Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian
Scientific work at the site, which lies 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.
Outstanding Universal Value
Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian is a Pleistocene hominid site on the North China Plain. This site lies about 42 km south-west of Beijing and is at the juncture of the North China Plain and the Yanshan Mountains. Adequate water supplies and natural limestone caves in this area provided an optimal survival environment for early humans. Scientific work at the site is still under way. So far, ancient human fossils, cultural remains and animal fossils from 23 localities within the property dating from 5 million years ago to 10,000 years ago have been discovered by scientists. These include the remains of Homo erectus pekinensis, who lived in the Middle Pleistocene (700,000 to 200,000 years ago), archaic Homo sapiens of about 200,000–100,000 years ago and Homo sapiens sapiens dating back to 30,000 years ago. At the same time, fossils of hundreds of animal species, over 100,000 pieces of stone tools and evidence (including hearths, ash deposits and burnt bones) of Peking Man using fire have been discovered.
As the site of significant hominid remains discovered in the Asian continent demonstrating an evolutionary cultural sequence, Zhoukoudian is of major importance within the worldwide context. It is not only an exceptional reminder of the prehistoric human societies of the Asian continent, but also illustrates the process of human evolution, and is of significant value in the research and reconstruction of early human history.
Criterion (iii): The Zhoukoudian site bears witness to the human communities of the Asian continent from the Middle Pleistocene Period to the Palaeolithic, illustrating the process of evolution.
Criterion (vi): The discovery of hominid remains at Zhoukoudian and subsequent research in the 1920s and ‘30s excited universal interest, overthrowing the chronology of Man’s history that had been generally accepted up to that time. The excavations and scientific work at the Zhoukoudian site are thus of significant value in the history of world archaeology, and have played an important role in the world history of science.
All elements necessary to express the values of the Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian are included within the boundary of the property. The localities of where the ancient human fossils were found, the living environments of ancient humans, as well as the scientific excavation and research process during the 1920s and 1930s have all been integrally preserved, and accurately reveal the significant scientific value of the property. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937 interrupted the excavations and led to disastrous consequences: fossil remains of Sinanthropus Pekinensis discovered previously were disassembled or lost. After the war, some human fossils unearthed through new excavations have partially compensated for these losses and Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian still retains its scientific value.
Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian bears historic evidence of human evolution, maintains and passes on its authentic historic information, and promotes the research on the origins of early humans. The fossil localities and the setting of the site have been effectively protected. The conservation projects for the site have strictly followed the principles for cultural heritage conservation in terms of design, material, methods and technology.
Protection and management requirements
Based on laws and regulations including the Law of People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Cultural Relics, in order to protect the property, the Beijing People’s Municipal Government promulgated the Regulations for the Conservation of the Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian in Beijing in 1989; revised in 2009 as the Regulations for the Conservation of Zhoukoudian Site. Activities that may damage the value of the site such as mining and kiln firing are prohibited.
Owing to the formulation and updated revisions and improvements of the scientific Conservation Plan of the Zhoukoudian Site (completed in 2006), the property is in an excellent state of conservation. According to the Plan, the property area has been defined as 4.8 km2 and the buffer zone has been established. Meanwhile, a series of conservation projects have been carried out at the property. The laws, regulations and plans provide the policy guarantee for the scientific conservation and management of the property.
The 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.
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.
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.Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC