|The skull sections of Lantian Man 蓝田人 (Lántián rén) were found at Gongwangling 公王岭 (also spelt Kungwangling). Etler (1996) dates Lantian man as having lived between 700,000 to 1,150,000 years ago. The older date is based on data from An and Ho using an oxygen isotope scale to date the strata. That is old, much older than the more famous Peking Man (220,00 - 580,000 years ago) found at Zhoukoudian near Beijing. The date places Lantian Man in the early Pleistocene with cousins of similar age and type in Java and East Africa.
The skull was found in October 1964 after a team was sent to Lantian County to conduct a large scale examination of the area. In 1963, a jaw bone had been found at Chenjiawo, stimulating interest in the area. The Gongwangling Hill was targeted because there were many other fossils found in the area. A humanoid tooth was found in May of 1964 at the site, confirming the choice of the site. It turned out that that the tooth and skull pieces came from the same person. Woo Ju-Kang described the find in 1966 and detailed the skull pieces as including: the frontal bone, most of the eye sockets, the parietal bones (top of the head), the right temporal bone (side of the head), part of the nasal bone (bridge of the nose), and part of the right maxillary (upper jaw) with two teeth still attached. Part of the left maxillary was attached. At that point, Woo gave a conservative estimate of age between 500,000 and 600,000 years.
Based on cranial fusion and tooth wear, Woo estimates the individual as being around 30. Others have guessed that Lantian Man is actually Lantian Woman, based on the fineness of the skull.
Lantian Man is not the oldest Homo erectus found in China.
The teeth found at Yuanmou are difficult to date (Pope, 1988) and may date to a later period. The youngest Homo erectus was found at Longtandong, Hexian, Anhui dating from 190,000 to 300,000 years ago. Homo sapiens have been identified as early as 230,000 to 280,000 years ago at Jinniushan, Yingkou, Liaoning and Tianshuigou, Dali, Shaanxi (180,000 to 230,000 years ago). We wouldn't recognize these pre-modern members of the clan, but the modern Homo sapiens found around 35,000 to 65,000 years ago (Salawusu, Inner Mongolia) and 28, 000 years ago (Laishui, Hebei) bear striking resemblance to your neighbor.
Evolution is a slow process. The 920,000 years between Lantian Man and Dali Man covered a lot of history. Why then are so few fossils found? Until the Neolithic era (10,000 BC) Homo erectus and Homo sapiens lived in loosely organized packs. The fossils found were probably covered accidentally. Landslides and volcanic activity are the best preservation tools. Only when our ancestors settled in cooperative villages and began to bury their dead were the remains preserved for archaeologists.
Etler, Dennis A. The Fossil Evidence for Human Evolution in Asia. Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 25 (1996), pp. 275-301
Pope, Geoffrey G. Recent Advances in Far Eastern Paleoanthropology. Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 17 (1988), pp. 43-77.
Woo Ju-Kang. The Skull of Lantian Man. Current Anthropology, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Feb., 1966), pp. 83-86.
Last update: March 2010
© Marilyn Shea, 2010