First Class Man to Carry on the Work at Zhoukoudian

The loss of Davidson Black, the charismatic leader of the Zhoukoudian research effort, could have spelled the end of the excavations. But such was the loyalty of those with whom he had worked and such was the productivity of the Zhoukoudian site that work was continued. The Rockefeller Foundation, for which hominid evolution has never been a major focus, continued to fund the excavations, probably out of loyalty to Black and his integration of the research with the medical school. And just as importantly, the foundation funded the position of anatomist to study and describe the fossil hominids that were still being discovered. But the search for a scientist who could fill the shoes of Davidson Black would be difficult. His was indeed a hard act to follow.

Immediately after Black's death his long-time friend and colleague, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, temporarily took over the work at Zhoukoudian. In a letter to Walter Granger of the American Museum of Natural History on March 19, 1934, four days after Black's death, he wrote, "I have lost more than a brother. And the scientific work, in China, is deprived of half its soul."37 Teilhard worried about where "an anthropologist of Black's standard" might be found to replace him. It must be a "first class man," and he asked Granger for suggestions. Teilhard started the Zhoukoudian excavations with Pei the next month.

Germany was one of the most active seats of physical anthropological and anatomical research in the early part of the twentieth century. In the 1930s the country was also in economic and political turmoil, with many of its most prominent professionals fleeing the antiintellectual and ethnic persecutions of the National Socialists. These two factors—German eminence in the anatomical sciences and mass emigration to escape Nazi control—united to supply one of the most prominent German researchers, Professor Franz Weidenreich of the University of Frankfurt-am-Main, to be Black's replacement. William King Gregory, curator of anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History and Granger's associate, was mentioned in Teilhard's letter of entreaty from Beijing. This accomplished anatomist and sometime protégé of museum director Osborn may have played a part in bringing Weidenreich and Zhoukoudian together. A few blocks away, in midtown Manhattan, the China Medical Board of the Rockefeller Foundation was forming a committee to replace Davidson Black.

In April 1933 Germany's National Socialist government of Adolf Hitler, assuming broad police powers, dismissed all Jews from university posts. Weidenreich, who was a full professor of anatomy and who was also ethnically Jewish,38 found himself suddenly dispossessed of his professorship and his country. One can only imagine his bitterness. He was 60 years old and had contributed a full career of academic, medical, and political leadership to Germany. But Germany's loss was world science's gain. In 1934 he left, never to return, to accept a visiting professorship at the University of Chicago. His exposure to American colleagues brought him to the attention of the Rockefeller Foundation. In 1935 the foundation named him visiting professor of anatomy at its medical school in Beijing and honorary director of the Cenozoic Research Laboratory, the posts left vacant by Davidson Black.

Davidson Black never met Franz Weidenreich, a contemporary nine years older than he. The closest they came to meeting was in 1914, on the eve of World War I, when Black was studying neurology and fossil brain endocasts with Dr. Ariens Kappers in Amsterdam, and Franz Weidenreich was in Alsace-Lorraine as professor of anatomy at the University of Strassburg. Weidenreich had received his M.D. from Strassburg in 1899, writing his dissertation on the cerebellum of living mammals. He then advanced through the academic ranks under the tutelage of his professor, the legendary Gustav Schwalbe.39 When Schwalbe retired in 1904 the young Weidenreich was named to replace him as professor of anatomy at Strassburg. He spent the next ten years building a solid body of research on blood cells, skeletal tissue, overall skeletal form, and human evolution, studying and describ-

Franz Weidenreich
Franz Weidenreich at Dragon Bone Hill on November 16, 1936. This photograph was taken during a visit to the excavation in November 1936, after the recovery of Skull X.

ing a number of European fossil hominids. But the onset of World War I caused upheaval in Weidenreich's professional and personal lives, and he became active in politics. An ardent German, he dropped scientific work for a number of years, became president of the Democratic party of Alsace-Lorraine, and served as a member of the Municipal Council of Strassburg from 1914 to 1918. When France was victorious in 1918 and took over Alsace-Lorraine, Weidenreich was relieved of his university post and he and his family fled into Germany. It took three years for Weidenreich to regain an academic position, this time at the University of Heidelberg. Heidelberg was the home of a famous hominid fossil, "the Heidelberg Jaw," found in 1907 in a gravel deposit at Mauer and for many years Europe's geologically oldest human fossil. A study that he published in 1926 on a Neandertal fossil skull from Weimar-Ehringsdorf, near Goethe's former haunts, brought him recognition in Frankfurt, the city most associated with Germany's great poet and naturalist. Weidenreich was offered the professorship of anatomy at Frankfurt and moved there in 1928. It was while he was at Frankfurt that Weidenreich first read of Davidson Black's discoveries in China. He quickly appreciated the similarities between the Zhoukoudian discoveries and such specimens as Pithecanthropus from Java and the Mauer mandible.40

Franz Weidenreich was described by William King Gregory as "the flower of German civilization and true culture." But in 1934 he made a total break with his homeland, refusing even to publish in German. After 1935 every one of his 48 papers and books was in English, whereas 143 of his 144 publications before 1935 were written in German. Weidenreich was able to get his wife, Mathilde, and one daughter out of Germany and to China with him, but his two other daughters and Mathilde's mother were sent to concentration camps. While he focused on the ancient hominids from Zhoukoudian in his work, a pall hung over Weidenreich's personal life. He worked for years to gain release of his family from Germany, and he eventually did succeed in reuniting with his daughters years later in the United States. Tragically, his mother-in-law died at the hands of the Nazis, and one of his sons-in-law was shot.41

Franz Weidenreich arrived in Beijing in April 1935, thirteen months after Davidson Black had succumbed at his workbench. The 1935 excavation season had already begun. Pei and excavation chief Lanpo Jia were competently running what had become a well-tuned machine, discovering new fossils of all types of mammals, including hominids, at a good clip.42 Teilhard and his paleontological colleagues worldwide were in the wings, working to ensure that whatever was found at the cave would be immediately interpreted in light of the most current paleontological knowledge. Black's support staff at Peking Union Medical School were all still in place. Weidenreich just had to walk in and assume Black's role of

Excavation Grid

View of the excavation in the spring of 1935, looking toward the southeast. The village of Zhoukoudian is in the background. The roof of Pigeon Hall Cave is just visible in the upper left corner under the plank walkway. The number "58" in the center of the photograph indicates that this was serial field day 58 of the 1935 field season. Records show that excavators were working in Level 11 of Layer 8/9. The grid system of one-meter squares can be seen painted on the walls. Blocks of 4 square meters each were excavated at a time.

View of the excavation in the spring of 1935, looking toward the southeast. The village of Zhoukoudian is in the background. The roof of Pigeon Hall Cave is just visible in the upper left corner under the plank walkway. The number "58" in the center of the photograph indicates that this was serial field day 58 of the 1935 field season. Records show that excavators were working in Level 11 of Layer 8/9. The grid system of one-meter squares can be seen painted on the walls. Blocks of 4 square meters each were excavated at a time.

paleoanthropologist and interpreter of the hominids. At this he was to prove masterful.

The 1935 field season at Zhoukoudian was very productive. More of Sinanthropus Skull V had been discovered by Jia.43 Teilhard, who had been posted back to France for three months, relayed from Paris on July 25 that "Weidenreich is acting in a wonderful way: quiet and positive. Yet, we miss terribly Davy [Davidson Black]."44

Excavations, again funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, were resumed at Zhoukoudian in spring 1936. The digging was halted during the heat of the summer but resumed in September, this time for the last time. Three new hominid partial skulls (Skulls X, XI and XII) were discovered along with isolated teeth, again by Jia.45 Guerrilla fighting broke out in the Western Hills, where Zhoukoudian was located, and the work at Zhoukoudian had to be abandoned.

Much of Weidenreich's job in China was not the discovery of new fossils at Zhoukoudian, but the study, detailed anatomical description, and interpretation of all the riches that had been found since the 1932 jaw, the

Homo Erectus China 1928

Top: Chief Excavator Lanpo Jia in Locality 1 cleaning the third of the Homo erectus skulls (Skull XII) that his team discovered in November 1936. This area (Square I, 2) and stratum (Layer 8/9, Level 25) is part of Locus L, which yielded a total of four hominid individuals. Bottom: A side view of Skull XII, likely an adult male (photograph of a firstgeneration cast).

last specimen described by Black. Teilhard, the tireless correspondent, wrote from Beijing in early 1936 that "Weidenreich is studying perfectly the old and new material of Sinanthropus, and reaches many new, well based, conclusions concerning the exceptionally primitive characters of the form."46 But time was running out.

The demise of the Cenozoic Research Laboratory, one of Black's last anguished worries, finally occurred in December 1941 with the capture of Beijing by the Japanese army.47 Franz and Mathilde Weidenreich had left Beijing in April, taking with them plaster casts of the Zhoukoudian specimens and Weidenreich's copious anatomical notes on the original specimens. They went to New York where Weidenreich was given a visiting (unsalaried) appointment at the American Museum of Natural History through Gregory's enthusiastic intervention. Henry Fairfield Osborn had died in 1936, but he would have been gleeful that his museum eventually received the describer of the hominid fossils from Zhoukoudian, the cave site from which J. Gunnar Andersson had so adroitly outmaneuvered the American Museum team years before.

It was in New York between 1941 and 1948 that Weidenreich completed his series of monographs on the Zhoukoudian hominids, securing for them a place in human evolutionary interpretation. Weidenreich became the interpreter of one of the most compelling epics in human evolution.

By the middle of the twentieth century, Peking Man was a household phrase worldwide. But though Weidenreich did a masterful job of spreading the fame and enshrining the memory of Peking Man, he was unable to ensure the curation of the physical remains of the actual hominid fossils from Longgushan Cave. When the director of the Chinese Geological Survey wrote in 1941 from the provisional capital of Chungking (Chongqing) to ask Weidenreich, who was still in Japanese-occupied Beijing, to take the fossils with him to New York, Weidenreich was forced to decline. The president of Peking Union Medical College, Henry Houghton, had decided not only that it was time for Dr. Weidenreich to leave China48 but that he was not to take the Peking fossils with him.49 When Weidenreich departed Beijing, leaving the priceless fossils in their storeroom at Peking Union Medical College, it would be the last he ever saw of them. Houghton had made a fateful decision.


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