ARCHEOLOGISTS have found an “uncommonly well-preserved” fossilized skull of Homo erectus in east China, providing more valuable material in the study of the evolution and distribution of early man.
The fossil is the latest discovery from the Hualongdong archeological site in Dongzhi County, Anhui Province, which the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology has been combing through since summer 2006.
This is proving to be another important site after findings were made in Zhoukoudian, where Peking Man, a type of Homo erectus, lived, Lantian in northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, Anhui’s Hexian County, and Nanjing in east China’s Jiangsu Province, said lead researcher Liu Wu.
The skull at the center of this discovery, named Dongzhi Man, was found along with an assortment of stone implements, other human teeth and bone fragments, as well as more than 6,000 bone fossils belonging to vertebrate animals including stegodon, an early relative of the elephant, giant tapir and giant pandas.
“All of these indicate the site is exactly where the Dongzhi men lived as we found the bones of the animals were broken in a quite unnatural way. To put it more precisely, they were cut or chopped with tools into small pieces, meaning the animals were eaten or used as sacrifices,” said Liu.
The skull was discovered on October 11 and partly encased in earth. The face can be clearly made out, including the complete eye socket, a large part of nasal bone and cheekbones.
“Discovering a well-preserved ancient human skull fossil is a dream come true for a paleoanthropologist, so our whole team was so happily surprised,” said Liu.
“A skull carries much more information than any other human bone. With it, it’s easier for us to restore the look of the human being and ultimately determine its origin,” he said.
The skull is between 150,000 and 412,000 or more years old, Liu said, adding that further analysis will be done to determine its exact age.
Previous homo erectus skulls discovered in China since 1926 are either deformed or “with no face, but only cranium,” explained Liu.
Besides the skull, the scientists found bone fragments belong to at least four individuals, including a child.
“Together with the animal bone fossils and the stone implements, we assume the site was the home for a relatively mature human community,” Liu said.
Before the latest digs, archeologists had already found a fossilized human tooth, and human and mammal bone fragments at Hualongdong.