Man, Time, and Fossils: The Story of Evolution

By Ruth Moore | Go to book overview

XIV
BLACK AND WEIDENREICH CHINA: THE DISCOVERY AND DISAPPEARANCE OF PEKING MAN

NOT FAR FROM PEKING is Chicken-bone Hill, and not far from Chicken-bone Hill lies low-rounded Dragon-bone Hill. The names of the hills held a clue to what might be hidden beneath their unrevealing surfaces, for traditionally the Chinese have called fossils chicken bones and dragon bones. And the proximity of the hills was important. It led scientists to one of the major discoveries that have thrown new light on the history of man.

Dr. J. G. Andersson, a Swedish geologist who went to Peking in 1914 as a mining adviser to the Chinese government, was one of the first to become interested in the fossil wealth of China. Up to that time, the Chinese had valued the ancient bones only for medicinal purposes.1

When Andersson and the Chinese Geological Survey began a systematic study of Chinese paleontology, they at first encountered little sympathy. The Chinese wanted no disturbance of the feng-shui, the spirits of the earth, wind, and water who

____________________
1
Dr. Robert Broom, whose fossil finds in South Africa were to form another landmark, made this comment on the use of "dragon bones" for medicine: "The Chinese, as is well known, use fossil teeth as one of their principal medicines. Some western highbrows are inclined to sneer at the Chinaman's drugs, and say 'What virtue can there be in ground-up fossil teeth? The Chinaman might reply that it never does any harm; which is more than can be said of some of the drugs in the British Pharmacopœia." Some Chinese families have for centuries been in the business of "mining" fossils to supply the drug trade.

-256-

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