Some 300 paleoanthropologists gathered in Beijing Tuesday to mark the 80th anniversary of the discovery of the first complete skull of Peking Man, the homo erectus that lived near Beijing 700,000 years ago.
"This is the largest ever symposium on the discovery of the skull", said Gao Xing, deputy director and research fellow of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Palaeoanthropology (IVPP), which organized the gathering.
"Just like the Great Wall, the skull of Peking Man has become a national symbol of China," said Robin Dennell, a professor with the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, "And the experts are gathering here because of it."
Peking Man was previously believed to have lived in Zhoukoudian Caves, in current suburban Fangshan District, about 400,000 to 500,000 years ago, but in March, Chinese scientists revealed they were actually 200,000 years older. The finding was published in London-based science journal Nature.
Dennell visited Zhoukoudian in 1999, but he still remembered the experience. "It was really impressive," he said.
The site struck Nikolay Drozdov, rector of the Astafiev Krasnoyarsk State Pedagogical University, as very interesting when he made his first visit to it in 1991.
"Since then, we had conducted many exchanges with Chinese archaeologists," he said.
The first complete skull was found by Chinese archaeologist Pei Wenzhong in December 1929, and in 1936, technician Jia Lanpo, who later became an archaeologist, unearthed three skulls.
Fossils unearthed in the caves were found to belong to 40 individuals, with more than 100,000 stone tools. Large scale excavation ceased in 1937 when the Japanese army invaded China.
Zhoukoudian Caves was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in December 1987.