On June 24, a large-scale protective excavation was launched on the Peking man site at Zhoukoudian, which is famous for its human fossils discovered - the skull cap of the Peking man. This is the first large-scale protective excavation in 72 years since 1937 when excavation work stopped.
An area of 20 square meters will be excavated
Gao Xing, deputy director of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, said that the area to be excavated this time is the western section of the "ape man cave," the primary place on the Peking man site. The excavation area approved by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage is about 20 square meters.
Gao Xing believes that there will be abundant scientific information in this excavation and it is possible for archeologists to discover some important materials such as animal fossils, stoneware and fire relics. However, "discovering skulls like the Peking man will be at unlikely, and it is not the main purpose of this excavation." According to Gao, the preparations for the excavation had officially started in May. Starting from June, the rescue excavation for the cracked part of the roof will be completed by the end of July. The overall repair and sampling work on the western section will be carried out through August to October, according to the plan.
The ultimate goal is not to discover hominid fossils
The Peking man site is located 50 kilometers southwest of Beijing and is one of the world-famous ape man sites. At 4:00 pm on December 2, 1929, Chinese paleoanthropologist Pei Wenzhong unearthed the first intact Peking man skull cap in the "ape man cave", and thus Zhoukoudian has become a world-famous cradle for ape men.
According to historical documents from the Management Office of the Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian, in the following 10 years, other five intact or basically-intact skull caps of Peking men were successively unearthed, but during the WWII, all these five skull caps mysteriously disappeared and were never found again.
When interviewed by reporters, Gao repeated that the purpose of this protective excavation is to rescue and protect heritage. The excavation is not an active archaeological excavation for academic research purpose, and discovering hominid fossils is not the ultimate goal of this excavation.
Reporters learned that because of long-term erosion and weathering by natural forces cavities, cracks and dangerous rocks have appeared in the "ape man cave," and there are potential hazards such as partial collapses or rock falls. Recently, a bigger risk also appeared. The upper part of the "ape man cave" has cracked lengthways, its bottom has almost become vacant, and the cave might collapse at any time.
Gao said that from the perspective of heritage protection, the status quo is adverse to the classification, correlation, and interpretation of stratified rocks and the long-term storage of precious scientific resources encased in layers of sediment. This is the main reason why this protective excavation was launched.
In addition to the protective excavation to eliminate potential hazards, the scientific research personnel will also carry out observation, sampling, analysis, and testing on layers of sediment, so as to further determine the site's age and human living environment, and thus lay a solid foundation for scientific research on the site. Meanwhile, the protective excavation will improve the site's appearance, place clearer marks, and restore the original stratigraphic sequence in accordance with samples, in a bid to enhance the site's exhibition and science popularization standards.
The Zhoukoudian site was officially added to the "World Heritage List" in December 1987 by the UNESCO. Up to now, 27 excavation sites of ancient human, culture and vertebrate fossils have been discovered, including the world-famous the skull cap of the Peking man.
By People's Daily Online