Mon, March 26, 2012
Technology > Science

South African journal offers clue to lost Peking man

2012-03-25 22:15:35 GMT2012-03-26 06:15:35(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

CAPE TOWN, March 25 (Xinhua) -- A group of South African and Chinese researchers may have found the place where the mysterious Peking man fossils were buried, according to a latest study.

The fossils may be lying under a parking lot in China's northern port city of Qinhuangdao, according to the study published in this month's South African Journal of Science. The finding was based on the memories of a World War II-era U.S. marine who saw two crates of bones at the parking lot in 1947.

This may have been the last sighting of the missing Peking man fossils, said the study, conducted by Prof. Lee Berger at South African Witwatersrand University and two Chinese researchers from the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology in Beijing.

The paper, about investigation of a credible report by a U.S. marine on the location of the missing Peking Man fossils, tells a story about a former U.S. marine, Richard M. Bowen, who thinks he might have seen the Peking man fossils at a Marine Base in China in 1947.

In the paper, the researchers investigated Bowen's story of the missing Peking man fossils at Camp Holcomb, Qinhuangdao of China, in 1947. The bones were dug up while the young marine was surrounded by 250,000 Chinese soldiers and used as a machine gun rest on a night shortly before his capture.

The researchers have investigated the claim and found it to be perhaps the most credible account of the last known sighting of these important fossils, Witwatersrand University said in a press release on its website.

Investigations of the claim led the team to Qinhaungdao, where the crate was believed to be reburied under a parking lot in a heavily built up area. The team thinks that the fossils may still be buried under a few feet of asphalt in this Chinese port city.

"Thus it is highly plausible that the fossils made it as far as Chinwangtao (Qinhuangdao) and a logical point of unloading from a Peking military train would be the rail end at Camp Holcomb. We obtained two maps of the camp, dated 1931 and 1939. Richard Bowen was able to place the position of the stone barracks where the incident took place on both maps," the researchers said in the paper.

Lost in 1939 as World War II broke out in the Pacific, the fossils were last seen being loaded in two crates onto trucks by U. S. marines, destined for safekeeping in the U.S. They were then lost to history.

The loss of the Peking man fossils remains perhaps one of the greatest palaeoanthropological mystery in the history of the science.

Various significant attempts have been made to locate these fossils, including offers of substantial rewards for their return by both the U.S. and the Chinese governments.

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