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Zhoukoudian (Choukutien as was)

4 January 2013

The discovery of human skulls and bones amongst a lot of animal bones in a cave near Zhoukoudian (formerly known as Choukutien) near Beijing (formerly Peking) was used by Velikovsky in his book, Earth in Upheaval (on page 55 of the Abacus edition). He said the human remains included Caucasian, Melanesian and Eskimo physical types, three humans washed into a fissure that he claimed was due to a catastrophic event (otherwise unnamed but fairly recent if his discription of the skulls is taken at face value). To show the specimens came from three diverse regions of the world, swept there in a deluge of  water, he also added that animals in the faunal assemblage at the cave also came from different climatic regimes, the colder north and the warmer south. The big question, as always when it comes to cave deposits, is what accummulated over many years and what was washed into the cave more rapidly, usually by water. Velikovsky's source was a book by R Moore, Man Time and Fossils (1953), page 274-5, which of course is out of print and the skulls themselves disappeared during WWII so none of this can be verified. Or can it?

At http://news.yahoo.com/peking-man-fashion-plate-191530302.html … although possibly a dumbed down story aimed at a young audience the kernel of the piece comes from some recent research by Chinese scientists (and a Chinese colleague at a university in Ottawa). Peking Man, it seems, is basically Homo erectus, the first human group to colonise the world. This means he is old, very old, quite different to the individuals mentioned by Velikosky. Homo erectus was extent between 200,000 and 750,000 years ago, and what is interesting is that the new research has evidence that they had the ability to fashion wooden implements and tools, used fire (on the evidence of a hearth), and hafted spears. They even drilled holes into objects and used stone tools to soften animal hides. Not so backward (see also www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2256248/The-Peking-Man.html and http://phys.org/news/2012-09-peking-isolated-population.html ).

Six skulls of Peking Man were found at Zhoukoudian. The lower parts of the cave deposit are thought to be much older than the upper deposits and the animals bones are attributed to carnivores as well as humans. The skulls were said to be relatively similar anatomically although in a later study the size of the skulls was analysed, as anthropologists will, and said to be larger the more recent in time. This appears to be a bit of hyperbole associated with the idea of evolution of species over time – the heads of Homo erectus becoming bigger the nearer they are to us. Needless to say this claim is controversial. There is in fact a substantive literature available on Peking Man – and keying those words into your search engine will produce pages of links. For example, a paper in the Journal of Quaternary Research (2004), 'Middle Pleistocene Climate and Habitat Change at Zhoukoudian, China, from the oxygen isotopes record from herbivore tooth enamel', Mabry Gaboardi, Tao Dang and Yang Wong. Thank goodness for teeth. In fact, the dental remains of animals are in copious quantities at Zhoukoudian and the enamel contains clues to diet and the kind of environment they lived in. The study assumes continuous occupation of the caves over a very long period – and to a degree some of the bones must reflect this fact. It is possible bones accummulated more rapidly on some occasions as the Middle to Late Pleistocene involved a great degree of shifts in climate (glacials and interglacials, stadials and intersadials etc). To what extent catastrophism was involved is unclear – if it was involved at all. Velikovsky thought it was – but he wasn't referring to Peking Man as we shall see. At http://www-personal.une.edu.au/~pbrown3/UpperCave.html … we discover there was a Late Pleistocene deposit at Zhoukoudian, known as the Upper Cave deposit (higher up than the other caves and fissures). It was this deposit that Velikovsky refers to and presumably visualised it as the end of the Ice Age – which may have involved a catastrophic deposit. Velikovsky also supposed the end of the Ice Age was more recent than it is currently dated largely because C14 methodology was in its infancy when he was writing and various geological and archaeological deposits had been dated at face value and did not take into account a variety of factors such as contamination of samples etc. He gave the impression he was dating all this to a massive catastrophic event he dated to around 1500BC but at the same time Earth in Upheaval is somewhat ambiguous. He clearly envisaged a series of catastrophic events but he drew these from the Biblical narrative and compressed them within Biblical numbers. Be that as it may, human remains were found in the Upper Cave, three skulls as he said, excavated in 1933/4 and described by Pei, and significantly by Weidenreich (1939) and Wu (1960 and 1961) (see also Wu and Wang, 1988, and Hedges et al 1992). Dates now run from 10,175+/- 360 BP for the upper deposit in the Upper Cave until 33,200 +/- 2000 BP for the basal layer (right in amongst the thick of the C14 plateau that Firestone et al associate with a cosmic event of some kind. Now, this is worth keeping in the back of the mind as we proceed. Here we have a range of dates from the event involved in the C14 plateau between 40 and 30,000 years ago and the Younger Dryas event some 20,000 years later, and a deposit that may embrace the whole of the Late Glacial Maximum. Here we have catastrophism in league with conventional geology. The two should be seen as two sides of the same coin – but reflecting different aspects of the deposit. The dates, we may note, were obtained from animal bones – not human skeletal material. According to Pei and Weidenreich (in the 1930s) the human remains are burials and therefore out of stratigraphical context. They could have been dug into the deposit during the Holocene, for example, a hollowed out grave in what was a deposit that embraced a very long period of time. On the other hand, they may have been buried in the Late Pleistocene at some stage, prior to the Holocene as such. In other words they could date more recently than 10,000 years ago – which would take off the edge of what Velikovsky was trying to convey. As Pei and Weidenreich were writing and recording in the 1930s Velikovsky must have been aware of what they said – but chose to cite Moore instead. It was actually Weidenreich who claimed to see variations between the three crania and an absence of a clearly defined East Asian morphology. He described them as primitive Mongoloid, Melanesian, and Eskimo (not mentioning Caucasian) and as East Asians are not thought to have arrived in China until after 6000BC the skulls could still date to the early Holocene. It is the fact they were not East Asian in physiogamy or skull shape that caused Velikovsky to question if they had inhabited China – but obviously, they may well have done. The Ainu of Japan could be described as Melanesian if you were just looking at the skull – and the Eskimos arrived in Arctic America at a fairly late date. These skulls, we learn, were also lost during WWII, along with the skulls of Peking Man. Casts do exist and have been used in recent research. No mention is made of the red loam featured in the account in Earth in Upheaval – but see next.

Christopher Norton and Xing Gao, in 'Zhoukoudian Upper Cave Revisited' (University of Hawaii and the Chinese Academy of Sciences) assume the site was occupied over a long period of time – and we have seen this is probably true of all cave deposits. The long occupation overlaid by catastrophic accumulations. The red loam appears to be an anomaly Velikovsky has misinterpreted. The fill of the cave is actually made up of a loose grey sediment which is quite distinct in relation to a hard red breccia on the underlying formation, or cave floor. Grey sediment sounds a lot like silt, the result of water, but the hard red breccia may be associated with an event a very long time ago. It is worthwhile bearing in mind that red ochre was being used in burials over a hundred thousand years ago and the idea possibly came about as a result of catastrophic event. Hence, although Velikovsky might be repudiated in one sense, timing and dating, the idea of making a link between red cometary dust accumulating in soil and silts in terrestrial deposits is not perhaps something worth latching on to in this instance.  One can understand why Velikovsky used the Zhoukoudian skulls as they appeared to support his idea that a massive tidal wave washed diverse peoples and animals into a remote cave on the northern Chinese plain but clearly his chronology at this point is confused. The red breccia formation is bad news. Not only that, five cultural layers have been identified after the laying down of the red stuff, and human remains and their tools are evident in most of them. These are fragmentary as far as layers 1 and 2 are concerned but more pronounced in layer 3. The three skulls and the majority of human artifacts were found in layer 4, with negligible remains in layer 5. Layer 4 is 5m thick, quite substantial, and is dated between 34,000 and 10,000 years BP. The older layers at the Upper Cave deposit are therefore much more remote in time – and yet humans were active in China. Layer 4 in fact falls into China's Late Palaeolithic Period and the tools and ornaments reflect this. The most common animal among the bones were Sika deer and Red deer – but there were a lot of carnivore remains too which is somewhat anomalous (although the articles do not reflect this). Velikovsky's book, Earth in Upheaval, was probably more influential than even Worlds in Collision, although it lacked the Biblical connection (unless one was somewhat imaginative).However, lots of people came to this book fairly late in sequence  and it seems to have influenced people as far as acceptance of the latter book was concerned, or otherwise. It is a self supporting theory, a catalogue it could be said of catastrophic events and not necessarily central to the revised history on Biblical lines that his other books suggested. In other words, the events described in Earth in Upheaval do not come with a date line. They could fit into the accepted chronology of 2012/2013 just as easily as the Biblical number crunching. Velikovsky lived and wrote during WWII and therefore his overriding concern was to preserve Jewish traditions – and this included Biblical events and the sequence in which they occurred. He was otherwise uncommitted but in the context of WWII and what had happened and was happening in the emergent state of Israel, his focus is understandable. It should be seen in that context and not by what we know nowadays – or think we know nowadays.

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