Lacking essential protection and maintenance measures, the Zhoukoudian Peking Man Ruins is now at the risk of being ruined. No more visitors are welcomed to the cultural site whose discovery has pushed human history 500,000 years back.
Since “the most significant and most attractive discovery” was made 70 years ago, Zhoukoudian has become a holy place for archaeologists from home and abroad. The site in the northwest suburb of Beiijng stores the evidence of the earliest human's use of fire and is known as the only site of continuous prehistoric man activities between 500,000 and 10,000 years ago.
Today, however, Zhoukoudian is completely in danger.
According to Dr. Zhu Ming, director of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, all sites have been exposed in the air since the excavation.
There are holes made by local bees on the stratum section of the cave, portions of the upper cave has been rushed by rain and weeds and bushes have almost covered the Ape Man Cave.
Meanwhile, there are a number of small cement factories near the site. The pollutants also contributed to the damage, in addition to the natural disasters. "It is impossible to close them right now," said the director.
Zhu attributed the declining situation to insufficient financing. He said that his institution has never received any special funds for the culture relics protection and maintenance since the site was founded.
Plus with the income from tickets, his institute is only able to pay for the salary of working staff there and maintain the museum and ruins opening to the public.
In contrast, it costs 60,000 yuan (US$7,220) to weed the Ape Man Cave and 3 to 5 million yuan (US$361,000 to US$602,000) to repair the museum and rearrange the exhibits.
At the same time, the repair work of the Zhoukoudian Museum was stopped for lacking of money. The museum, reluctantly, has been closed for seven months.
Zhu Ming said his institution has managed to form a protection commission and tried to raise funds from overseas but failed.
Zhu hoped that the public and society will be aware of the damage and lend a hand to protect the site.
Destruction of ecological environment and cultural relics is not merely found in Zhoukoudian. It is now high time to properly handle the relationship between economic development and cultural heritage protection. Otherwise, the inheritance of Chinese civilization might be obstructed.
Zhoukoudian Peking Man Ruins is among the first batch of sites listed in World Cultural Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The organization will come to China and review all sites listed on the list this year. Any site listed before 1994 with improper protection or serious damage will be ranked as an endangered heritage. If no immediate action is taken, the Zhoukoudian Ruins will be removed from the list, insiders say.
The Zhoukoudian Ruins keeps the richest materials of prehistoric man's site in the world. Zhu believed that sound protection will help further the research on the development process of human ancestors.