Peking Man's digs gets archaeological redo
The first phase of work to reinforce caves where the 500,000-year-old Peking Man was found has been completed, with six relic sites threatened by collapse successfully saved.
The project at the Zhoukoudian area, a World Heritage site 50 kilometres southwest from downtown Beijing, started in July after archaeologists reported 21 areas at the site inn danger of geological calamity.
The second work phase will be carried out next year,protecting a further group of seven ruin sites, according to the Zhoukoudian management.
The project, which is the most complete effort since the 1920s when the first complete Peking Man skull was unearthed, is expected to last until 2007.
Qi Guoqin, a researcher with the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the effort appears to have been taken in time after worrying signs at the site were spotted. A series of caves located in rolling hills had begun to disintegrate, with small stones falling from the ceiling at several spots.
"I'm glad to see the six relic spots, including the Pigeon Hall where Peking Man's parietal bone, collarbone and lower jawbone were discovered, have become safer, and their outward appearance did not change a lot after consolidation," said Qi.
Since Peking Man was first unearthed in 1929, archaeologists have found fossils belonging to 40 different individuals and more than 100,000 stone implements and other objects.
The discovery of Peking Man was one of the most decisive steps in the scientific quest to trace man's prehistorical development from apes.
Mou Huichong, a professor with the Institute of Geology and Geophysics Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the second phase of work will be more difficult than the first because the coming work will be done on areas near the cultural stratum that may contain valuable fossils.
"If the sites are reinforced by cement, further archaeological excavation will be severely impacted," said Mou.
"It is a complicated preservation project and related to many other aspects such as geological structure and relic protection issues.
"We are discussing this with experts from different fields of study and trying to find the best solutions to the problem," said Mou.
Du Xiaofan, a member of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization's Beijing Office, hailed the protection work at Zhoukoudian.
He said it is a good example of finding potential hazards and taking immediate measures before possible geological disaster occurs.
"Heritage protection authorities should strengthen daily supervision and maintenance on cultural relics in order to avoid any damage -- such as the collapse of the city wall of Pingyao," said Du.
A section of Pingyao's ancient city wall, a world cultural heritage site in North China's Shanxi Province, collapsed last month due to lack of maintenance.
The first phase of reinforce work at Zhoukoudian, lasting more than three months, cost more than 2.5 million yuan (US$302,000). And the second phase is expected to cost at least 3 million yuan (US$363,000), according to the management office of the site.