The Japan Times
April 27, 2001

Peking Man caves imperiled

BEIJING (AFP-Jiji) Valuable archaeological evidence contained in caves claimed by China to be the birthplace of mankind is in danger of being lost as pollution and a chronic lack of funding ravage the site, official media reported Thursday.

If nothing is done to protect the celebrated Zhoukoudian caves, the discovery site of Peking Man, they are likely to collapse, the official Xinhua news agency said.

According to professor Zhu Ming, director of the Chinese Academy of Science's Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, a portion of the upper cave has already been swept away by rain, while bushes and weeds cover most of the site.

China's press is particularly concerned that unless action is taken, the site will be removed from the World Heritage site list, on which it was registered in 1987. A review is to be carried out this year, which may rank the caves as endangered heritage.

The area, situated 60 km south of Beijing, is also under threat from nearby cement works that have sprung up around the caves over the past few years, according to an official television report.

According to the report, the progressive disintegration is being hampered by a lack of response to paleontologists' appeals. An appeal to establish a protection committee to raise foreign funds has also met with failure.

The caves were opened up in 1921, and the first Chinese homo erectus fossils, between 200,000 and 500,000 years old, were uncovered in 1929.

Over the years the site has suffered many setbacks, including the mysterious disappearance of six skull bones in the Sino-Japanese war.