Zhoukoudian Museum, located in a southwestern suburb of Beijing, may be small but what's inside is one of the most significant finds in the search for man’s origin: remains of a half-human, half-ape creature called Peking Man.
The museum reopened Friday after being closed for about a year while funding was found for badly needed renovation.
The updated facility contains an expanded collection, financed by donations from a private enterprise and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), according to Dr. Zhu Min, director of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).
Some pieces now on display, such as axes, hammers and other stone tools used by the Peking Man and the Shandingdong Man dating back 20,000 years, were brought out of storage along with a tooth fossil belonging to an ancient ape man.
But the excavation sites, exposed to the outdoors for about 70 years, are deteriorating.
"We still don't know how to protect the relics in a way that does the least damage," said Gao Xing, an archeologist of the institute. "Money is not our only concern in this case."
Some experts have suggested a large roof be built over the major ruins similar to the one covering the terra-cotta warriors and horses of Qin Dynasty in northwest Xi'an. Others suggested waterproof work and work for anti-chemicals should be done, according to Cai Bingxi, curator of the museum.
"However, there are a few experts who held that the two solutions may destroy the natural surroundings of the ruins," he added.
In 1929, the first skull fragments of the Peking Man were discovered in the area around the museum, and partial remains of 40 other individuals have been found so far. UNESCO proclaimed the place a World Heritage Site in 1987.
Zhu Min said a protection plan is being formulated by CAS and the State Bureau of Cultural Relics.
Zhu hoped that more attention will be paid to the rare site, which provides the earliest evidence of human use of fire, and is the only site continuously inhabited by prehistoric man between 500,000 and 10,000 years ago.
(Xinhua News Agency October 26, 2001)