Treacherous Evidence: Archival Documents and the Search for Peking Man

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


The Peking Man skeletal materials, excavated in China in the 1920s and 1930s, disappeared in December 1941. The assumption that the fossils were acquired by the U.S. military has emerged as the core idea of what we call the “Standard Scenario.” We challenge this scenario by 1) highlighting the factual and chronological inconsistencies in the accounts of the loss of the fossils; 2) critiquing the casual and uncritical acceptance of personal reports lacking independent verification; 3) emphasizing the absence in official archives of supposed documents used to support the Standard Scenario; and, 4) reanalyzing a 1972 photograph used by some investigators to associate the fossils with the U.S. Marines. Our detailed forensic analysis strongly suggests the 1972 photograph is a deception. In addition, we present 5) a previously unknown document from U.S. State Department archives that indicates it is very unlikely that the fossils were delivered to American hands. We propose that there is no evidence the U.S. ever obtained the fossils and that any future investigations must be based on research into actual documents relevant to their loss. Our approach should invite mindful consideration of alternatives to the Standard Scenario that have been thus far ignored.

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