(Hu)Man(ity) Before History: Jacquetta Hawkes On Paleo Discoveries

The history of paleoanthropology and archaeology is full of beginnings – mostly beginnings and ideas that come through actual discoveries of tangible, physical objects. Consequently, in writing the history of material objects, there is a strong tradition, realized or not, to begin with the discovery of that object.  History and anthropology ties the object (say, a fossil or an artifact) to a moment in time and it’s easy to use “discovery” to situate a narrative in a timeline of sorts. 

Like most other learned or scientific subjects, archaeology had its traditional lore centering upon famous events and personalities in its history.  Jacquetta Hawkes, 1964.

But focusing on “discovery” as the impetus for organizing history– or the structure of a narrative – is tricky.  It can lead, as Jacquetta Hawkes pointed out, to the creation of a lore that surrounds the discovered object.  In other words, telling the stories of an object’s discovery over and over cements a mythos about the object.

Discovery seems to be a comfortable trope and an easy beginning to talk about fossils.  The history of paleoanthropology is deeply tied to the process and materiality of discovery – it’s difficult to imagine writing any history of paleoanthropology that doesn’t begin with a discovery of some sort.

 

Fossil Man in China, 1933: Mapping Zhoukoudian

  Fossil Man in China  ,  1933: The publication that summarizes the geology, paleoanthropology, archaeology, and excavations at Zhoukoudian through 1933.

Fossil Man in China, 1933: The publication that summarizes the geology, paleoanthropology, archaeology, and excavations at Zhoukoudian through 1933.

Publication of the geologic maps is one of many  early 20th century means of data-sharing.  With the maps, and the detailed descriptions of the fossils and artifacts, readers can better parse the geologic context for a site as extensive as Zhoukoudian.

(Click through the gallery below for the five geologic maps.)

  Fossil Man in China  includes five large-format, detailed geological maps for Zhoukoudian and the surrounding areas.

Fossil Man in China includes five large-format, detailed geological maps for Zhoukoudian and the surrounding areas.

"Labor Created Man:" Interpretations of Zhoukoudian, 1972

This small, pocket-sized book is a simplified overview of the history of Chinese prehistory, published in 1972.  Fascinating illustrations and reconstructions.

勞動創造了人 "Labor Created Man" (1972)

 

  山頂洞人的生活。當時的人們已會使用骨針縫獸皮為衣 (画) "Depiction: The life of upper cave men.  They already knew how to use bones as needles for sewing hide for clothes."

 山頂洞人的生活。當時的人們已會使用骨針縫獸皮為衣 (画) "Depiction: The life of upper cave men.  They already knew how to use bones as needles for sewing hide for clothes."

 發現中國猿人化石的北京周口店龍骨山: "Zhoukoudian is where the fossil of the Chinese ape is discovered."

發現中國猿人化石的北京周口店龍骨山: "Zhoukoudian is where the fossil of the Chinese ape is discovered."

 中國猿人頭骨復原像(女): "A reconstructed model of a skull of a Chinese ape (female)" (We can assume this is "Nellie" as Davidson Black called her...)

中國猿人頭骨復原像(女): "A reconstructed model of a skull of a Chinese ape (female)" (We can assume this is "Nellie" as Davidson Black called her...)

 山頂洞人在捕魚: "Upper cave men fishing"

山頂洞人在捕魚: "Upper cave men fishing"

 Fossils of skulls of ape (猿人), ancient human (古人), modern human(新人): Top is Peking Man; middle "Maba Man"; bottom is "LiuJiang Man"

Fossils of skulls of ape (猿人), ancient human (古人), modern human(新人): Top is Peking Man; middle "Maba Man"; bottom is "LiuJiang Man"

Special thanks to Siu and Mekong for their assistance with translations!