By Dental Tribune International

BURGOS, Spain: For the first time, scientists have been able to study the conserved original fossil remains of Peking Man. The six teeth belonging to Homo erectus were found in the mid-twentieth century at the Middle Pleistocene archaeological site of Zhoukoudian in Beijing in China, but were lost during shipping to the US in the 1930s. Declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, it has produced numerous human remains.

The Peking Man is one of the earliest and most emblematic hominins ever found. Since the loss of the remains, “for research on the fossil humans found at the site during the 1930s, plaster replicas of very poor quality have been used, as well as the descriptions and sketches that the researcher Franz Weidenreich left us,” said one of the study’s researchers Dr José María Bermúdez de Castro, coordinator of the Paleobiology of Hominins programme.

According to the scientists from the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH) in Burgos and the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, the study provides new original data, including the endo-structure of most Zhoukoudian H. erectus teeth preserved to date. The new evidence confirms the similarities of Zhoukoudian and other East Asian mid-Middle Pleistocene hominins such as Hexian and Yiyuan, allowing the definition of a dental pattern potentially characteristic of the population commonly referred to as classic H. erectus.

The fossils were initially attributed by the Canadian anthropologist Davison Black to the species Sinanthropus pekinensis. Later, in the 1950s, these fossils were included in the species H. erectus. Co-author and -researcher Dr María Martinón-Torres, Director of the CENIEH, explained that it was long held that this species was a direct ancestor of modern humans and all the human fossils found in what the west call the Far East and in the current islands of Indonesia have been attributed systematically to H. erectus.

The researchers now hope their recent work will lead the way to a definitive revision of all the human fossil material from the Far East.”

The study, titled “The fossil teeth of the Peking Man”, was published on 1 February 2018 in the Naturejournal.