Canadian anatomist and paleontologist Davidson Black received a degree in Medical Sciences from the University of Toronto, Canada in 1906, and continued with graduate work at the University of Manchester, England. After receiving his education, Black was employed as an anatomy instructor at Western Reserve University, in Cleveland, Ohio, until the onset of World War I, whereby he served in the Canadian Army Medical Corps. Black eventually gained a position at the Peking Medical College in 1918. After the establishment of the Cenozoic Research Laboratory in 1929, Black became honorary director of both the laboratory and the affiliated Peking Medical College. With a generous grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, excavations at Choukoutien, China, provided evidence for a new fossil hominid, which Black interpreted as Sinanthropus pekinenis, or Peking Man (450,000 years old) from the Middle Pleistocene Period. With the contributions of the laboratory staff (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, chief geologist, advisor, and collaborator; Dr. Young, assistant director and paleontologist; Mr. Pei, paleontologist and field director; and Mr. Pien, assistant), the findings were published by The Geological Survey of China and The Section of Geology of The National Academy of Peking, in Geological Memoirs, in May 1933. Black died in 1934.
Contributions and Perspectives
Although many of the specimens and related data were lost, destroyed, or stolen during World War II, Black’s contribution and the team’s dedication pro-vided the evidence for important phylogenic analysis, as depicted below.
The greatest Sinanthropus deposits were recovered in the fissured limestone in the Ordovician anticline in the area of present-day Choukoutien village. Known as Locality 1, Sinanthropus remains were found throughout Locus A-G, within layers 4 (Cultural Zone A) thru layers 11 (Cultural Zone C). Due to the irregular findings throughout the layers, it became evident that the deposits were neither accidental nor an accumulation of prey by predatory animals. According to Black’s evaluation, Sinanthropus morphology is as follows.
Dentition: Evidence of root fusion and reduction in crown size, the first molar being the largest, and third-molar variability. The crowns of the lower molar are trapezoic in shape, with crown enamel greater than modern man. In addition, the lower canines are large, with long roots. The upper molars are low and large, the root being conical. Upper canines, similar to the lower canines, are large and long rooted. The incisors can be described as being semi-shovel shaped.
Mandibulae: Although the lower jaw is neanthropic in nature (except in the morphology of the symphysis and areas of the horizontal ramus), the curve of the dental arcade is modern in type, with a deviation from modern human due to stresses through use. The sym-physis region is regarded as being similar to anthropoids. Yet the thickness of the horizontal jaw ramus is consistent with Paeloanthropus. The presence of multiple mental foramina suggests a common ancestor to both hominids and anthropoids.
Skull: The morphological features of Sinanthropus are characterized by a prominent supraorbital margin, parietal calvarial with parietal eminences, and the pyriform of the calvaria. Both the temporal bones and condylar exhibit a modern direction. In the tympanic region, the morphology differs from more modern hominid types. Overall, the skull differs from both Neanderthal or Rhodesian man and anthropoids.
Upper extremity: The specimen does not differ in any great respect from modern man. Excavation had yielded a clavicle, Os lunatum, and a questionable fragment of radius. The clavicle, through missing the sternal epiphyseal articular portion and the acromial fourth, was found to be similar to that of modern human of similar stature. Similarly, the Os lunatum of Sinanthropus is similar to modern humans, but differs from modern anthropods. The specimen was identified as that of a right radius (included the head and 10 cm below the radial tuberosity). Morphologically, the radius does not differ greatly from that of modern human.
Lower Extremity: Ossa incerta was the only bone recovered and assigned to the lower extremity of Sinanthropus. The terminal phalanges are highly questionable as to their origins. Although there are no known similarities among nonhominid remains found at the site, the bones are more characteristic of modern man (terminal phalanx of the thumb) than other known hominids.
Endocranial casts: The brain was essentially human in form, with a cranial volume from 964.4 (+-) .027 cc to 1,000 (+-) 50 cc. It is suggested that Sinanthropus was right-handed and possessed the nervous mechanism for articulate speech. What contributed to this evaluation was the evidence of cultural remains.
The cultural remains in the Choukoutien Locality 1 can be divided into three cultural zones, A, B, and C. The three zones contained not only hominid and animal remains but also evidence for the use of fire and lithic technology. Scrapers, bipolar flake choppers made predominately of vein quartz, were recovered throughout the three layers. Even though the use of bone, via workmanship, is obscured by natural causes, whereby the belief in a bone industry in Choukoutien remains suspect, as does bone material within Paleolithic culture in general. Between morphology and cultural remains, Black places Sinanthropus as a hominid representative of the family Hominidae.
After Black’s death in 1934, Frans Wiedrenreich became honorary director of the Cenozoic Research Laboratory. Continuing Black’s research, Wiedrenreich’s analysis suggests that Sinanthropus represents an earlier or more primitive type of hominid than Pithecanthropus. Despite cranial volume, endocranial casts, and peculiar morphology, not only does Sinanthropus resemble the gibbon and chimpanzee, but Pithecanthropus is more evolutionarily advanced. It is assessed that Sinanthropus is an early stage of the Pithecanthropus, evolutionarily speaking, a representative of Homo erectus.
- Birx, H. J. (1988). Human evolution. Springfield:Charles C Thomas.
- Black, D. (1933). Geological memoirs: Fossil man in China. Peiping, China: Geological Survey and the Section of Geology of the National Academy of Peiping.
- Etler, D. A. (1996). The fossil evidence for human evolution in Asia. Annual Review of Anthropology, 25, 275-301.
- Movius, H. L. (1955). Recent research on early man in China. American Anthropologist, 57, 334-337.
- Smith, G. E. (1932). The industries of Sinanthropus. Man, 32, 7-10.
- Weidrenreich, F. (1937). The relationship of Sinanthropus Pekinesis to Pithecanthropus, Javanthropus, and Rhodesian Man. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 67, 51-65.
- Weidrenreich, F. (1943). The Neanderthal man and the ancestors of Homo sapiens. American Anthropologist, 45(1), 39-48.