Dragon Bone Hill: An Ice-Age Saga of Homo Erectus

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"Peking Man," a cave man once thought a great hunter who had first tamed fire, actually was a composite of the gnawed remains of some fifty women, children, and men unfortunate enough to have been the prey of the giant cave hyena. Researching the famous fossil site of Dragon Bone Hill in China, scientists Noel T. Boaz and Russell L. Ciochon retell the story of the cave's unique species of early human, Homo erectus.
Boaz and Ciochon take readers on a gripping scientific odyssey. New evidence shows that Homo erectus was an opportunist who rode a tide of environmental change out Africa and into Eurasia, puddle-jumping from one gene pool to the next. Armed with a shaky hold on fire and some sharp rocks, Homo erectus incredibly survived for over 1.5 million years, much longer than our own species Homo sapiens has been on Earth. Tell-tale marks on fossil bones show that the lives of these early humans were brutal, ruled by hunger and who could strike the hardest blow, yet there are fleeting glimpses of human compassion as well. The small brain of Homo erectus and its strangely unchanging culture indicate that the species could not talk. Part of that primitive culture included ritualized aggression, to which the extremely thick skulls of Homo erectus bear mute witness.
Both a vivid recreation of the unimagined way of life of a prehistoric species, so similar yet so unlike us, and a fascinating exposition of how modern multidisciplinary research can test hypotheses in human evolution, Dragon Bone Hill is science writing at its best.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"For non-scientists interested in the evolution of man and the study of daves and dave men, this book is highly readable."—Danny A. Brass, Journal of Cave and Karst Studies

"Adding a controversial interpretation of the human evolutionary story to a gripping account of the discovery and mysterious disappearance of some of the world's most charismatic fossils, Boaz and Ciochon take the reader on an absorbing tour of the remote human past. Along the way they reveal some of the complexities, human as well as scientific, that continue to beset our efforts to understand whence our extraordinary species emerged."—Ian Tattersall, author of Becoming Human and The Monkey In the Mirror

"Boaz and Ciochon have written an admirable book worth reading with both reflection and delight. Their historical account of the important discoveries at Dragon Bone Hill may read like good fiction, but the events are well researched and honestly portrayed. Details of the magnificent fossils are carefully described for layman and scientist alike. In the contentious field of human evolutionary studies, the ideas of Boaz and Ciochon are sometimes daring, but never fanciful. The bottom line is that Dragon Bone Hill is a good read coupled with educational value."—Jeffrey K. McKee, Associate Professor of Anthropology at The Ohio State University, author of The Riddled Chain and Sparing Nature

"A meticulous, but not forbiddingly technical, survey of evidence from which scientists infer and debate the species' evolution. From areas where consensus reigns—that H. erectus was a head-banging, tool- and fire-using scavenger—Boaz and Ciochon proceed to the most disputatious ground in the field, arguments about whether H. erectus evolved in Africa or elsewhere. Methodically informative, this book best suits readers with a well developed interest in human origins."—Booklist

"[Boaz and Ciochon] tell two entertaining tales as they explore many facets of the Homo erectus story. The first deals with the discovery of Peking Man and provides much insight into the politics of early paleoanthropology.... Their second story addresses the evolutionary place of Peking Man and presents hypotheses on the origins of the use of fire, the beginnings of human language, the evolution of the brain, hunting, cannibalism, stone and bone tool use and ancient human diet."—Publishers Weekly

"Boaz and Ciochon restore Zhoukoudian to its pivotal role in understanding human evolution and how it was discovered. They give us new insights and some tantalizing glimpses of almost-lost history. This is a welcome addition to Multiregionalism."—Milford H. Wolpoff, University of Michigan

Publishers Weekly
Dragon Bone Hill is the name of the archeological site in China where Peking Man was found in the 1920s. Although all of the original Peking Man fossils were lost during the Japanese occupation of China, casts remain and have shown that Peking Man should be classified as Homo erectus, an early ancestor of humans. Ross University anatomist Boaz (Evolving Health) and University of Iowa anthropologist Ciochon (The Human Evolution Source Book) tell two entertaining tales as they explore many facets of the Homo erectus story. The first deals with the discovery of Peking Man and provides much insight into the politics of early paleoanthropology. As part of this story, the authors also attempt to resolve the oft-examined question of what happened to the original fossils. They don't present a great deal of new information and come to the same conclusion as many others (notably Nicole Mones in her novel Lost in Translation), suggesting that, after being discarded by Japanese troops, the fossils were ground up and turned into medicinal products by Chinese locals. Their second story addresses the evolutionary place of Peking Man and presents "hypotheses on the origins of the use of fire, the beginnings of human language, the evolution of the brain, hunting, cannibalism, stone and bone tool use and ancient human diet." They conclude that Homo erectus was primarily a scavenger incapable of speech who had learned to tame but not fully control fire. Accessible to the general reader, this volume provides a nice overview of the subject. B&w illus. (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Next to the Piltdown Man hoax, no other historical topic in anthropology has garnered more interest than the mysterious disappearance of the Peking Man fossils from war-torn China in 1936. However, casts of the original fossils and the excavation data from Dragon Bone Hill were saved by their discoverer, Chinese paleoanthropologist Lanpo Jia. Those materials-coupled with continued study and new evidence found at Dragon Bone Hill-are changing perceptions about Peking Man and the history of our evolution. Boaz (anatomy, Ross Univ. Sch. of Medicine) and Ciochon (anthropology, Univ. of Iowa; Other Origins: The Search for the Giant Ape in Human Prehistory) argue that Homo erectus is not the great hunter, as originally believed, but was a scavenger and frequent victim of the giant cave hyena. They also note that new interpretations of this species' thick skull indicate repeated incidents of ritualized aggression. Yet the culture of Homo erectus seems to have included compassionate gestures toward sick and ailing members. With small brains and no ability to talk, they survived for 1.5 million years-which is much longer than our own species has been around. This riveting study provides much food for thought and is highly recommended for all academic libraries and larger public libraries.-Gloria Maxwell, Penn Valley Community Coll. Lib., Kansas City, MO Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195152913
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 2/16/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Noel T. Boaz is Professor of Anatomy, Ross University School of Medicine. He is the author of Evolving Health, Eco Homo and Quarry: Closing in on the Missing Link.
Russell L. Ciochon is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Iowa. His books include Other Origins: The Search for the Giant Ape in Human Prehistory and The Human Evolution Source Book.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Ch. 1 The Bones of Dragon Hill 1
Ch. 2 The Dragon Reclaims Its Own 33
Ch. 3 Giants and Genes: Changing Views of Peking Man's Evolutionary Significance 55
Ch. 4 The Third Function: A Hypothesis on the Mysterious Skull of Peking Man 74
Ch. 5 The Adaptive Behavior of the Not-Quite-Human 90
Ch. 6 The Times and Climes of Homo erectus 108
Ch. 7 The Nature of Humanness at Longgushan: Brain, Language, Fire, and Cannibalism 124
Ch. 8 Alpha and Omega: Resolving the Ultimate Questions of the Beginnings and Endings of Homo erectus, the Species 142
Ch. 9 Testing the New Hypotheses 161
Notes 181
Bibliography 197
Credits for Illustrations 217
Index 221
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