The Peking Man site, Zhoukoudian, is arguably along with Olduvai Gorge one of the most widely known hominin localities on the planet. Excavations at Zhoukoudian began in 1921 under the direction of Otto Zdansky an Austrian geologist, with the first hominid remains, a molar tooth, discovered in 1923. The first Homo erectus (Pithecanthropus erectus) skull cap was found by Pei Wenzhong in 1929 and up until World War II the fragmentary remains of at least 14 other individuals were recovered from Locality 1. This is by far the largest H. erectus sample from a single locality in the world, with detailed descriptions of the pre-war discoveries by the German anatomist Franz Weidenreich (Weidenreich, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1941, 1943). In one of the greatest scientific tragedies of last century all of the Zhoukoudian hominid materials discovered before WWII were lost during an attempt to send them to the United States (Shapiro, 1976; Wu and Lin, 1983). Fortunately highly detailed casts had been made and in association with Weidenreich's monographs this has enabled continued study of the Zhoukoudian hominids. After WWII excavations continued at Locality 1 and other sections of the former cave complex. Between 1949 and 1966 five teeth, a tibia and a humerus shaft fragment, a mandibular body (PA86), and frontal, parietal and occipital fragments of skull H (PA109), parts of which were found in 1934, were recovered. Descriptions of the most recent discoveries can be found in (Qiu et al., 1973; Woo and Chao, 1959; Woo and Chia, 1954), with English language discussion in (Wu and Poirier, 1995) .

Chinese archaeologists have identified 13 layers in the excavated deposits at Zhoukoudian. Hominid remains and stone artifacts have been reported from layers 3 to 9, with evidence of fire claimed for layers 3, 4, 6 and 10. As well as hominid fossils the remains of more than 90 other mammal species have been recovered from Locality 1 (Hu, 1985; Qi, 1989). A wide range of dating procedures have been applied to Locality 1, with reasonably consistent results. These include Uranium series (Zhao et al., 1985), Electron Spin Resonance (Huang et al., 1991), Thermoluminesence (Pei, 1985), Paleomagnetism (Liu et al., 1977; Qian, 1980; Qian et al., 1985) and Fission Track (Guo et al., 1991; Liu et al., 1985). The current state of knowledge suggests that the layers containing hominid fossils date to between 400,000 and 250,000 years. The stone artifacts recovered from Locality 1 were described and analysed by Pei Wenzhong and Zhang Senshui (Pei and Zhang, 1985). Long established interpretations of the excavated materials from Locality 1, including the evidence for fire and hearths, and stone and bone artifact manufacture, were challenged by Louis Binford and co-workers in the mid-1980's (Binford and Stone, 1986; Binford and Ho, 1985).


The reconstruction of skull 5 (individual H) from the fragments found before and after WWII suggests that it is the largest of the Locality 1 crania and therefore probably a male. This cranial vault shares a number of features in common with the other Locality 1 crania. Maximum cranial breadth is in the auricular region and breadth decreases steadily as you move towards the top of the vault. Overall vault shape, when viewed from the side, is long and low, with a receding forehead and marked angulation in the occipital between the nuchal and occipital planes. There is a distinct frontal bulge and the frontal squama is separated from the supraorbital torus by a well defined sulcus. The median sagittal ridge is not as well defined, partly due to bone loss, as in some of the other Locality 1 vaults. The supraorbital ridges are projecting and connected in the glabella region forming a robust supraorbital torus. It appears that the occipital torus was well developed and separated from the occipital plane by a supratoral sulcus. The cranial vault bone is moderately thick; 10.0 mm at lambda, 16.8 mm at the external occipital protuberance and 14.5 mm at asterion. In common with most Homo erectus vaults the vault bone thickens laterally and basally. Given the size of the reconstructed vault the endocranial volume was probably greater than skull 10 which is estimated to be around 1225 ml.

Recent research and media coverage

UNESCO: The Peking Man World Heritage Site at Zhoukoudian

A study of the Zhoukoudian brain endocasts was published by Wu Xiujie and colleagues in Quaternary International in 2010. An unusual place to publish on this particular topic. Nothing particulary unexpected in the results, but it was good to see ongoing research with Weidenreich's endocasts.

Xiujie, W., Schepartz, L., Norton, C. 2010. Morphological and morphometric analysis of variation in the Zhoukoudian Homo erectus brain endocasts. Quaternary International 211: 4-13.

Access to the Zhoukoudian collection

Research workers interested in access to the Zhoukoudian collection should write to Professor Wu Xinzhi, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, PO Box 164, Beijing, China.


Binford L, and Stone N (1986) Zhoukoudian: A closer look. Current Anthropology 27:453-475.

Binford LR, and Ho CK (1985) Taphonomy at a distance: Zhoukoudian, "the cave home of Beijing man"? Current Anthropology 26:413-442.

Guo S, Liu S, Sun S, Zhang F, Zhou S, Hao X, Hu R, Meng W, Zhang P, and Liu J (1991) Fission track dating of the 4th layer of the Peking Man site. Acta Anthropologica Sinica 10:73-77.

Hu C (1985) The history of mammalian fauna of locality 1 of Zhoukoudian and its recent advances. In IVPP, Academia Sinica (ed.): Multi-disciplinary Study of the Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian. Beijing: Science Press, pp. 107-113.

Huang P, Jin S, Liang R, Lu Z, Zheng L, Yuan Z, Fang C, and Cai B (1991) Study of ESR dating for burying age of the first skull of Peking Man and chronological scale of the cave deposit in Zhoukoudian site Locality 1. Acta Anthropologica Sinica 10:107-115.

Liu C, Zhu X, and Ye S (1977) A palaeomagnetic study on the cave-deposits of Zhoukoudian (Choukoutien), the locality of Sinanthropus. Scientia Geologica Sinica 1977:26-33.

Liu S, Zhang F, Hu R, Liu J, Guo S, Zhou S, Meng W, Zhang P, Sun S, and Hao X (1985) Dating Peking Man Site by the fission-track method. In IVPP, Academia Sinica (ed.): Multidisciplinary Study of the Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian. Beijing: Science Press, pp. 241-245.

Pei J (1985) Thermoluminesence dating of the Peking Man site and other caves. In IVPP, Academia Sinica (ed.): Multidisciplinary Study of the Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian. Beijing: Science Press, pp. 256-260.

Pei W, and Zhang S (1985) A study of the lithic artifacts of Sinanthropus. Palaeontologica Sinica New Series D No 12.

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.

Qian F (1980) Magnetostratigraphic study on the cave deposits containing fossil Peking Man at Zhoukoudian. Kexue Tongbao 25:359.

Qian F, Zhang J, and Yin W (1985) Magnetic stratigraphy from the sediment of the west wall and he test pit of Locality 1 at Zhoukoudian. In IVPP, Academia Sinica (ed.): Multi-disciplinary Study of the Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian. Beijing: Science Press, pp. 251-255.

Qiu Z, Gu Y, Zhang Y, and Hu S (1973) New discovery of the fossils and cultural remains of Sinanthropus pekinensis from Zhoukoudian. Vertebrata PalAsiatica 11:109-131.

Shapiro HL (1976) Peking Man. London: George Allen and Unwin.

Weidenreich F (1935) The Sinanthropus population of Choukoutien (Locality 1) with a preliminary report on new discoveries. Bulletin Geological Society of China 14:427-461.

Weidenreich F (1936) The mandible of Sinanthropus pekinensis. A comparative study. Palaeontologica Sinica D7:1-132.

Weidenreich F (1937) The dentition of Sinanthropus pekinensis: A comparative odontography of the hominid. Palaeontologica Sinica New Series D No 1:1-180.

Weidenreich F (1941) The extremity bones of Sinanthropus pekinensis. Palaeontologica Sinica New Series D No 5:1-150.

Weidenreich F (1943) The skull of Sinanthropus pekinensis: a comparative study of a primitive hominid skull. Palaeontologica Sinica D10:1-485.

Woo J, and Chao T (1959) New discovery of Sinanthropus mandible from Choukoutien. Vertebrata PalAsiatica 3:169-172.

Woo J, and Chia L (1954) New discoveries of Sinanthropus pekinensis in Choukoutien. Acta Paleontologica Sinica 2:267-288.

Wu R, and Lin S (1983) Peking Man. Scientific American 248:78-86.

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

Zhao S, Sha M, Zhang C, Liu M, Wang S, Wu Q, and Ma Z (1985) Uranium series dating of Peking Man site. In IVPP, Academia Sinica (ed.): Multi-disciplinary Study of the Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian. Beijing: Science Press, pp. 246-250.