Age Saga of Homo Erectus

Dragon Bone Hill: An Ice-Age Saga of Homo Erectus

Dragon Bone Hill: An Ice-Age Saga of Homo Erectus

Dragon Bone Hill: An Ice-Age Saga of Homo Erectus

Synopsis

"Peking Man," a cave man once thought a great hunter who had first tamed fire, actually was a composite of the gnawed remains of some fifty women, children, and men unfortunate enough to have been the prey of the giant cave hyena. Researching the famous fossil site of Dragon Bone Hill in China, scientists Noel T. Boaz and Russell L. Ciochon retell the story of the cave's unique species of early human,Homo erectus.
Boaz and Ciochon take readers on a gripping scientific odyssey. New evidence shows thatHomo erectuswas an opportunist who rode a tide of environmental change out Africa and into Eurasia, puddle-jumping from one gene pool to the next. Armed with a shaky hold on fire and some sharp rocks,Homo erectusincredibly survived for over 1.5 million years, much longer than our own speciesHomo sapienshas been on Earth. Tell-tale marks on fossil bones show that the lives of these early humans were brutal, ruled by hunger and who could strike the hardest blow, yet there are fleeting glimpses of human compassion as well. The small brain ofHomo erectusand its strangely unchanging culture indicate that the species could not talk. Part of that primitive culture included ritualized aggression, to which the extremely thick skulls ofHomo erectusbear mute witness.
Both a vivid recreation of the unimagined way of life of a prehistoric species, so similar yet so unlike us, and a fascinating exposition of how modern multidisciplinary research can test hypotheses in human evolution,Dragon Bone Hillis science writing at its best.

Excerpt

The coauthors of this book met in 1973 while they were both graduate students in paleoanthropology at F. Clark Howell’s laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley. Although much of the lab’s focus was then on Africa and Howell’s Omo Research Expedition to Ethiopia, China was beginning to open up to renewed international paleoanthropological research. Howell was a member of the paleoanthropology delegation from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences to the People’s Republic of China in 1975 and came back with news of great research possibilities. Ciochon was soon after to begin his own research projects in Asia, beginning with Burma in 1977, and extending over the next 25 years to India, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia. Boaz, on the other hand, continued his paleoanthropological research in Africa, working in Ethiopia, Libya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. About ten years ago, however, their interests began to converge on the site of Zhoukoudian, also known as “Dragon Bone Hill” (“Longgushan” in Chinese). In 1993 Boaz met Professor Xiangqing Shao, a visiting physical anthropologist from Fudan University in Shanghai, China, in a graduate seminar he was teaching at George Washington University. Shao interested Boaz in renewed field research at Zhoukoudian, and after they had exchanged several letters with the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing (IVPP), a joint research project began to take form. The ensuing agreement enabled the international and multi-institutional research on the Dragon Bone Hill site that Boaz and Ciochon have undertaken with Chinese colleagues, and which forms the basis of this volume. Professor Shao later also assisted Professor Alison Brooks of George Washington University in setting up an archaeological field school at Zhoukoudian before his untimely death . . .

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