Wits prof hot on trail of Peking Man fossils

2012-03-24 00:00

THE Peking Man fossils have since been lost to history since 1939, but Wits University palaeoanthropologist Lee Berger and two Chinese collegues may have traced the bones to underneath a parking lot in China.

The fossils went missing in 1939 as WW2 broke out in the Pacific. They were last seen being loaded in two crates on to trucks by U.S. Marines, destined for safekeeping in the United States. They were then lost to history.

Despite one of the most intensive searches in the history of archaeological sciences, including substantial rewards being offered, no verifiable sign of the whereabouts of these important historical objects has emerged.

In a paper published in the South African Journal of Science on Thursday, Berger and co-authors Wu Liu and Xiujie Wu of the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology in Beijing investigate what may have been the last sighting.

The paper tells the story 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, Berger, Liu and Wu investigate Bowen’s story of the missing Peking Man fossils at Camp Holcomb, Qinhaungdao 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.

Berger and his colleagues have investigated the claim and found it to be perhaps the most credible account of the last known sighting of these important fossils.

Investigations of the claim led the team to Qinhaungdao, where the location where the crate was reburied was located under a parking lot in a heavily built-up area. If these were the fossils they may be lost to history, or they may still be buried under a few feet of asphalt in this Chinese port city.

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