A New Analysis of An Old Box of Bones: Debunking a Peking Man Deception

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Elizabeth M. DeVisser
Michael F. Roberts
Joel P. Marrant


Anthropologists have searched fruitlessly for the Peking Man fossils for almost eighty years. Writers have made many unwarranted claims about the loss of the fossils, starting with the assumption that they were transferred from Chinese to American control just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and then brought to the United States. This line of thinking is primarily supported by a highly suspect piece of evidence that came to public attention in 1972—a photograph of a Marine footlocker with many bones, one of which appeared to be a Peking Man skull. Although experts examined the photograph, no formal analysis was performed. Nonetheless, people who have written about this subject have assumed the box of bones contains at least one of the Peking Man fossils and thus that the collection reached the U.S. After conducting a detailed inventory and analysis of the contents of the footlocker as revealed in the photograph, we propose that the photograph is a deception; all bones except the skull are modern anatomical specimens while the skull is best interpreted as a teaching cast. Thus, the photograph cannot be used as evidence that the Peking Man fossils ever came to the U.S.

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