Gongwangling (Lantian)

The Gongwangling (Lantian) cranial fragments were discovered at a small hill near Gongwang Village, east of Lantian, in 1964 by a team from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Beijing (Wu and Poirier, 1995; Wu et al., 1966). The first hominid fossil to be found was an isolated maxillary molar and several months later this was followed by large cranial vault fragments. A large quantity of mammalian faunal material was also recovered from the site. A dominance of tropical and subtropical species has suggested a warmer climate than today (Gu and Jablonski, 1989; Qi, 1989). There are a range of paleomagnetic dates for the hominid locality, with a choice of 750,000 to 800,000, 1 million, or 1.15 million years depending upon how the sequence is interpreted (An et al., 1990; An and Ho, 1989; Wu et al., 1989). Most recently Zhu et al (2015) have argued that Gongwangling is older than 1.62 million years as it was recovered from palaeosol S22 or S23, below loess 15 at the site, giving it the older palaeomagnetic date. The age of the hominin fossil, and whether it is contemporaneous with the faunal remains, also depends upon whether it was a reworked deposit with the fossils found in situ. The artifacts from the Gongwangling site have been described as have described as primarily cores (11), with five flakes and four scrapers (Dai, 1966; Tai and Hsu, 1973).

The hominid skeletal materials were first described in detail by (Woo, 1965). A detailed English language discussion of Gongwangling can be found in Beijing (Wu and Poirier, 1995). The human fossils (PA 1051-6) include a complete frontal, large part of the parietals, most of the right temporal, part of the left and right nasals, and a large section of the right maxilla with associated second and third molars, and part of the left maxilla. Unfortunately, preservation of the bone fragments is extremely poor. There is some distortion through ground pressure and marked erosion and remodelling of bone surfaces.

Features suggestive of Homo erectus are most apparent in the frontal bone which is broad, receding and has a robust supraorbital torus. There is marked postorbital constriction and no sulcus between the torus and frontal squama. Cranial vault bones are also relatively thickened, certainly compared with Homo erectus from Zhoukoudian, but to what extent this has been influenced by post-depositional processes is unclear. Given the extent of postmortem damage, there is little evidence that the IVPP's reconstruction (below) is particularly close to the original appearance of the Gongwangling cranium before it was buried.

There have been two claims for the evidence of different pathologies in the cranium. Caspari (1997) suggested that there were two lesions in the right supraorbital region, while Shang et al (2008) thought they could identify neurocranial abnormalities. I don't think that the evidence for either is particlarly convincing given the extent of postdepositional bone remodelling on the endocranial and ectocranial surfaces, as well as the internal diploe.

Access to Gongwangling

Gongwangling is housed in the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Beijing, China. Research workers interested in access to Gongwangling should write to Professor Wu Xinzhi, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Academia Sinica, PO Box 164, Beijing, Peoples Republic of China.


An Z, Gao W, Zhu Y, Kan X, Wang J, Sun J, and Wei M (1990) Magnetostratigraphic dates of Lantian Homo erectus. Acta Anthropologica Sinica 9:1-7.

An Z, and Ho CK (1989) New Magnetostratigraphic dates of Lantian Homo erectus. Quaternary Research 32:213-221.

Caspari, R. (1997) Brief communication: evidence of pathology in the frontal bone from Gongwangling. Am. J. Phys. Ath. 102: 565-568.

Dai E (1966) The paleoliths found at Lantian man locality of Gongwangling and its vicinity. Vertebrata PalAsiatica 10:30-34.

Gu Y, and Jablonski N (1989) A reassessment of Megamacaca lantianensis of Gongwangling, Shaanxi Province. Acta Anthropologica Sinica 8:343-346.

Qi G (1989) Quaternary mammalian faunas and environment of fossil humans in north China. In R Wu, X Wu and S Zhang (eds.): Early humankind in China. Beijing: Science Press, pp. 276-337.

Shang, H. et al (2008) Neurocranial abnormalities in the Gongwangling Homo erectus from Lantian China. J. Arch. Sci 35: 2589-2593.

Tai E, and Hsu C (1973) New finds of paleoliths from Lantian. Kaogu Xuebao 2:1-12.

Woo J (1965) The hominid skull of Lantian, Shensi. Vertebrata PalAsiatica 10:1-22.

Wu R, Wu X, and Zhang S, eds. (1989) Early humankind in China. Beijing: Science Press.

Wu X, and Poirier FE (1995) Human evolution in China. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wu X, Yuan Z, Han D, Qi T, and Lu Q (1966) Report of the excavation at Lantian man locality of Gongwangling in 1965. Vertebrata PalAsiatica 10:23-30.

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