Man on Track of Lost Skull Fossils

Historians may be closer to determining the whereabouts of four Peking Man skull fossils reportedly stolen by Japanese soldiers 60 years ago thanks to the director of a museum in Northeast China's Jilin City.

According to Zhai Liwei, managing director of the History Museum of Jilin, after the skulls were captured by Japanese soldiers in 1941, they were kept secretly for at least four years in Jilin City.

"I deduced that the skulls were hidden by the Japanese in the basement of the Jilin-based Mantie Hospital," Zhai said.

Zhai was inspired to begin searching for the skulls by "Light of China," a book published in 1990.

In the book, the writer mentions a Japanese couple being shown fossilized skulls by a Japanese officer who claims they are Peking Man skulls.

The book claims the couple saw the skulls in a hospital in Jilin on August 12, 1945, only three days before the Japanese surrendered to the Chinese. The Japanese couple lived in Japan's Shincho #1193, Tanogun, Gunmaken after World War II, according to the book.

Mantie Hospital, demolished two years ago, was built in 1923 by the Japanese army. It was the best equipped hospital in the province and was staffed with native Japanese doctors and nurses during the War of Resistance against Japan (1937-45).

Because of the hospital's history and its well-constructed basement, "the hospital was an optimal place for the Japanese army to hide the goods it had stolen," Zhai explained.

As for where the skulls went after the war, Zhai claimed there are several possibilities. The skulls could have been kept by the Japanese as they retreated from Jilin City. They could also have been taken away by former Soviet Union soldiers, who reportedly took war booty following their collaboration with the Chinese army in fighting the Japanese.

Zhai also claimed it was possible that the skulls were left somewhere out of ignorance or buried in the rubble of the demolished hospital.

The discovery of the four fossilized Peking Man skulls was a remarkable event in archaeological history.

The Peking Man excavation began in 1927 and led to the discovery in 1937 of early human remains at the site of Zhoukoudian, roughly 60 kilometres southwest of Beijing. The 11-year dig has yielded remains of more than 40 individuals dating as far back 500,000 years ago.

One of the four stolen skulls was discovered by Pei Wenzhong, a top Chinese archaeologist of the time, in 1929. Jia Lanpo, another archaeologist, dug up the other three in the 1930s.

Chinese and overseas scientists have found the earliest evidence of the use of fire by ape-like people at the Zhoukoudian site, where they also unearthed tens of thousands of stone tools. The discovery of Peking Man has provided archaeologists with precious first-hand materials to research the origin and evolution of human beings.

The excavations were forced to stop in 1937 when the Japanese invaded Beijing.

The four skulls were carefully preserved in Peking Concord Hospital until the outbreak of the Pearl Harbor Attack in 1941.

(China Daily 06/23/2001)

In This Series

China Takes Steps to Preserve Peking Man Site

Beijing Invests Heavily in Relic Protection

Peking Man Heritage Site in Danger



Web Link