Read the two articles from the Scientific American carefully and answer the questions that follow each article. Use your own words throughout as far as possible.

One of the sites with the longest history of habitation by Man or his ancestors1 is a cave in a hill near the railway station on Zhoukoudian, a town some 50 kilometres south-west of Beijing. The cave is 140 metres long from east to west, and is between 40 metres at its widest part and about two metres at its narrowest point.

Modern cities are generally no more than a few hundred years old but the cave at Zhoukoudian was occupied almost continuously for more than 200,000 years. The multiple layers of fossil-bearing deposits indicate that early men first took shelter in the cave 460,000 years ago, and the last of them did not abandon the site until about 230,000 years ago, when they were forced out by the filling of the cave with rubble and sediment. The species of mankind that lived there is classified as ‘Homo erectus pekinensis’ or Peking Man. (The name became established before the customary English spelling of the city was changed to Beijing.)

The long record of habitation of Zhoukoudian offers an opportunity to trace the development of a single community over a period that spans a significant fraction of the evolution of the genus Homo. The period is long enough for progressive changes in the form of the fossils themselves to be discerned. One of the important changes in physical features is an increase in cranial capacity5.

Equally important, it is possible to reconstruct certain events in the cultural evolution of the species. There is evidence in the cave deposits that Peking Man was able to control fire and that he employed it for cooking. The fossilised remains of animal bones indicate that the Zhoukoudian cave-dwellers were effective hunters of both large and small game; fossilised seeds suggest another component of the diet. An abundance of flaked-stone implements provides information on tool-making skills. From an analysis of the materials recovered from the caves, it is even possible to speculate6 on the social organisation of the community. For example, there is good information to support conjectures6 about the sharing of food and the division of labour between he sexes.

In the overall scheme of higher primate evolution, Peking Man and the other examples of homo erectus are a comparatively late development. The first hominoid, the ancestor of both man and the anthropoid apes, had branched off from the other primates by about 35 million years ago. It walked quadrupedally and relied on seeds and fruit for its food. From 10 to 8 million years ago, the first hominid, the founder of a genetic lineage whose only living representative is modem man, diverged from the other hominoids such as the chimpanzee and the gorilla.

The most primitive hominids apparently had a small cranium, with a capacity of perhaps 350 cubic centimetres. They could walk on their hind limbs and may have been able to carry objects while walking. It was not until about four million years ago that an advanced hominid appeared. The earliest remains of this hominid have been found in the middle Awash River valley of Ethiopia. The skeleton was evidently capable of supporting a full bipedal gait and the brain case had a capacity close to 500 cubic centimetres.

In the past 100 years, many fossils of manlike skulls and skeletal fragments more advanced than those of the Ethiopian hominid have been found in Europe, Asia, and Africa. They are now all included under the name ‘homo erectus’. The species emerged at least 1.5 million years ago. Homo erectus could walk upright, as the species name suggests, but his skull was still very primitive, with a cranial size ranging from 850 to 1,100 cubic centimetres. He was able to make more advanced stone implements than the pebble tools of earlier hominids. Some later specimens of homo erectus, including Peking Man, developed a quite elaborate culture which included inhabiting caves and hunting game. They were also able to make use of fire to cook food, although it is not yet clear whether they were actually able to kindle a fire.

The subsequent course of development from homo erectus to modern man cannot be traced in detail. We know that about 200,000 years ago there appeared a form of man with a less heavily built face and a larger brain case than those of homo erectus. The members of this species, early representatives of homo sapiens, came to flourish in Europe, Asia, and Africa somewhat less than 100,000 years ago. They were capable of building shelters in the open air and of starting a fire, and they made highly refined stone tools. They are considered to be among the direct ancestors of modern homo sapiens.

Much of our knowledge of early Man has come as a result of the work of archaeologists and scientists in the past fifty years or so. For example, accurate methods of dating fossils and tools did not exist before World War II, and scientists were very uncertain about the link between apes and men. It was generally assumed that if Man is descended from apes there must have been a ‘missing link1 somewhere. Men searched for the remains of a creature which would combine the features of Homo sapiens with some of those of an ape.

In 1912 a sensational discovery was made in a gravel pit at a place called Piltdown, in the south of England. Fossilised pieces of a skull and jaw were found, as well as a canine tooth and very old implements of bone and flint. The discoverer was Charles Dawson, an amateur archaeologist and a partner in a firm of solicitors. Dawson had earlier found the fossils of very early animals, as well as some Roman remains, so he was familiar with ancient remains.

Dawson estimated that the fossils were at least 500,000 years old and might well be the first example of the Missing Link. He took the remains to Sir Arthur Smith Woodward, who was in charge of the British Museum’s Department of Geology and had a high reputation. The two men put the various parts together and found that they had a head with the high forehead of a man and the protruding jaw of an ape. Sir Arthur was satisfied that the Missing Link had been found at last. All the remains had been found very close together, and the implements were undoubtedly very old. The jaw and brain case had a similar colour and appeared to be in the same stage of fossilisation. The jaw was apelike but some teeth were worn flat as in a human jaw, whereas the canine tooth was shaped in a way that is not found in modern apes.

When news of the find was released, it caused an instant sensation. Newspapers were delighted that the Missing Link, or the oldest man in the world, had proved to be an Englishman. This proved that the leap from ape to man had taken place in England, which could claim to be the birthplace of modern man.

In the next twenty years, more remains of early man were found throughout the world but none was similar to Piltdown Man. Experts suggested that Piltdown Man had been a new species which had been unable to develop. However, a number of scientists had doubts about the origin and authenticity of Piltdown Man. In 1950, a fluorine test was made on samples of bone dust from the Piltdown site, and the Missing Link was shown to be 60,000 rather than 500,000 years old. This led scientists to make a series of tests on the cranium and jaw of Piltdown Man. In 1953, a British Museum spokesman astonished the public by declaring that Piltdown Man was a fake. Three international experts declared that it was ‘a most elaborate and carefully prepared hoax’. The cranium and jaw were shown to contain quite different amounts of nitrogen, fluorine, and other substances, proving that they could not have come from one creature. Carbon 14 dating confirmed that the cranium was older than the jaw, which had evidently come from a modern ape. The teeth had been filed down and stained with iron and chemicals to give it the same colour as the older cranium.

When Piltdown Man was finally exposed as a hoax and a fraud, there was an intensive search to find the guilty man or men. Many people suspected the amateur archaeologist, Charles Dawson, but other people believed that the guilty person as Sir Arthur Smith Woodward or any of another twenty people. As recently as 1983, American professor suggested that the trick might have been played by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. The fact remains that nobody who played a trick which succeeded in deceiving international scientists for over forty years.


1 What does the writer imply about the inhabitants of the Zhoukoudian cave by adding the expression ‘or his ancestors’?

2 Which dimension of the cave is not given in the first paragraph?

3 In which part of the cave would remains of the earliest inhabitants probably be found?

4 What apparently led the inhabitants of the cave to abandon it eventually?

5 Explain the importance of changes in ‘cranial capacity’.

6 What sense do the words ‘speculate’ and ‘conjectures’ share? Why are these words used in this article?

7 Explain why you think that Peking Man was or was not a hominoid.

8 In a paragraph of about 160 words, summarise the various stages in the evolution of Man to modern times.

1 What does the interest in a ‘missing link’ tell us about scientific knowledge in the 19th century?

2 Why did Dawson go to Sir Arthur Woodward?

3 What did Dawson probably think about Woodward’s opinion?

4 Give two reasons why news of the finds at Piltdown proved to be sensational.

5 What seems to have made scientists suspect that Piltdown Man might be a fake?

6 How were the cranium and jaw vital in exposing the fake?

7 In one sentence, explain why scientists were able to show that Piltdown Man was a fake in 1953 but could not do so in 1913.

Sample Answers

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