The Fortuity of Dragons Longgushan and Traditional Chinese Medicine

A mysterious affinity exists between the ancient dragons of Chinese myth and the fossilized remains of extinct animals. This association was discovered by accident. In 1899 the German naturalist K. A. Haberer traveled to China to explore the natural history of the western parts of the country, but was forced by the Boxer Rebellion to stay on the Chinese coast. In Shanghai, Beijing, and other cities he discovered that Chinese apothecary

Top: Dragon Bone Hill ("Longgushan") is located 50 kilometers southwest of Beijing, near the town of Zhoukoudian. Located strategically at the point where the Western Hills meet the North Chinese Plain and near the Zhoukou River, Longgushan offered shelter, nearby water, and a vantage point for prey for Pleistocene carnivores, and at times, Homo erectus. Middle: The location of ancient dragon bone quarrying was on the northeastern slope of Dragon Bone Hill, but when the site was rediscovered (and renamed "Locality 1") by scientists, excavation began on the northern slope of the hill. Bottom: A plan view of Locality 1 with a history of the excavations. The first excavation by Otto Zdansky was in 1921 above what was later named the "Lower Cave" and at the entrance to the site used by visitors today. The last excavation was completed in 1980 under the direction Lanpo Jia. Pigeon Hall Cave ("Gezitang" in Chinese) was originally dug out by generations of dragon bone quarriers. Dragon Bone Hill was designated a United Nations World Heritage site in 1987.

shops sold vertebrate fossils under the names of "long gu" ("dragon bones") and "long ya" ("dragon teeth"). Traditional Chinese believe that the fossilized bones are the remains of dragons—mythical animals associated with rain, clouds, fertility, good fortune, and royal power. Medicine made of ground dragon bones could cure a variety of ills.

Haberer was able to buy quite a few fossils of extinct Chinese animals that, until then, were largely if not entirely unknown to science. Remarkably, included among his collection of "dragon bones" was a molar tooth that was apelike, possibly even human. In 1903 the German anatomist and paleontologist Max Schlosser studied Haberer's collection and published a paper on the finds.2 In addition to confirming that all of Haberer's dragon bones were in fact mammals, he considered the apelike tooth to be a fossil hominid and the first representative of the long-awaited human precursor from mainland Asia. However, as tantalizing as these fossils were, their prov-enance—where they came from or how old they might be—was unknown. Organized, scientific fieldwork in China was needed.

Henry Fairfield Osborn, head of the American Museum of Natural History, friend of presidents, and the leading paleontologist of his day, intended to do something about the paleontological void in the Far East. He founded the Central Asiatic Expedition to China in the early 1920s. While visiting the field in 1923, he saw some Chinese peasants pointing at and obviously discussing him and his field director. Asking for a translation, he learned that the Chinese had referred to them as "American men of the dragon bones." Osborn wrote in 1924, "I was delighted with this Chinese christening. For what purpose were we in Mongolia? . . . to collect the bones of dragons—the dragons which for ages past had ruled the sky, the air, the earth, the waters of the earth, and which even today are believed in implicitly by the Chinese."3 Osborn was so taken with the subject of dragons that he persuaded a colleague to write a book on the subject, to which he penned the introduction.4 But Osborn's grand plan of finding human "dragon bones" in Mongolia was to fail. Because all the sediments that the American Museum team investigated were far too old for homi-nids, the years of work yielded not a single scrap of a human ancestor. In keeping with a "gentleman's agreement" to leave scientific exploration in northern China to a remarkable Swede by the name of J. Gunnar Anders-son,5 the American Museum team never went to Dragon Bone Hill.

J. Gunnar Andersson was an explorer, polymath, and scientist who made his living as an economic geologist. He had been head of the Swedish Geological Survey and before that had explored Antarctica. As part of an international effort to map worldwide geological resources he had been seconded by the Swedish government to work for the Chinese Geological Survey, arriving in China in 1914. Andersson's main assignment was to ex plore the rock units of China in search of economically important resources such as coal, oil, natural gas, and ore-bearing deposits. His publications, however, belie much broader interests. He published observations on Chinese history, archaeological sites, ancient myths, and, most importantly to our story, fossil deposits of paleontological interest. Also an excellent draftsman, he illustrated his books with his own drawings of landscapes and sketches of individuals. When he returned to Sweden in the late 1920s he became the founding director of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, an institution filled with archaeological collections accumulated during his 15 years exploring China (and shared 50—50 with the Chinese government). Andersson was yet another Westerner to come under the spell of the mythical Chinese dragon and its bones. In 1925 he wrote a paper on the archaeological history of Chinese dragons6 and his 1928 memoir of his years in China was entitled The Dragon and the Foreign Devils.7 In his extensive travels around China he paid especial attention to reports of "dragon bones" because, mindful of Haberer's and Schlosser's earlier findings, he knew they could lead to fossil sites.

An American missionary teacher of chemistry in Beijing, J. McGregor Gibb, first told Andersson about some fossil bones that he had seen in the village of Zhoukoudian (then spelled in English as "Choukoutien") in February of1918. Zhoukoudian, only about 50 kilometers southwest of Beijing, was easy to get to because it was right on the railroad line. Gibb had even collected some of the bones and showed them to Andersson. The small fragmented bones were white and fossilized, and they were covered with a red clay that Andersson recognized as a common type of cave sediment in northern China. Andersson, already in China for four years, was excited that this site might actually be one of the sources of the apothecaries' dragon bones.

On March 22 and 23 of1918, the soonest he could arrange it, Andersson visited the village of Zhoukoudian. Locals took him to an outcropping of red clay-like rock standing as an isolated pillar in the middle of an old

Swedish geologist J. Gunnar Andersson worked in China between 1914 and 1926. Following up on a tip by an American chemistry professor, he confirmed the presence of fossil bones near Zhoukoudian in 1918. It was through his continued interest and organizational skills that a program of scientific excavation was begun at Longgushan.

Swedish geologist J. Gunnar Andersson worked in China between 1914 and 1926. Following up on a tip by an American chemistry professor, he confirmed the presence of fossil bones near Zhoukoudian in 1918. It was through his continued interest and organizational skills that a program of scientific excavation was begun at Longgushan.

limestone quarry. Much of the limestone from which the buildings of Beijing were built came from Zhoukoudian quarries such as this. Andersson saw many small bones protruding from the sediment. The translator told him that this place was known as Ji Gu Shan (now written "Chikushan") or "Chicken Bone Hill." Locals took the small bones to be those of animals with which they were familiar—chickens. Andersson, however, recognized most of them to be rodents' bones, and, in one instance, a large mammal bone. He excitedly wrote down the location of the deposit of bones and his observation that the area had potential paleontological importance. He was curious as to why the quarrymen had left the deposit of bones when it would certainly have been less trouble to simply dig through it into the limestone. His question was answered by the villagers: "Once upon a time, more than a hundred years ago, there was a cave here in which lived foxes, which devoured all the chickens in the neighborhood. In the course of time some of these foxes were transformed into evil spirits. One man tried to kill the foxes, but the evil spirits drove him mad."8 Andersson then understood not only why the pillar was left standing, but why the villagers had had no hesitation in showing him and other foreigners the enchanted fossil deposit. But madness or no, Andersson determined to come back to this place.

Back in Beijing, Andersson's other projects intervened, and it was three years later, 1921, before he was finally able to return to Zhoukoudian and Chicken Bone Hill. This time he came with a paleontological assistant who was a recent student of Swedish professor Carl Wiman, named Dr. Otto Zdansky, originally from Vienna. Andersson had brought Zdansky to China mainly to excavate rich deposits of three-toed horses (Hipparion) that he had discovered in Henan Province, and Chicken Bone Hill was to be a practice run. When the eminent American paleontologist, Dr. Walter Granger, the first of Osborn's American Museum team to arrive in China, showed up, Andersson invited him to come along to visit Zdansky in the field. Andersson thought that Granger could give Zdansky some useful tips on the latest American excavation methods.

When Andersson and Granger arrived at Zhoukoudian, Zdansky had set up camp in the local temple and was at work at the site. All three set to work on digging out, preparing, and labeling the fossils coming out of the site. While the three scientists were at Chicken Bone Hill, a man from the town came out to see them. After watching for a while, he said, "There's no use in staying here any longer. Not far from here there is a place where you can collect much larger and better dragons' bones."9 The villagers had probably been thinking of how best to get rid of these foreigners, especially the one camped out long-term in their temple. Information about a valuable dragon bone locality might lure the Westerners away from town. It worked.

The man led Andersson, Zdansky, and Granger north, across the footbridge over the river, out of town, past the railway station, and up into the limestone hills. The villagers watched them go, carrying their excavation equipment with them. About 150 meters above the station they came to an old abandoned quarry, which had also been mined for building stone. It faced northeast, diagonally away from the town. Here the man showed Andersson and his colleagues a fissure in the limestone cliff face filled with fossil bones. Within the hour they had found the jaw of an extinct pig. It was clear that they now had a site with much greater potential than Chicken Bone Hill, and they decided to move operations immediately. Andersson wrote, "That evening we went home with rosy dreams of great discoveries."10 When the man returned and informed the townspeople of Zhoukoudian of the developments, it is more than likely that they were pleased as well.

Early the next morning, Andersson, Zdansky, and Granger walked from the temple to the new site. What they found "exceeded all expectations." They discovered fossil jaws of the extinct giant elk, later to be named Megalotragus pachyosteus; hyenas; bears; and many other fossils. Granger showed Zdansky how to apply supporting plaster jackets to the fossils— the method the Americans had developed to preserve fossils in the field. After one full day at the site, Andersson concluded that Zdansky had weeks of work ahead of him just jacketing, preparing, and recording the fossils. Andersson and Granger planned to take the train back to Beijing the next day.

The new site was initially referred to as "Lao Niu Gou," which translates as "Ravine of Old Niu" (Niu being a surname). When Zdansky published his report,11 he named the site after the nearby town, "Choukoutien" (Zhoukoudian, or "shop on the Zhoukou [River]"), by which name it has gone in scientific circles ever since. But the Chinese call the site "Longgushan"—Dragon Bone Hill. J. Gunnar Andersson and Otto Zdan-sky are given credit for the scientific discovery of the Longgushan fossil site above the village of Zhoukoudian. But, in truth, this deposit of large and hardened "dragon bones" had been known to local Chinese for centuries. The name of the Zhoukoudian townsperson who led the Westerners to their "discovery" has been lost to us.

What went on behind the scenes in Zhoukoudian to set in motion the discovery by Western science of Longgushan has also not been recorded. We may presume that the Zhoukoudian dragon bone diggers, whose occupation passed from father to son, were either willing to transfer operations to another quarry site of which they knew, or simply had their protests drowned out by the townspeople who wanted a solution to the presence of foreign devils in their temple. It is more than likely that the original Zhoukoudian dragon bone diggers saw more potential profit working for the scientific excavators at Zhoukoudian than digging for the bones themselves. Zdansky hired some dozen men to assist him in the excavations.

There was certainly also in Zhoukoudian a sizable number of townspeople who believed that the Westerners had desecrated the temple (now also used as a local school) and should be driven from the land altogether. After all, this had been the feeling of many Chinese people during the so-called Boxer Rebellion of 1899—1900, a popular uprising against foreigners in China brought on by the occupation of Chinese territory for economic gain by German, French, Japanese, and British forces. A similar popular protest would occur during the 1925 Shanghai massacre of Chinese students by foreign policemen. For the traditionalists, it was for the dragon, the protector of the land and bringer of rains, to dispense with the foreigners.

Indeed, the very morning after the initial exciting discoveries at Longgushan, great clouds covered the sky and then unleashed torrential rains. The little Zhoukou River flowing through town overflowed its banks and washed away the bridge, cutting the scientists off from their new site. An-dersson and Granger could not get to the railway station. Andersson relates that he and Granger "were hopelessly flooded in, for the little stream which flows out into the Chou K'ou Tien valley, and which during the preceding days had been an insignificant purling rill, was now a wild foaming mountain stream that nobody dared to cross so long as the cloudbursts continued to hurl new masses of water into the valleys."12 For three days the scientists huddled in the temple, telling stories and drinking, until the rains let up. To escape Zhoukoudian on the fourth day, Andersson and Granger had to wade across the river "almost naked," holding their clothes and shoes above their heads, undoubtedly to the twitters of many townspeople. Some saw in these events the power of the dragon, which had stopped the foreigners in their tracks and had made them retreat igno-miniously from Zhoukoudian.

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