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A deeper look at Peking Man site

RESEARCHERS yesterday began excavation work in the Zhoukoudian Caves in a suburb of Beijing, where the skulls of Peking Man, or Homo erectus, were found in the 1920s and 1930s.

The work will help scientists gain a better understanding of the lives of early humans.

Researchers will excavate 20 square meters along the western wall of the site, called Locality 1, Gao Xing, deputy director and research fellow of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Palaeoanthropology, said yesterday.

Locality 1, where the first complete skull of Peking Man was found, used to be a 20-meter-wide, 140-meter-deep cave, but the ceiling collapsed. The four-month project aims to protect the western wall from further collapse, he said.

"We found a wide longitudinal crack from the top," Gao said. "It could collapse at any moment. Once it collapses, it will cause serious damage to the relics in the cave."

The section holds the most complete sequence of geological layers, with relic deposits of great significance, he said.

More samples

Natural weathering caused the damage, as the cave has long been exposed to air. But the excavations in the 1920s and 1930s did not properly protect the cave, Gao said.

Institute scientists will first work on the cracked areas over the next month and on the whole section between August and October. They expect the excavation to solve several major research problems.

"We do not have a precise chronology of the Zhoukoudian site. The latest samples were collected and dated in the 1980s, when dating technologies were not well-established. This time, we will collect more samples and use the latest technologies," Gao said.

More research will be done to explain the relic deposits in the cave, he said.

"The deposits contain traces of humans, animals and environment changes," Gao said. "The excavation will help us better understand when humans settled in the cave, when they began to use fire, and tell us of climate changes."

Peking Man was previously believed to have lived about 400,000 to 500,000 years ago. But in March, scientists using a new radioactive dating method revealed Peking Man to be 200,000 years older.


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