The Rockefeller Foundation and the Excavation of Peking Man

by Chris Manias

Jan 1, 2012
The Peking Man excavations at Zhoukoudian in northeast China in the 1920s and 1930s were among the most extensive palaeoanthropological projects of the twentieth century.1 They were also tremendously high-profile and productive, becoming a global media and scientific sensation. An extensive series of hominid body parts and skulls, along with tools and apparent evidence of fire, were discovered, datable to the lower Pleistocene. Now classed as Homo erectus specimens, these were presented at the time as representing a new genus, Sinanthropus pekinensis, and one of the earliest human types yet discovered. Funded and organized through the combined efforts of the Rockefeller Foundation's (RF) Peking Union Medical College (PUMC) and the Chinese Geological Survey -- this represented an expansion of the RF's global scientific efforts into new fields and collaboration with new institutions. The excavations of Peking Man show strong international and global trends in scientific work in the interwar period, and the varied connections through which philanthropic institutions could be linked and directed with new interests and projects.
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