Lost tooth reveals details of 'Peking Man's' life: Ancient human ancestor gnawed on bones and nuts and lived into old age
The tooth surfaced in 2011 in a box that had never been unpacked or studied since it was shipped from China in the 1920s.
Two Chinese palaeontologists, Liu Wu and Tong Haowen from the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing have now examined the tooth and it has at last been described in the journal Acta Anthropologica Sinica.
They quickly determined that it was a canine tooth from a Peking Man.
‘It is a spectacular find,’ said Per Ahlberg, who was one of the team who came across it in the box.
‘We can see numerous details that tell us about this individual’s life.
‘The crown of the tooth is relatively small, which indicates that it belonged to a woman.
‘The tooth is quite worn, so the individual must have been quite old when she died.
‘In addition, two large chips have been knocked out of the enamel, as if hit by something, or perhaps by biting into something really hard such as a bone or a hard nut.
‘At least one of the chips was old when the individual died, since it is partly worn down.’
Dr Ahlberg told MailOnline the woman may have been between 30 and 40 years old when she died, which was a ripe age at the time.
Previous studied have shown that the Peking Man used fire to stay warm and wore animal hides.
The very first samples of the prehistoric ancestor were found by Otto Zdansky from Uppsala University in the 1920s and are on show alongside a third tooth discovered in the 1950s, at the museum.
It became a world sensation in 1927 when crania and other bones were found at the site by Wenhao Weng of the Geological Survey of China and Canadian Davidson Black, who had taken over the excavations.
What Do We Know About the Life of Peking Man?
Peking Man, an ancient human ancestor lived between 750,000 and 200,000 years ago.
The name describes the species, not an individual and around 15 partial crania have been found.
Examination of a tooth now shows that the species ate nuts and meat with wear and tear indicating he gnawed on bones.
In order to survive the harsh weather, Peking Man would have needed to be able to create and manage fire, and now there is solid proof to back this theory in the form of soil samples.
It's thought the Peking Man wore animal hides that had been softened using stone tools.
Belonging to the species Homo erectus, the Peking Man was also able to make bizarrely drilled holed objects, but it is not understood why.
Sadly, the unique collection disappeared during the chaos of the World War Two and has never been found since, but over the last decades, several fossils of Homo erectus have been found in other parts of the world.’
‘We now know that the species is a direct ancestor to the modern man.
‘However, the lost materials of the Peking Man remain one of palaeontology’s greatest mysteries and most tragic losses’, said Dr Ahlberg.
The Missing Fossils: Where is the Original Peking Man?
Archaeologists first arrived in Zhoukoudian in 1921 where they were directed to the site by quarrymen.
First, human teeth were found at the site but it was Canadian scientist Davidson Black who made some of the most significant discoveries, including a skull, despite his initial findings being treated with scepticism by scientists around the world.
Around 200 fossils were gathered until excavation came to an end in 1937 with the Japanese invasion.
Fossils were placed in the Cenozoic Research Laboratory of the Peking Union Medical College for safe-keeping, before being packed up for the US in 1941.
But the fossils were inexplicably lost as they were being transported through northern China.
It is still unknown what happened to the fossils with some believing they sank on Japanese ship the Awa Maru in 1945.
US financier Christopher Janus appealed for information on their whereabouts in 1972, promising a reward of $5,000. One woman made contact, demanding $500,000, but nothing ever came of the approach.
The Chinese Government also initiated a committee to locate the fossils to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the end of World War Two.The fossils, however, have yet to be located.