The Kinship of Java Man and Peking Man Recognized

Davidson Black's ideas on Sinanthropus had begun to form as soon as he laid eyes on the first fossil hominid teeth from Longgushan. His initial conception of what the Longgushan hominid would look like was a Piltdownesque modern human skull and ape jaw. But he was not alone in this misconception.

Sir Grafton Elliot Smith was Black's mentor, consistent correspondent, and most ardent supporter in England. Soon after the 1929 skull was found, Black invited Smith to China, and he came the following year. Smith studied the new skull discoveries with Black at his side, and his 1931 paper reviewing the Sinanthropus discoveries from China was an influential endorsement of the Longgushan research from one of the world's most recognized authorities. Smith grappled with the issue of relatedness between the new Chinese fossils and those from Piltdown, on the one hand, and from Java, on the other. He wrote, "Just as the finding of the jaws in 1928 suggested the possibility of some kinship with the Piltdown man, the skull found in 1929 caused opinion to swing in the other direction and suggested a nearer kinship with Pithecanthropus. In 1930, however . . . the braincase was revealed with a curious blend of characters hitherto regarded as distinctive, some of them of Pithecanthropus and others of Eoanthropus [Piltdown]."6 Elliot Smith's own drawings comparing the new Chinese skull and Piltdown are still instructive today, even though we now know that Piltdown was a forgery, a modern Homo sapiens with pathologically thickened skull bones associated with a modified orangutan lower jaw. When Davidson Black died at his work bench among his fossils in 1934, he had recently recognized the inescapable similarity between the skull forms of Sinanthropus and Javan Pithecanthropus, but his opinion on the evolutionary relationships of Sinanthropus was still very similar to that published by Elliot Smith four years earlier.

When Franz Weidenreich came onto the scene, he had a different intellectual background, a different set of assumptions about human evolution, and a growing collection of fossils from which to generate and test evolutionary hypotheses. For Weidenreich, Piltdown Man, so enthusiastically embraced by British and North American paleoanthropologists, was not a major problem. He, like Gustav Schwalbe, his former professor and mentor at Strassburg, gave little credence to the Piltdown discovery. They thought that the jaw was some sort of fossil ape similar to an orangutan that had lived in England, but the skull they recognized as essentially modern human, that is, non-Neandertal in its anatomy. Weidenreich called the Piltdown fabrication a "chimera"—in reference to the fantastic hybrid beast of Greek mythology—even though the fraudulent nature of these remains was not fully proven until 1953, five years after his death.

Weidenreich's opinion of Piltdown allowed him to see the close anatomical similarities between his Chinese fossils and those found in Java three decades before by Dutch anatomist Eugene Dubois. Dubois had discovered only a single skullcap of what he had named Pithecanthropus erectus, a specimen that Weidenreich had studied while still in Germany.7 More specimens from Java were badly needed in order to test the idea that Pithecanthropus and Sinanthropus were anatomically similar and therefore closely related.

Hominid fossils in Java were discovered by an adventurous young German who had been interested in fossils since childhood and had rather romantically fashioned himself a latter-day Dubois. G. H. R. ("Ralph") von Koenigswald, a 28-year-old paleontology Ph.D. who was two years out of the University of Munich (where Weidenreich had also studied as an undergraduate many years before), went to Java in 1930 to work for the Dutch Geological Survey.8 His primary job was to do geological mapping, but fossils were a natural part of the stratigraphic phenomena that needed to be described. Von Koenigswald immediately went to Dubois's old sites at Trinil, writing his first paper on hominids in Dutch in 1931.9 The first word of the paper's title is "Sinanthropus," underlining von Koenigswald's early appreciation of a connection between China and the fossils that he was discovering in Java. He had also begun snooping around Chinese apothecary shops in Java, buying "dragon bone" fossils. In the tradition of Haberer and Schlosser, one of his former professors at Munich, he published papers on these discoveries.10 He was in Java when, between 1931 and 1933, 11 fossilized late Pleistocene human skulls were found by a Dutch Geological Survey team at a place called Ngandong along the Solo River. They were announced by Dutch geologist Cornelius ter Haar and, despite the fact that the Ngandong discoveries were relatively young geologically, the significant and renewed potential of Java for fossil hominid studies had become apparent.

Following the discovery of the Ngandong skulls, von Koenigswald received a grant from the Carnegie Institute of Washington (D.C.) in 1934

to work full-time on prospecting for hominids independently of the Dutch Geological Survey. He hired a number of local Javanese to help him, and this approach was to prove successful. Although the Javanese did not share the Chinese interest in dragon bones, their constant tilling of the land occasionally turned up fossils. As soon as von Koenigswald's interests became known, collectors began bringing fossils to him. The technique was not without its drawbacks, however. Sometimes collectors would intentionally break an intact fossil in an effort to exact a higher price, that is, for "two" fossils. And it was usually impossible to find out the exact location of a discovery because the collector wanted to keep this information to himself. But with persistence, and more money, von Koenigswald succeeded in making a number of important fossil discoveries. And, importantly, he was eventually able to ascertain where the fossils came from so that earth scientists could then determine the geological age of the fossils.

In April 1934 von Koenigswald discovered his first early Pleistocene hominid fossil, a mandible from a site called Sangiran. It was the first early hominid discovery in Java since Dubois's discoveries before the turn of the century. Then in 1936 a much older single skull of a juvenile hominid was discovered at a place called Mojokerto. His publications appeared in 1936 and 1937.11 Somehow Franz Weidenreich managed to obtain copies of the papers in Beijing and avidly read of von Koenigswald's discoveries, even as the Sino—Japanese War engulfed the region and halted all excavation in China. Von Koenigswald discovered an even more complete hominid skull in 1938, of the same geological age and with the same anatomy as Dubois's original Pithecanthropus erectus skull found some 45 years before.12 Weidenreich lost no time contacting von Koenigswald in Java and visiting him the same year. He was to write that this newly discovered skull "resembled Dubois' original skullcap as one egg does another."13

It was natural that Weidenreich and von Koenigswald would get together. Both were German anthropologists14 in the Far East and both were trying to work out the evolutionary relationships of the unusual fossil homi-nids that they were studying. Weidenreich badly needed more hominid material in order to understand the missing pieces of the Longgushan puzzle, and the excavations in China had been halted by the war. Von Koenigswald, on the other hand, was a young and unproved paleoanthropologist who needed an experienced ally. He had already been compromised by none other than Dubois himself who, in 1936, as editor of the leading Dutch scientific journal, had changed the proofs of an article in which von Koenigswald had proposed a new species name, Pithecanthropus modjo-kertensis. Dubois changed it without von Koenigswald's knowledge to Homo modjokertensis. Von Koenigswald, who had earlier greatly admired Dubois, never forgave him. Forty years later, when one of us discussed this matter with him, von Koenigswald was still fuming.15 Dubois would never have dared to do that to someone of Weidenreich's stature. When von Koenigswald discovered a second hominid skull in Java, he published it— his first paper in English—with Weidenreich in the British journal Nature.16

Weidenreich was becoming increasingly convinced that there was a close connection between Javan Pithecanthropus and Chinese Sinanthropus. In 1939 he wrote that "Pithecanthropus is a genuine hominid [versus a giant gibbon as then believed by Dubois] of about the same general stage of evolution as Sinanthropus."17 But he needed more anatomical proof, and the fossils were coming out of the Pleistocene sediments of Java. The year after Weidenreich's 1938 trip to Java, von Koenigswald visited him in Beijing, bringing along more newly discovered hominid fossils. The two men decided to join forces in interpreting their respective fossils.

In 1939 von Koenigswald and Weidenreich published their definitive position on the issue of the biological connection between Chinese Sinanthropus and Javan Pithecanthropus}18 By directly comparing their fossils they were able to demonstrate that the two populations of ancient hominids were very closely related, if not identical. Such a collaborative effort marked a unique event in paleoanthropology. With this connection established between Chinese and Javan hominids, Weidenreich had a larger sample from which to draw evolutionary conclusions. The Javan fossils were to become uniquely important in Weidenreich's interpretations of the Chinese hominids from Longgushan.

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Responses

  • satu
    Who name java man and pecker man together as homoerectus?
    2 years ago

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