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Yunxian Skulls Restored

Chinese and French scientists announced on October 25 in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, that they had finally finished reconstructing the half-million-year-old skulls of Yunxian Man. The French scientists presented the restored No. 2 skull to the Hubei Provincial Archeology Research Institute.

Li Tianyuan of the institute in Wuhan discovered the two fossilized human skulls at a site in Yunxian County in 1989 and 1990. They were determined to be specimens of Homo erectus, the predecessor of Homo sapiens and who walked the earth 300,000 to 1.7 million years ago.


The No. 2 skull, although badly damaged and without a jawbone, was the most complete human skull of its age ever found in China. It was determined to be 350,000 to 500,000 years old.


For 13 years archeologists searched for the best way to restore the skulls. Li said they were distorted from pressure and the soft substances in the skull had become cemented to the hard ones, hindering attempts to obtain measurements. Specialists used model incising in areas that were broken or cracked, but this method was not effective in the distorted areas.


So the specialists turned to computer technology, making a CT scan of the skull. In May 2002 they began working with doctors at Wuhan University's Zhongnan Hospital to scan the skull in 255 sectional images. This provided them with two- and three-dimensional pictures.


Then they began working with paleoanthropologists at the Museum of Natural History in France. They selected Java Man and Peking Man -- other Asian members of H. erectus -- as reference specimens to control the vertical and horizontal radian of the No. 2 skull. The scientists spent more than a year repositioning, reshaping and replicating distorted and missing parts, finally finishing the restoration of the skull last month.


Li Tianyuan said that the cranial capacity of Yunxian Man was 1,065 cubic centimeters, not far off from the 1,075 cu.cm average of the Peking Man skulls and confirming the opinion that Yunxian Man was in fact a member of H. erectus. The average cranial capacity of modern humans is 1,400 cu.cm.


Homo erectus lived primarily in Asia and Europe.



(China.org.cn by Chen Lin, November 1, 2004)

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