Ancient Man Java Man Homo Erectus Part 1

About the search for Java Man or homo erectus a possible early ancestor of man and link to the apes, reaction of the community to the discovery.


JAVA MAN (Homo erectus erectus)

The search for Java Man was, according to one anthropologist, "the greatest story of serene confidence I have ever heard." The hero of that story was Eugene Dubois, who, at the age of 19, decided that Charles Darwin was right and that he (Dubois) would find the evidence to prove it. At the time, controversy was raging over finds in Europe of the remains of Neanderthal Man, modern man's most recent ancestor, but Dubois wanted to discover a more apelike creature. The places in which it would be most logical to look, he thought, would be those where modern apes still lived and where ancient glaciers (which disturb sites) had not reached. His first choice was Africa, but he knew it would be difficult for him to get there, so he chose the next-best bet--the East Indies. At college, he studied medicine, specializing in natural history and anatomy, then he became a lecturer in anatomy at the University of Amsterdam.

Finally he was able to wangle an appointment as surgeon in the Royal Dutch Army, which got him to Sumatra, where he spent his free time searching for fossil bones in limestone caves and fossil-rich streambeds. (Once he got stuck in the entrance to a tiger's den.) He found nothing of significance. When he heard that fossilized human bones had been found on a nearby island, he doggedly pestered army officials with his requests to investigate those bones so that the Dutch government would have a record of extinct animals and humans native to its territories. The Dutch government didn't seem to care too much about such a record, but Dubois, who was becoming annoying, was transferred to Wadjak, on the south coast of Java. The bones that had been found were too recent to be of much interest, but he began searching for more ancient ones.

In 1891, with the help of convict laborers assigned to him by the government, which was beginning to see he was on to something, he found a fossil skullcap in the gravel of the Solo River near the village of Trinil. Several months later, he found part of a jaw with one molar, a braincase, and a thighbone. Assuming that all the skeletal pieces were from the same time period, Dubois called his find Pithecanthropus erectus ("standing ape-man") and announced it to the scientific world.

With only a few exceptions, scientists were skeptical. Their estimates of what Java Man really was ranged from a giant gibbon to a modern microcephalic idiot. The clergy were even less impressed. Java Man did not make a very attractive Adam; he had a low, primitive forehead and a huge beetle brow on top of a startlingly modern body. It was a difficult idea to swallow--the head of a brute on the body of a man; the opposite idea would have been easier to take.

Dubois went off to Europe, carrying Pithecanthropus in a suitcase. It is said that one evening in Paris, he inadvertently left the suitcase behind in a restaurant. Halfway down the street, he realized what he had done and said to a fellow anthropologist, "Where is Pithecanthropus? I've left him in the restaurant!" He ran back, found his suitcase, and made sure his ancient protege was still there. His friend told him he should keep the bones under his pillow.

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