The American Missing Link Expedition Goes on a Wild Dragon Hunt into the Gobi

Paleontologist Walter Granger of the American Museum of Natural History had been in on Andersson and Zdansky's discovery of the Longgushan site in 1921. News of this discovery was added to Granger's report back to New York to museum director and paleontological czar, Henry Fairfield Osborn. Osborn, friend of Teddy Roosevelt and president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, sat in his large leather chair behind his massive desk in one of the four towers of the castellated edifice that he had done so much to build, and pondered China. Such was Osborn's power in international scientific circles that it never occurred to him that even if he decided that he wanted Longgushan, he could not have it. A "missing link expedition" through China to the Gobi Desert would ultimately result.

Osborn's calculations involved many factors. Was there a strong scientific presence there already? No. Andersson was only an economic geologist who needed Wiman and Zdansky to identify his fossils. Even if Andersson felt some ownership of the site, thought Osborn, he was not going to be able to investigate it himself. Osborn knew from his contacts in Europe that Zdansky did not like Andersson and did not want to return to China. Zdansky was also in line for a job at the University of Cairo in Egypt, which he eventually took. No, Zdansky would not stand in his way.

What was the museological value of an excavation at Longgushan? Immense, thought Osborn. There was tremendous interest among the public in the evolutionary link between man and the lower primates, and if Osborn could put such a fossil on display in his museum, the public would flock to it. Osborn had himself predicted Asia would be the place to find such ancestors. And he had the world's foremost array of technicians, scientific artists, and associate scientists to collaborate in the ensuing publications.

Was it feasible? Osborn had done the bold and unthinkable before. Desiring missing links and complete skeletons to fill his hall of elephants, he had dispatched well-equipped teams from New York to the fossil badlands of the American West. No expense had been spared, and the skeletons had been found, studied, mounted, published, and finally exhibited—to universal acclaim. Mounting an expedition to Asia to find the human missing link would be even more challenging. Could he do it? Osborn decided that he could, and the Central Asiatic Expedition, perhaps the most lav ishly funded and massively organized effort ever mounted to find fossil hominids, was born. The expedition began its work during the summer of 1922, with Osborn's handpicked successor, Roy Chapman Andrews, in charge. Osborn intended the discovery of ancient human ancestors in Asia to be his swan song, the most dramatic culmination of an impressive career. J. Gunnar Andersson, however, had other ideas.

After receiving Wiman's letter with Zdansky's news about the two homi-nid teeth from Longgushan, Andersson starting making his own endgame plans to discover early hominids in China. He drew on a number of resources unknown and unavailable to Henry Fairfield Osborn. First of all, Andersson was setting the stage for his own departure from China. He had long ago made a contract with the Chinese government to share fossil and archaeological collections between China and a new museum that he was planning back in Stockholm, the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities. Andersson had been quietly and systematically collecting for this purpose for 15 years in his extensive travels around China, and he was to be founding director of the new museum.

Over the years Andersson had built a reputation as a trustworthy and honorable man in his dealings with both the Chinese and Westerners in China. His knowledge of the country, its sites, and its people was virtually unparalleled. Andersson was in a position to know where and with whom to throw his lot. With the exception of Granger, Osborn's people were new to China and were at a distinct disadvantage in knowing the lay of the land.

Andersson was also not quite the simple economic geologist that Osborn and perhaps others imagined. Behind Andersson's work in China was substantial financial backing. An influential benefactor back in Sweden, industrialist Dr. Axel Lagrelius, had set up and endowed a foundation called the Swedish China Research Committee. Lagrelius was a friend of the crown prince of Sweden (later King Gustavus VI), who agreed to serve as Chairman of the Swedish China Research Committee. It had been funds from this source that had paid the salaries of the Longgushan excavators and Zdansky, paid for the shipments of fossils from China, and helped pay for ongoing expenses at Wiman's laboratory.

As luck would have it, the crown prince was to arrive in Beijing on an around-the-world tour in October 1926. Dr. Lagrelius traveled to Beijing to be there when the prince arrived. Andersson found himself in charge of arranging events for the prince's "archaeological and art studies." By the time the prince arrived, Andersson and Lagrelius had laid careful plans and skillfully engineered a scientific meeting and social event so influential that it was to block any hopes Osborn may have had for his Central Asiatic Expedition ever excavating at Longgushan. The meeting would launch the name of "Peking Man" and set in motion the series of hominid discoveries for which the site near Zhoukoudian would become world famous. It also represented a cementing of scientific alliances across international boundaries and brought into Andersson's circle the influential and American-funded Peking Union Medical College. Osborn's grand vision disappeared in a cloud of Gobi Desert dust, as his expedition toiled hundreds of miles and millions of years distant from the true early hominids of ancient China.

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