Suspicions of Hominids at Longgushan and Their Discovery

One of the foreign scientists remained, however. The stubborn young Austrian, Otto Zdansky, continued working at Longgushan for another four months, until the end of the summer of1921. He worked on the baking hot limestone cliff face with his field laborers extracting bones, cleaning off the adhering sediment, gluing broken pieces back together, putting plaster jackets on the larger pieces, and recording everything. When Zdansky finished his work at Zhoukoudian, the fossils he had collected were shipped via Beijing to the laboratory of Professor Wiman in Uppsala. Meanwhile, he went off to Henan Province to undertake the main task for which Andersson had brought him to China—to excavate three-toed horses.

Zdansky advanced several reasons to Andersson for leaving the work at Zhoukoudian. From a purely paleontological standpoint, the fossil specimens at the site were fragmentary and not extremely well-preserved. The sediments enclosing the fossil bones were very hard, and they tended to break along lines that fragmented the fossils. Finally, as Zdansky and his workers had quarried into the cliff face, an overhang had formed, looming dangerously over their heads. Andersson acquiesced, and Zdansky moved on to his next challenge, in southern China.

Andersson did not forget about Zhoukoudian. On one of his visits to check up on Zdansky during the summer of 1921 he had paid particular attention to angular pieces of quartz that were associated with fossil bones and that were found in two layers of the deposit. One of Andersson's abiding interests in China was archaeology, and he immediately seized on these quartz flakes as possible stone tools of fossil hominids. Zdansky pointed out that there were plenty of quartz veins within the limestone from which the fragments could have naturally derived. Andersson had to admit that natural erosion from the roof or walls of the cave was "the most probable, or at any rate the least sensational, interpretation of the occurrence of the flakes of quartz."13 But not to be dissuaded, he postulated that the earliest hominids, before they actually fashioned stone tools, picked up naturally occurring stone and wood for tools. One day at the site, Andersson knocked on the side of the limestone wall and prophesied, "I have a feeling that there lie here the remains of one of our ancestors and it is only a question of your finding him. Take your time and stick to it till the cave is emptied, if need be." But the quest for early hominids was Andersson's fascination, not Zdansky's, and as we have seen, Zdansky had advanced good reasons for discontinuing the work at Longgushan.

In the summer of 1923, after Zdansky had had considerable success in excavating the Hipparion sites and in discovering numerous other paleontological riches (he later had new species of a sauropod dinosaur and a fish named after him), Andersson succeeded in persuading him to return to Longgushan. The year before, Zdansky had constructed scaffolding and skillfully extricated a huge block of mammal fossils from a vertical cliff wall in Kansu Province, and thus he could no longer use this excuse for refusing to return to Zhoukoudian. Zdansky is reported to have said, "I wasn't interested in what Andersson wanted. I wanted only the fauna of the cave."14 He undoubtedly went back to the site he termed Zhoukoudian because he wanted to bolster the research paper that he would write about its paleontology, but Zdansky also had a secret that he knew made the site immensely more important.

Some time late in the summer of1921 Otto Zdansky discovered a single molar tooth of what he identified in the field as an "anthropoid ape." He recognized it as the long-sought-after hominid but, remarkably, he did not tell Andersson. Speaking to journalist John Reader 57 years later in Uppsala, Sweden, Zdansky said, "I recognized it at once, but I said nothing. You see hominid material is always in the limelight and I was afraid that if it came out there would be such a stir, and I would be forced to hand over material I had a promise to publish."15 Reader also reported that Zdansky harbored ill will toward Andersson after an initial argument the two had had soon after Zdansky's arrival in China. In 1923 Zdansky sailed for Sweden, taking the fossils from Longgushan, and the newly discovered hominid tooth, with him. Andersson was not to know of the discovery until 1926. Back at Professor Carl Wiman's laboratory at the University of Uppsala, Zdansky had time to clean, catalog, and study the fossils he and his excavators had extracted from Longgushan. He could mull over his hominid molar and carefully frame and articulate his conclusions.

Finding only one specimen of a previously unknown species is always a quandary for a paleontologist. The questions abound. Is it really a record of a new species, or could it be something else, say a fragment of another animal species just masquerading as a new species? Or could it be a skeletal element from a later time that somehow became incorporated into the fossil deposit? This was not an unreasonable thought for a potentially human fossil that could have been buried by human hands much later than the other fossils had been deposited. Even if it was a higher primate molar tooth, how sure was he that it was not some kind of ape or monkey? Zdansky was cautious. He was a young and inexperienced Ph.D., just starting out, and he knew that whatever he said about the fossil anthropoid molar, actually a very minor part of the overall Longgushan fossil assemblage, might well overshadow all his other work.

Two discoveries that Zdansky made in the laboratory in Uppsala helped him make a decision. First, he discovered among the many isolated teeth from the excavations a few isolated teeth of a previously unknown fossil monkey, a macaque. The hominoid (that is, apelike or human) molar looked nothing like the monkey teeth. Then, some time in 1924 or 1925, he found a second fossil hominoid tooth—a premolar. The premolar had a low and flattened crown like a human, and very unlike an ape. With two fossil teeth now in hand, and a clear argument that they did not represent a previously unknown monkey or ape species, Zdansky felt confident in reporting to Professor Wiman that he had a fossil hominid among the Longgushan fossils. Still, he downplayed their importance, referring them

Otto Zdansky

The first two hominid teeth found by Otto Zdansky at Longgushan in 1921—1923 were informally termed "Homo pekinesis" by Davidson Black, and popularly dubbed "Peking Man." They are shown together with a third tooth found later among the Longgushan faunal collections housed in Sweden. All of the collections made by Zdansky at Longgushan from 1921 to 1923 still reside at the Paleontological Institute at Uppsala.

The first two hominid teeth found by Otto Zdansky at Longgushan in 1921—1923 were informally termed "Homo pekinesis" by Davidson Black, and popularly dubbed "Peking Man." They are shown together with a third tooth found later among the Longgushan faunal collections housed in Sweden. All of the collections made by Zdansky at Longgushan from 1921 to 1923 still reside at the Paleontological Institute at Uppsala.

to the conservative (and, by the way, still accurate) taxonomic category of "Homo sp. ?"16

J. Gunnar Andersson received the new information about the discovery of hominids at Longgushan, not by Zdansky but by his professor, Carl Wiman, in a letter sent in mid-1926 from Uppsala to Beijing. Andersson had requested from Wiman an update on the paleontological collections that had been sent back to Sweden for identification. Amazing discoveries had been made—a new Chinese dinosaur, unusual fossil giraffes, and a unique species of long-snouted, three-toed horse. But Andersson honed in on Zdansky's report on the small and fragmentary teeth from Longgushan, exclaiming excitedly, "So the hominid expected by me was found."17 An-dersson had been kept in the dark for five years by Zdansky's secrecy.

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