8 - JAVA MAN
Eugene Dubois and
The Selenka Expedition
Dubois Withdraws from the
Are the Trinil Femurs Modern
The Heidelberg Jaw
Further Java Man Discoveries by Von Koenigswald
The Role of the Carnegie
Institution Back to Java
Later Discoveries in Java
Chemical and Radiometric
Dating of the Java Finds
Misleading Presentations of
the Java Man Evidence
At the end of the nineteenth century, a consensus was building
within an influential portion of the scientific community that human
beings of the modern type had existed as far back as the Pliocene
and Miocene periods—and perhaps even earlier.
Anthropologist Frank Spencer stated in 1984:
skeletal evidence it appeared as if the modern human skeleton
extended far back in time, an apparent fact which led many workers
to either abandon or modify their views on human evolution. One such
apostate was Alfred Russell Wallace (1823-1913)."
with Darwin the credit for having discovered evolution by natural
Darwin thought Wallace was committing heresy of the worst sort. But
Spencer noted that Wallace's challenge to evolutionary doctrine,
"lost some of its potency as well as a few of its supporters when
news began circulating of the discovery of a remarkable hominid
fossil in Java."
Considering the striking way in which the Java man
fossils were employed in discrediting and suppressing evidence for
the great antiquity of the modern human form, we shall now review
EUGENE DUBOIS AND PITHECANTHROPUS
Past the Javanese village of Trinil, a road ends on a high bank
overlooking the Solo River. Here one encounters a small stone
monument, marked with an arrow pointing toward a sand pit on the
opposite bank. The monument also carries a cryptic German
inscription, "P.e. 175 m ÖNÖ 1891/93," indicating that
Pithecanthropus erectus was found 175 meters east northeast from
this spot, during the years 1891-1893.
The discoverer of Pithecanthropus erectus was Eugene Dubois, born in Eijsden, Holland, in 1858, the year before Darwin published The
Origin of the Species. Although the son of devout Dutch Catholics,
he was fascinated by the idea of evolution, especially as it applied
to the question of human origins.
After studying medicine and natural history at the University of
Amsterdam, Dubois became a lecturer in anatomy at the Royal Normal
School in 1886. But his real love remained evolution. Dubois knew
that Darwin's opponents were constantly pointing out the almost
complete lack of fossil evidence for human evolution. He carefully
studied the principal evidence then available—the bones of
Neanderthal specimens. These were regarded by most authorities
(among them Thomas Huxley) as too close to the modern human type to
be truly intermediate between fossil apes and modern humans.
German scientist Ernst Haeckel had, however, predicted that the
bones of a real missing link would eventually be found. Haeckel even
commissioned a painting of the creature, whom he called
Pithecanthropus (in Greek, pitheko means ape, and anthropus means
man). Influenced by Haeckel's vision of Pithecanthropus, Dubois
resolved to someday find the ape-man's bones.
Mindful of Darwin's suggestion that humanity's forbearers lived in
"some warm, forest-clad land," Dubois became convinced
Pithecanthropus would be found in Africa or the East Indies.
he could more easily reach the East Indies, then under Dutch rule,
he decided to journey there and begin his quest. He applied first to
private philanthropists and the government, requesting financing for
a scientific expedition, but was turned down. He then accepted an
appointment as an army surgeon in Sumatra. With his friends doubting
his sanity, he gave up his comfortable post as a college lecturer
and with his young wife set sail for the East Indies in December
1887 on the S. S. Princess Amalie.
In 1888, Dubois found himself stationed at a small military hospital
in the interior of Sumatra. In his spare time, and using his own
funds, Dubois investigated Sumatran caves, finding fossils of rhino
and elephant, and the teeth of an orangutan, but no hominid remains.
In 1890, after suffering an attack of malaria, Dubois was placed on
inactive duty and transferred from Sumatra to Java, where the
climate was somewhat drier and healthier. He and his wife set up
housekeeping in Tulungagung, on eastern Java's southern coast.
During the dry season of 1891, Dubois conducted excavations on the
bank of the Solo River in central Java, near the village of Trinil.
His laborers took out many fossil animal bones. In September, they
turned up a particularly interesting item—a primate tooth,
apparently a third upper-right molar, or wisdom tooth. Dubois,
believing he had come upon the remains of an extinct giant
chimpanzee, ordered his laborers to concentrate their work around
the place where the tooth had turned up. In October, they found what
appeared to be a turtle shell.
But when Dubois inspected it, he saw
it was actually the top part of a cranium, heavily fossilized and
having the same color as the volcanic soil. The fragment's most
distinctive feature was the large, protruding ridge over the eye
sockets, leading Dubois to suspect the cranium had belonged to an
ape. The onset of the rainy season then brought an end to the year's
digging. In a report published in the government mining bulletin,
Dubois made no suggestion that his fossils belonged to a creature
transitional to humans.
In August 1892, Dubois returned to Trinil
and found there—among bones of deer, rhinoceroses, hyenas,
crocodiles, pigs, tigers, and extinct elephants—a fossilized
humanlike femur (thighbone). This femur was found about 45 feet from
where the skullcap and molar were dug up. Later another molar was
found about 10 feet from the skullcap. Dubois believed the molars,
skull, and femur all came from the same animal, which he still
considered to be an extinct giant chimpanzee.
In 1963, Richard Carrington stated in his book A Million Years of
"Dubois was at first inclined to regard his skull cap and teeth
as belonging to a chimpanzee, in spite of the fact that there is no
known evidence that this ape or any of its ancestors ever lived in
Asia. But on refection, and after corresponding with the great Ernst Haeckel, Professor of Zoology at the University of Jena, he declared
them to belong to a creature which seemed admirably suited to the
role of the missing link."
We have not found any correspondence
Dubois may have exchanged with Haeckel, but if further research were
to turn it up, it would add considerably to our knowledge of the
circumstances surrounding the birth of Pithecanthropus erectus.
Obviously, both men had a substantial emotional and intellectual
stake in finding an ape-man specimen.
Haeckel, on hearing from
Dubois of his discovery, telegraphed this message:
inventor of Pithecanthropus to his happy discoverer!"
It was only in 1894 that Dubois finally published a complete report
of his discovery. Therein he wrote:
"Pithecanthropus is the
transitional form which, in accordance with the doctrine of
evolution, must have existed between man and the anthropoids."
Pithecanthropus erectus, we should carefully note, had itself
undergone an evolutionary transition within the mind of Dubois, from
fossil chimpanzee to transitional anthropoid.
What factors, other than Haeckel's influence, led Dubois to consider
his specimen transitional between fossil apes and modern humans?
Dubois found that the volume of the Pithecanthropus skull was in the
range of 800-1000 cubic centimeters. Modern apes average 500 cubic
centimeters, while modern human skulls average 1400 cubic
centimeters, thus placing the Trinil skull midway between them.
Dubois, this indicated an evolutionary relationship. But logically
speaking, one could have creatures with different sizes of brains
without having to posit an evolutionary progression from smaller to
larger. Furthermore, in the Pleistocene many mammalian species were
represented by forms much larger than today's. Thus the
Pithecanthropus skull might belong not to a transitional anthropoid
but to an exceptionally large Middle Pleistocene gibbon, with a
skull bigger than that of modern gibbons.
Today, anthropologists still routinely describe an evolutionary
progression of hominid skulls, increasing in size with the passage
of time—from Early Pleistocene Australopithecus (first discovered in
1924), to Middle Pleistocene Java man (now known as Homo erectus),
to Late Pleistocene Homo sapiens sapiens. But the sequence is
preserved only at the cost of eliminating skulls that disrupt it.
For example, the Castenedolo skull, discussed in Chapter 7, is older
than that of Java man but is larger in cranial capacity. In fact, it
is fully human in size and morphology. Even one such exception is
sufficient to invalidate the whole proposed evolutionary sequence.
Dubois observed that although the Trinil skull was very apelike in
some of its features, such as the prominent brow ridges, the
thighbone was almost human. This indicated that Pithecanthropus had
walked upright, hence the species designation erectus. It is
important, however, to keep in mind that the femur of
Pithecanthropus erectus was found fully 45 feet from the place where
the skull was unearthed, in a stratum containing hundreds of other
This circumstance makes doubtful the claim that both
the thighbone and the skull actually belonged to the same creature
or even the same species.
When Dubois's reports began reaching Europe, they received much
Haeckel, of course, was among those celebrating
Pithecanthropus as the strongest proof to date of human evolution.
"Now the state of affairs in this great battle for truth has been
radically altered by Eugene Dubois's discovery of the fossil
Pithecanthropus erectus," proclaimed the triumphant Haeckel.
actually provided us with the bones of the ape-man I had postulated.
This find is more important to anthropology than the much-lauded
discovery of the X-ray was to physics."
There is an almost religious
tone of prophecy and fulfillment in Haeckel's remarks. But Haeckel
had a history of overstating physiological evidence to support the
doctrine of evolution. An academic court at the University of Jena
once found him guilty of falsifying drawings of embryos of various
animals in order to demonstrate his particular view of the origin of
In 1895, Dubois decided to return to Europe to display his
Pithecanthropus to what he was certain would be an admiring and
supportive audience of scientists. Soon after arriving, he exhibited
his specimens and presented reports at the Third International
Congress of Zoology at Leyden, Holland. Although some of the
scientists present at the Congress were, like Haeckel, anxious to
support the discovery as a fossil ape-man, others thought it merely
an ape, while still others challenged the idea that the bones
belonged to the same individual.
Dubois exhibited his treasured bones at Paris, London, and Berlin.
In December of 1895, experts from around the world gathered at the
Berlin Society for Anthropology, Ethnology, and Prehistory to pass
judgment on Dubois's Pithecanthropus specimens. The president of the
Society, Dr. Virchow, refused to chair the meeting. In the
controversy-ridden discussion that followed, the Swiss anatomist
Kollman said the creature was an ape.
Virchow himself said the femur
was fully human, and further stated:
"The skull has a deep suture
between the low vault and the upper edge of the orbits. Such a
suture is found only in apes, not in man. Thus the skull must belong
to an ape. In my opinion this creature was an animal, a giant
gibbon, in fact. The thigh-bone has not the slightest connection
with the skull."
This opinion contrasted strikingly with that of Haeckel and others, who remained convinced that Dubois's Java man
was a genuine human ancestor.
THE SELENKA EXPEDITION
To resolve some of the questions surrounding the Pithecanthropus
fossils and their discovery, Emil Selenka, professor of zoology at
Munich University in Germany, prepared a full-fledged expedition to
Java, but he died before it departed. His wife, Professor Lenore
Selenka, took over the effort and conducted excavations at Trinil in
the years 1907-1908, employing 75 laborers to hunt for more
Pithecanthropus erectus fossils.
Altogether, Selenka's team of
geologists and paleontologists sent back to Europe 43 boxes of
fossils, but they included not a single new fragment of
Pithecanthropus. The expedition did, however, find in the Trinil
strata signs of a human presence—splintered animal bones, charcoal,
and foundations of hearths. Signs like this led Lenore Selenka to
conclude that humans and Pithecanthropus erectus were contemporary.
The implications of all this for an evolutionary interpretation of
Dubois's Pithecanthropus specimens were, and still are, unsettling.
Furthermore, in 1924 George Grant MacCurdy, a Yale professor of
anthropology, wrote in his book Human Origins:
expedition of 1907- 1908 . . . secured a tooth which is said by
Walkoff to be definitely human. It is a third molar from a
neighboring stream bed and from deposits older (Pliocene) than those
in which Pithecanthropus erectus was found."
DUBOIS WITHDRAWS FROM THE BATTLE
Meanwhile, the status of Dubois's ape-man remained controversial.
Surveying the range of opinion about Pithecanthropus, Berlin
zoologist Wilhelm Dames gathered statements from several scientists:
three said Pithecanthropus was an ape, five said it was human, six
said it was an ape-man, six said it was a missing link, and two said
it was a link between the missing link and man.
But while many scientists maintained their doubts, others followed
Haeckel in hailing Java man as stunning proof of Darwin's theory.
Some used Java man to discredit evidence for a fully human presence
in the Tertiary.
As we learned in Chapter 5, W. H. Holmes dismissed
discoveries of stone tools in the Tertiary auriferous gravels of
"they implied a human race older by at least
one-half than Pithecanthropus erectus of Dubois, which may be
regarded as an incipient form of human creature only."
At a certain point, Dubois became completely disappointed with the
mixed reception the scientific community gave to his
Pithecanthropus. He stopped showing his specimens. Some say that he
kept them for some time beneath the floorboards in his home. In any
case, they remained hidden from view for some 25 years, until 1932.
During and after the period of withdrawal, the controversies
concerning Pithecanthropus continued. Marcellin Boule, director of
the Institute of Human Paleontology in Paris, reported, as had other
scientists, that the layer in which the Pithecanthropus skullcap and
femur were said to have been found contained numerous fossil bones
of fish, reptiles, and mammals. Why, therefore, should anyone
believe the skullcap and femur came from the same individual or even
the same species?
Boule, like Virchow, stated that the femur was
identical to that of a modern human whereas the skullcap resembled
that of an ape, possibly a large gibbon. In 1941, Dr. F. Weidenreich,
director of the Cenozoic Research Laboratory at Beijing Union
Medical College, also stated that there was no justification for
attributing the femur and the skullcap to the same individual.
femur, Weidenreich said, was very similar to that of a modern human,
and its original position in the strata was not securely
Modern researchers have employed chemical dating
techniques to determine whether or not the original Pithecanthropus
skull and femur were both contemporary with the Middle Pleistocene Trinil fauna, but the results were inconclusive.
The belated revelation that more femurs had been discovered in Java
further complicated the issue. In 1932, Dr. Bernsen and Eugene
Dubois recovered three femurs from a box of fossil mammalian bones
in the Leiden Museum in the Netherlands.
The box contained specimens
said to have been excavated in 1900 by Dubois's assistant, Mr. Kriele, from the same Trinil deposits on the left bank of the Solo
river that had yielded Dubois's first Java man finds. Dr. Bernsen
died very shortly thereafter, without providing further information
about the details of this museum discovery.
Dubois stated that he was not present when the femurs were taken out
by Kriele. Therefore the exact location of the femurs in the
excavation, which was 75 meters (246 feet) long by 6-14 meters
(20-46 feet) wide, was unknown to him. According to standard
paleontological procedures, this uncertainty greatly reduces the
value of the bones as evidence of any sort. Nevertheless,
authorities later assigned these femurs to a particular stratum
without mentioning the dubious circumstances of their discovery in
boxes of fossils over 30 years after they were originally excavated.
In addition to the three femurs found by Kriele, two more femoral
fragments turned up in the Leiden Museum.
The existence of the additional femurs has important implications
for the original Pithecanthropus skull and femur found by Dubois in
the 1890s. The apelike skull and humanlike femur were found at a
great distance from each other, but Dubois assigned them to the same
creature. He suggested that the bones were found separated because
Pithecanthropus had been dismembered by a crocodile.
But if you
throw in more humanlike femurs, that argument loses a great deal of
Where were the other skulls?
Were they apelike skulls,
like the one found?
And what about the skull that was found?
really go with the femur that was found 45 feet away?
Or does it
belong with one of the other femurs that later turned up?
with a femur of an entirely different sort?
ARE THE TRINIL FEMURS MODERN HUMAN?
In 1973, M. H. Day and
T. I. Molleson concluded that,
anatomy, radiological [X-ray] anatomy, and microscopical anatomy of
the Trinil femora does not distinguish them significantly from
modern human femora."
They also said that Homo erectus femurs from
China and Africa are anatomically similar to each other, and
distinct from those of Trinil.
In 1984, Richard Leakey and other scientists discovered an almost
complete skeleton of Homo erectus in Kenya. Examining the leg bones,
these scientists found that the femurs differed substantially from
those of modern human beings.
About the Java discoveries, the scientists stated:
Indonesia, there are several fragmentary and one complete (but
pathological) femora. Despite the fact that it was these specimens
that led to the species name [Pithecanthropus erectus], there are
doubts as to whether they are H. erectus with the most recent
consensus being that they probably are not."
In summary, modern researchers say the Trinil femurs are not like
those of Homo erectus but are instead like those of modern Homo
sapiens. What is to be made of these revelations? The Java
thighbones have traditionally been taken as evidence of an ape-man
(Pithecanthropus erectus, now called Homo erectus) existing around
800,000 years ago in the Middle Pleistocene. Now it appears we can
accept them as evidence for anatomically modern humans existing
800,000 years ago.
Some have said that the femurs were mixed in from higher levels. Of
course, if one insists that the humanlike Trinil femurs were mixed
in from higher levels, then why not the Pithecanthropus skull as
well? That would eliminate entirely the original Java man find, long
advertised as solid proof of human evolution.
Indeed, late in his life Eugene Dubois himself concluded that the
skullcap of his beloved Pithecanthropus belonged to a large gibbon,
an ape not thought by evolutionists to be closely related to humans.
But the heretofore-skeptical scientific community was not about to
say good-bye to Java man, for by this time Pithecanthropus was
firmly entrenched in the ancestry of modern Homo sapiens.
denials were dismissed as the whims of a cantankerous old man. If
anything, the scientific community wanted to remove any remaining
doubts about the nature and authenticity of Java man. This, it was
hoped, would fortify the whole concept of Darwinian evolution, of
which human evolution was the most highly publicized and
Visitors to museums around the world still find models of the Trinil
skullcap and femur portrayed as belonging to the same Middle
Pleistocene Homo erectus individual.
In 1984, the much-advertised
Ancestors exhibit, at the Museum of Natural History in New York,
brought together from around the world the major fossil evidence for
human evolution, including prominently displayed casts of the Trinil
skullcap and femur.
THE HEIDELBERG JAW
In addition to Dubois's Java man discoveries, further evidence
relating to human evolution turned up in the form of the Heidelberg
jaw. On October 21, 1907, Daniel Hartmann, a workman at a sand pit
at Mauer, near Heidelberg, Germany, discovered a large jawbone at
the bottom of the excavation, at a depth of 82 feet.
were on the lookout for bones, and many other nonhuman fossils had
already been found there and turned over to the geology department
at the nearby University of Heidelberg. The workman then brought the
jaw over to J. Rüsch, the owner of the pit, who sent a message to
Dr. Otto Schoetensack:
"For twenty long years you have sought some
trace of early man in my pit . . . yesterday we found it. A lower
jaw belonging to early man has been found on the floor of the pit,
in a very good state of preservation."
Professor Schoetensack designated the creature Homo heidelbergensis,
dating it using the accompanying fossils to the Gunz-Mindel
interglacial period. In 1972, David Pilbeam said the Heidelberg jaw
"appears to date from the Mindel glaciation, and its age is
somewhere between 250,000 and 450,000 years."
The German anthropologist Johannes Ranke, an opponent of evolution,
wrote in the 1920s that the Heidelberg jaw belonged to a
representative of Homo sapiens rather than an apelike predecessor.
Even today, the Heidelberg jaw remains somewhat of a morphological
mystery. The thickness of the mandible and the apparent lack of a
chin are features common in Homo erectus. But mandibles of some
modern Australian aboriginals are also massive compared to jaws of
modern Europeans and have chins that are less well developed.
According to Frank E. Poirier (1977), the teeth in the Heidelberg
jaw are closer in size to those of modern Homo sapiens than those of
Asian Homo erectus (Java man and Beijing man). T. W. Phenice of
Michigan State University wrote in 1972 that "the teeth are
remarkably like those of modern man in almost every respect,
including size and cusp patterns." Modern opinion thus confirms
Ranke, who wrote in 1922: "The teeth are typically human."
Another European fossil generally attributed to Homo erectus is the
Vertesszollos occipital fragment, from a Middle Pleistocene site in
Hungary. The morphology of the Vertesszollos occipital is even more
puzzling than that of the Heidelberg jaw.
David Pilbeam wrote in
"The occipital bone does not resemble that of H. erectus, or
even archaic man, but instead that of earliest modern man. Such
forms are dated elsewhere as no older than 100,000 years."
believed the Vertesszollos occipital to be approximately the same
age as the Heidelberg jaw, between 250,000 and 450,000 years old. If
the Vertesszollos occipital is modern in form, it helps confirm the
genuineness of anatomically modern human skeletal remains of similar
age found in England at Ipswich and Galley Hill (Chapter 7).
Returning to the Heidelberg jaw, we note that the circumstances of
discovery were less than perfect. If an anatomically modern human
jaw had been found by a workman in the same sand pit, it would have
been subjected to merciless criticism and judged recent. After all,
no scientists were present at the moment of discovery.
Heidelberg jaw, because it fits, however imperfectly, within the
bounds of evolutionary expectations, has been granted a
FURTHER JAVA MAN DISCOVERIES BY VON KOENIGSWALD
In 1929, another ancient human ancestor was discovered, this time in
China. Eventually, scientists would group Java man, Heidelberg man,
and Beijing man together as examples of Homo erectus, the direct
ancestor of Homo sapiens. But initially, the common features and
evolutionary status of the Indonesian, Chinese, and German fossils
were not obvious, and paleoanthropologists felt it particularly
necessary to clarify the status of Java man.
In 1930, Gustav Heinrich Ralph von Koenigswald of the Geological
Survey of the Netherlands East Indies was dispatched to Java.
book Meeting Prehistoric Man, von Koenigswald wrote,
discovery of Pekin [Beijing] man, it remained necessary to find a
further Pithecanthropus sufficiently complete to prove the human
character of this disputed fossil."
Von Koenigswald arrived in Java in January 1931. In August of that
same year, one of von Koenigswald's colleagues found some hominid
fossils at Ngandong on the River Solo. Von Koenigswald classified
the Solo specimens as a Javanese variety of Neanderthal, appearing
later in time than Pithecanthropus erectus.
Gradually, the history of human ancestors in Java seemed to be
clearing up, but more work was needed. In 1934, von Koenigswald
journeyed to Sangiran, a site west of Trinil on the Solo River. He
took with him several Javanese workers, including his trained
collector, Atma, who also served as von Koenigswald's cook and
laundryman in the field.
Von Koenigswald wrote:
"There was great rejoicing in the kampong
over our arrival. The men gathered all the jaws and teeth they could
lay hands on and offered to sell them to us. Even the women and
girls, who are generally so retiring, took part."
When one considers
that most of the finds attributed to von Koenigswald were actually
made by local villagers or native collectors, who were paid by the
piece, the scene described cannot but cause some degree of
At the end of 1935, in the midst of the worldwide economic
depression, von Koenigswald's position with the Geological Survey in
Java was terminated. Undeterred, von Koenigswald kept his servant
Atma and others working at Sangiran, financing their activities with
contributions from his wife and colleagues in Java.
Uncovered during this period was what appeared to be the fossilized
right half of the upper jaw of an adult Pithecanthropus erectus. An
examination of many reports by von Koenigswald has failed to turn up
any description by him of exactly how this specimen was found. But
in 1975 the British researcher K. P. Oakley and his associates
stated that the fossil was found in 1936 on the surface of exposed
lake deposits east of Kalijoso in central Java by collectors
employed by von Koenigswald. Because the jaw was found on the
surface, its exact age is uncertain.
An anthropologist might say that this jaw fragment exhibits the
features of Homo erectus, as Pithecanthropus erectus is now known.
Hence it must have been deposited at least several hundred thousand
years ago, despite the fact that it was found on the surface.
what if there existed in geologically recent times, or even today, a
rare species of hominid having physical features similar to those of
Homo erectus! In that case one could not automatically assign a date
to a given bone based on the physical features of that bone. In
Chapter 11 can be found evidence suggesting that a creature like
Homo erectus has lived in recent times and in fact may be alive
During the difficult year of 1936, in the course of which the fossil
jaw discussed above was uncovered, the unemployed von Koenigswald
received a remarkable visitor—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, whom
von Koenigswald himself had invited to come and inspect his discoveries
Teilhard de Chardin, a world-famous archeologist and Jesuit
priest, had been working in Peking (now Beijing), where he had
participated in the Peking man excavations at Choukoutien (now
During his visit to Java, Teilhard de Chardin advised von
Koenigswald to write to John C. Merriam, the president of the
Carnegie Institution. Von Koenigswald did so, informing Merriam that
he was on the verge of making important new Pithecanthropus finds.
Merriam responded positively to von Koenigswald's letter, inviting
him to come to Philadelphia in March 1937 to attend the Symposium on
Early Man, sponsored by the Carnegie Institution. There von
Koenigswald joined many of the world's leading scientists working in
the field of human prehistory.
One of the central purposes of the meeting was to form an executive
committee for the Carnegie Institution's financing of
paleoanthropological research. Suddenly, the impoverished von
Koenigswald found himself appointed a research associate of the
Carnegie Institution and in possession of a large budget.
THE ROLE OF THE CARNEGIE INSTITUTION
Considering the critical role played by private foundations in the
financing of research in human evolution, it might be valuable at
this point to further consider the motives of the foundations and
their executives. The Carnegie Institution and John C. Merriam
provide an excellent case study. In Chapter 10, we will examine the
Rockefeller Foundation's role in financing the excavation of Beijing
The Carnegie Institution was founded in January 1902 in Washington,
D.C., and a revised charter approved by Congress became effective in
1904. The Institution was governed by a board of 24 trustees, with
an executive committee meeting throughout the year, and was
organized into 12 departments of scientific investigation, including
The Institution also funded the Mt. Wilson
Observatory, where the first systematic research leading to the idea
that we live in an expanding universe was conducted. Thus the
Carnegie Institution was actively involved in two areas, namely
evolution and the big bang universe, that lie at the heart of the
scientific cosmological vision that has replaced earlier religiously
It is significant that for Andrew Carnegie and others like him, the
impulse to charity, traditionally directed toward social welfare,
religion, hospitals, and general education, was now being channeled
into scientific research, laboratories, and observatories. This
reflected the dominant position that science and its world view,
including evolution, were coming to occupy in society, particularly
within the minds of its wealthiest and most influential members,
many of whom saw science as the best hope for human progress.
John C. Merriam, president of the Carnegie Institution, believed
that science had "contributed very largely to the building of basic
philosophies and beliefs," and his support for von Koenigswald's
fossil-hunting expeditions in Java should be seen in this context.
foundation like the Carnegie Institution had the means to use
science to influence philosophy and belief by selectively funding
certain areas of research and publicizing the results.
of matters which might be investigated is infinite," wrote Merriam.
"But it is expedient in each period to consider what questions may
have largest use in furtherance of knowledge for the benefit to
mankind at that particular time."
The question of human evolution satisfied this requirement.
spent a considerable part of my life in advancing studies on the
history of life," said Merriam, "I have been thoroughly saturated
with the idea that evolution, or the principle of continuing growth
and development, constitutes one of the most important truths
obtained from all knowledge."
By training a paleontologist, Merriam was also by faith a Christian.
But his Christianity definitely took a back seat to his science.
first contact with science," Merriam recalled in a 1931 speech, "was
when I came home from grammar school to report to my mother that the
teacher had talked to us for fifteen minutes about the idea that the
days of creation described in Genesis were long periods of creation
and not the days of twenty-four hours. My mother and I held a
consultation—she being a Scotch Presbyterian—and agreed that this
was rank heresy. But a seed had been sown. I have been backing away
from that position through subsequent decades. I realize now that
the elements of science, so far as creation is concerned, represent
the uncontaminated and unmodified record of what the Creator did."
Having dispensed with scriptural accounts of creation, Merriam
managed to turn Darwinian evolution into a kind of religion. At a
convocation address at the George Washington University in 1924,
Merriam said of evolution,
"There is nothing contributing to the
support of our lives in a spiritual sense that seems so clearly
indispensable as that which makes us look forward to continuing
growth or improvement."
He held that science would give man the opportunity to take on a
godlike role in guiding that future development. "Research is the
means by which man will assist in his own further evolution," said
Merriam in a 1925 address to the Carnegie Institution's Board of
He went on to say:
"I believe that if he [man] had open to
him a choice between further evolution directed by some Being
distant from us, which would merely carry him along with the
current; or as an alternative could choose a situation in which that
outside power would fix the laws and permit him to use them, man
would say, 'I prefer to assume some responsibility in this scheme.'"
"According to the ancient story," Merriam continued, "man was driven
from the Garden of Eden lest he might learn too much; he was
banished so that he might become master of himself. A flaming sword
was placed at the east gate, and he was ordered to work, to till the
ground, until he could come to know the value of his strength. He is
now learning to plough the fields about him, shaping his life in
accordance with the laws of nature."
In some distant age a book may
be written in which it will be stated that man came at last to a
stage where he returned to the Garden, and at the east gate seized
the flaming sword, the sword that symbolized control, to carry it as
a torch guiding him to the tree of life."
Seizing the flaming sword
and marching to take control of the tree of life? One wonders if
there would be enough room in Eden for both God and a hard-charging
scientific super-achiever like Merriam.
BACK TO JAVA
Armed with Carnegie grant money, von Koenigswald returned to Java in
June of 1937. Immediately upon his arrival, he hired hundreds of
natives and sent them out in force to find more fossils. More
fossils were found. But almost all of them were jaw and skull
fragments that came from poorly specified locations on the surface
near Sangiran. This makes it difficult to ascertain their correct
During the course of most of the Sangiran finds, von Koenigswald
remained at Bandung, about 200 miles away, although he would
sometimes travel to the fossil beds after being notified of a
In the fall of 1937, one of von Koenigswald's collectors, Atma,
mailed him a temporal bone that apparently belonged to a thick,
fossilized, hominid cranium. This specimen was said to have been
discovered near the bank of a river named the Kali Tjemoro, at the
point where it breaks through the sandstone of the Kabuh formation
Von Koenigswald took the night train to central Java and arrived at
the site the next morning.
"We mobilized the maximum number of
collectors," stated von Koenigswald. "I had brought the fragment
back with me, showed it round, and promised 10 cents for every
additional piece belonging to the skull. That was a lot of money,
for an ordinary tooth brought in only 1/2 cent or 1 cent. We had to
keep the price so low because we were compelled to pay cash for
every find; for when a Javanese has found three teeth he just won't
collect any more until these three teeth have been sold.
Consequently we were forced to buy an enormous mass of broken and
worthless dental remains and throw them away in Bandung—if we had
left them at Sangiran they would have been offered to us for sale
again and again."
The highly motivated crew quickly turned up the desired skull
fragments. Von Koenigswald would later recall:
"There, on the banks
of a small river, nearly dry at that season, lay the fragments of a
skull, washed out of the sandstones and conglomerates that contained
the Trinil fauna. With a whole bunch of excited natives, we crept up
the hillside, collecting every bone fragment we could discover. I
had promised the sum of ten cents for every fragment belonging to
that human skull. But I had underestimated the 'big-business'
ability of my brown collectors. The result was terrible! Behind my
back they broke the larger fragments into pieces in order to
increase the number of sales! . . . We collected about 40 fragments,
of which 30 belonged to the skull. . . . They formed a fine, nearly
complete Pithecanthropus skullcap. Now, at last, we had him!"
How did von Koenigswald know that the fragments found on the surface
of a hill really belonged, as he claimed, to the Middle Pleistocene
Kabuh formation? Perhaps the native collectors found a skull
elsewhere and broke it apart, sending one piece to von Koenigswald
and scattering the rest by the banks of the Kali Tjemoro.
Von Koenigswald constructed a skull from the 30 fragments he had
collected, calling it Pithecanthropus II, and sent a preliminary
report to Dubois. The skull was much more complete than the original
skullcap found by Dubois at Trinil. Von Koenigswald had always
thought that Dubois had reconstructed his Pithecanthropus skull with
too low a profile, and believed the Pithecanthropus skull fragments
he had just found allowed a more humanlike interpretation.
who by this time had concluded his original Pithecanthropus was
merely a fossil ape, disagreed with von Koenigswald's reconstruction
and published an accusation that he had indulged in fakery. He later
retracted this indictment and said that the mistakes he saw in von
Koenigswald's reconstruction were probably not deliberate.
But von Koenigswald's position was gaining support. In 1938, Franz Weidenreich, supervisor of the Beijing man excavations at
Zhoukoudian, stated in the prestigious journal Nature that von
Koenigswald's new finds had definitely established Pithecanthropus
as a human precursor and not a gibbon as claimed by Dubois.
In 1941, one of von Koenigswald's native collectors, at Sangiran,
sent to him, at Bandung, a fragment of a gigantic lower jaw.
According to von Koenigswald, it displayed the unmistakable features
of a human ancestor's jaw. He named the jaw's owner Meganthropus
palaeojavanicus (giant man of ancient Java) because the jaw was
twice the size of a typical modern human jaw.
A careful search of original reports has not revealed a description
of the exact location at which this jaw was found, or who discovered
it. If von Koenigswald did report the exact circumstances of this
find then it is a well-kept secret. He discussed Meganthropus in at
least three reports; however, in none of these did he inform the
reader of the details of the fossil's original location. All he said
was that it came from the Putjangan formation, but no further
information was supplied. Hence all we really know for certain is
that some unnamed collector sent a jaw fragment to von Koenigswald.
Its age, from a strictly scientific standpoint, remains a mystery.
Meganthropus, in the opinion of von Koenigswald, was a giant
offshoot from the main line of human evolution. Von Koenigswald had
also found some large humanlike fossil teeth, which he attributed to
an even larger creature called Gigantopithecus. According to von
Koenigswald, Gigantopithecus was a large and relatively recent ape.
But Weidenreich, after examining the Meganthropus jaws and the
Gigantopithecus teeth, came up with another theory.
He proposed that
both creatures were direct human ancestors. According to Weidenreich,
Homo sapiens evolved from Gigantopithecus by way of Meganthropus and
Pithecanthropus. Each species was smaller than the next. Most modern
authorities, however, consider Gigantopithecus to be a variety of
ape, living in the Middle to Early Pleistocene, and not directly
related to humans.
The Meganthropus jaws are now thought to be much
more like those of Java man (Homo erectus) than von Koenigswald
originally believed. In 1973, T. Jacob suggested that Meganthropus
fossils might be classified as Australopithecus.
This is intriguing,
because according to standard opinion, Australopithecus never left
its African home.
LATER DISCOVERIES IN JAVA
Meganthropus was the last major discovery reported by von Koenigswald, but the search for more bones of Java man has continued
up to the present. These later finds, reported by P. Marks,
Jacob, S. Sartono, and others, are uniformly accepted as evidence
for Homo erectus in the Javanese Middle and Early Pleistocene. Like
the discoveries of von Koenigswald, these fossils were almost all
found on the surface by native collectors or farmers.
For example, T. Jacob reported that in August 1963 an Indonesian
farmer discovered fragments of a fossilized skull in the Sangiran
area while working in a field. When assembled, these skull fragments
formed what appeared to be a skull similar to the type that is
designated as Homo erectus. Although Jacob asserted that this
skullcap was from the Middle Pleistocene Kabuh formation, he did not
state the exact position of the fragments when found. All we really
know is that a farmer discovered some fossil skull fragments that
were most likely on or close to the surface.
In 1973, Jacob made this interesting remark about Sangiran, where
all of the later Java Homo erectus finds were made:
"The site seems
to be still promising, but presents special problems. This is mainly
due to the site being inhabited by people, many of whom are
collectors who had been trained in identifying important fossils.
Chief collectors always try to get the most out of the Primate
fossils found accidentally by primary discoverers. In addition, they
may not report the exact site of the find, lest they lose one
potential source of income. Occasionally, they may not sell all the
fragments found on the first purchase, but try to keep a few pieces
to sell at a higher price at a later opportunity."
Nevertheless, the Sangiran fossils are accepted as genuine. If
anomalously old human fossils were found in situations like this,
they would be subjected to merciless criticism. As always, our point
is that a double standard should not be employed in the evaluation
of paleoanthropological evidence—an impossibly strict standard for
anomalous evidence and an exceedingly lenient standard for
In order to clear up uncertainties, letters were written in 1985 to
both S. Sartono and to T. Jacob for further information about
discoveries reported by them from Java. No answers were received.
CHEMICAL AND RADIOMETRIC DATING OF THE JAVA FINDS
We shall now discuss issues related to the potassium-argon dating of
the formations yielding hominid fossils in Java, as well as attempts
to date the fossils themselves by various chemical and radiometric
The Kabuh formation at Trinil, where Dubois made his original Java
man finds, has been given a potassium-argon age of 800,000 years.
Other finds in Java came from the Djetis beds of the Putjangan
formation. According to T. Jacob, the Djetis beds of the Putjangan
formation near Modjokerto yielded an Early Pleistocene
potassium-argon date of about 1.9 million years. The date of 1.9
million years is significant for the following reasons.
As we have
seen, many Homo erectus fossils (previously designated
Pithecanthropus and Meganthropus) have been assigned to the Djetis
beds. If these fossils are given an age of 1.9 million years, this
makes them older than the oldest African Homo erectus finds, which
are about 1.6 million years old. According to standard views, Homo
erectus evolved in Africa and did not migrate out of Africa until
about 1 million years ago.
Also, some researchers have suggested that von Koenigswald's
Meganthropus might be classified as Australopithecus. If one accepts
this opinion, this means that Javan representatives of
Australopithecus arrived from Africa before 1.9 million years ago or
that Australopithecus evolved separately in Java. Both hypotheses
are in conflict with standard views on human evolution.
It should be kept in mind, however, that the potassium-argon
technique that gave the 1.9-million-year date is not foolproof.
T. Jacob and G. Curtis, who attempted to date most of the hominid sites
in Java, found it difficult to obtain meaningful dates from most
samples. In other words, dates were obtained, but they deviated so
greatly from what was expected that Jacob and Curtis had to
attribute the unsatisfactory results to contaminants. In 1978, G. J. Bartstra reported a potassium-argon age of less than 1 million years
for the Djetis beds.
We have seen that the Trinil femurs are indistinguishable from those
of modern humans and distinct from those of Homo erectus. This has
led some to suggest that the Trinil femurs do not belong with the
Pithecanthropus skull and were perhaps mixed into the early Middle
Pleistocene Trinil bone bed from higher levels. Another possibility
is that anatomically modern humans were living alongside
ape-man-like creatures during the early Middle Pleistocene in Java.
In light of the evidence presented in this book, this would not be
out of the question.
The fluorine-content test has often been used to determine if bones
from the same site are of the same age. Bones absorb fluorine from
ground waters, and thus if bones contain similar percentages of
fluorine (relative to the bones' phosphate content) this suggests
such bones have been buried for the same amount of time.
In a 1973 report, M. H. Day and T. I. Molleson analyzed the Trinil
skullcap and femurs and found they contained roughly the same ratio
of fluorine to phosphate. Middle Pleistocene mammalian fossils at
Trinil contained a fluorine-to-phosphate ratio similar to that of
the skullcap and femurs. Day and Molleson stated that their results
apparently indicated the contemporaneity of the calotte and femora
with the Trinil fauna.
If the Trinil femurs are distinct from those of Homo erectus and
identical to those of Homo sapiens sapiens, as Day and Molleson
reported, then the fluorine content of the femurs is consistent with
the view that anatomically modern humans existed in Java during the
early Middle Pleistocene, about 800,000 years ago.
Day and Molleson suggested that Holocene (recent) bones from the
Trinil site might, like the Java man fossils, also have
fluorine-to-phosphate ratios similar to those of the Middle
Pleistocene animal bones, making the fluorine test useless here. K.
P. Oakley, the originator of the fluorine-content testing method,
pointed out that the rate of fluorine absorption in volcanic areas,
such as Java, tends to be quite erratic, allowing bones of widely
differing ages to have similar fluorine contents. This could not be
directly demonstrated at the Trinil site, because there only the
Middle Pleistocene beds contain fossils.
Day and Molleson showed that Holocene and Late Pleistocene beds at
other sites in Java contained bones with fluorine-to-phosphate
ratios similar to those of the Trinil bones. But they admitted that
the fluorine-to-phosphate ratios of bones from other sites "would
not be directly comparable" with those of bones from the Trinil
site. This is because the fluorine absorption rate of bone depends
upon factors that can vary from site to site. Such factors include
the groundwater's fluorine content, the groundwater's rate of flow,
the nature of the sediments, and the type of bone.
Therefore, the fluorine-content test results reported by Day and
Molleson remain consistent with (but are not proof of) an early
Middle Pleistocene age of about 800,000 years for the anatomically
modern human Trinil femurs.
A nitrogen-content test was also performed on the Trinil bones.
Dubois had boiled the skullcap and the first femur in animal glue,
the protein of which contains nitrogen. Day and Molleson attempted
to correct for this by pre-treating the samples in order to remove
soluble nitrogen before analysis. Results showed that the Trinil
bones had very little nitrogen left in them.
This is consistent with
all of the bones being of the same early Middle Pleistocene age,
although Day and Molleson did report that nitrogen in bone is lost
so rapidly in Java that even Holocene bones often have no nitrogen.
MISLEADING PRESENTATIONS OF THE JAVA MAN EVIDENCE
Most books dealing with the subject of human evolution present what
appears at first glance to be an impressive weight of evidence for
Homo erectus in Java between 0.5 and 2.0 million years ago. One such
book is The Fossil Evidence for Human Evolution?,), by W. E. Le Gros
Clark, professor of anatomy at Oxford University, and Bernard G.
Campbell, adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of
California at Los Angeles.
An impressive table showing discoveries
of Homo erectus is presented in their book. These discoveries have
been used widely to support the belief that man has evolved from an
T3 is the femur found by Dubois at a distance of 45 feet from the
original cranium, T2. We have already discussed how unjustified it
is to assign these two bones to the same individual. Yet ignoring
many important facts, Le Gros Clark and Campbell stated that "the
accumulation of evidence speaks so strongly for their natural
association that this has become generally accepted."
T6, T7, T8, and T9 are the femurs found in boxes of fossils in
Holland over 30 years after they were originally excavated in Java.
Le Gros Clark and Campbell apparently ignored Dubois's statement
that he himself did not excavate them, and that the original
location of the femurs was unknown. Furthermore, von Koenigswald
stated that the femurs were from Dubois's general collection, which
contained fossils from "various sites and various ages which are
very inadequately distinguished because some of the labels got
Nevertheless, Le Gros Clark and Campbell assumed that these
femurs came from the Trinil beds of the Kabuh formation. But Day and
"If the rigorous criteria that are demanded in
modern excavations were applied to all of the Trinil material
subsequent to the calotte and Femur I, it would all be rejected as
of doubtful provenance and unknown stratigraphy."
Fossil M1 and fossils S1 through S6 are those discovered by Javanese
native collectors employed by von Koenigswald. Only one of them (M1)
was reported to have been discovered buried in the stratum to which
it is assigned, and even this report is subject to question.
remaining fossils of the S series are the ones reported by Marks, Sartono, and Jacob, and the majority of these were surface finds by
villagers and farmers, who sold the fossils, perhaps by way of
middlemen, to the scientists. One familiar with the way these
specimens were found can only wonder at the intellectual dishonesty
manifest in Table 8.1, which gives the impression that the fossils
were all found in strata of definite age.
Le Gros Clark and Campbell noted that the real location of many of
von Koenigswald's finds was unknown. Nevertheless, they said that
the fossils must have come from Middle Pleistocene Trinil beds of
the Kabuh formation (0.7-1.3 million years old) or the Early
Pleistocene Djetis beds of the Putjangan formation (1.3-2.0 million
The ages given by Le Gros Clark and Campbell, derived from the
potassium-argon dates discussed previously, refer only to the age of
the volcanic soils, and not to the bones themselves. Potassium-argon
dates have meaning only if the bones were found securely in place
within or beneath the layers of dated volcanic material. But the
vast majority of fossils listed in Table 8.1 were surface finds,
rendering their assigned potassium-argon dates meaningless.
Concerning the age of 1.3-2.0 million years given by Le Gros Clark
and Campbell for the Djetis beds of the Putjangan formation, we note
that this is based on the potassium-argon date of 1.9 million years
reported by Jacob and Curtis in 1971. But in 1978 Bartstra reported
a potassium-argon age of less than 1 million years. Other
researchers have reported that the fauna of the Djetis and Trinil
beds are quite similar and that the bones have similar
Le Gros Clark and Campbell concluded that,
"at this early time there
existed in Java hominids with a type of femur indistinguishable from
that of Homo sapiens, though all the cranial remains so far found
emphasize the extraordinarily primitive characters of the skull and
All in all, the presentation by Le Gros Clark and
Campbell was quite misleading. They left the reader with the
impression that cranial remains found in Java can be definitely
associated with the femurs when such is not the case. Furthermore,
discoveries in China and Africa have shown that Homo erectus femurs
are different from those collected by Dubois in Java.
Judging strictly by the hominid fossil evidence from Java, all we
can say is the following. As far as the surface finds are concerned,
these are all cranial and dental remains, the morphology of which is
primarily apelike with some humanlike features. Because their
original stratigraphic position is unknown, these fossils simply
indicate the presence in Java, at some unknown time in the past, of
a creature with a head displaying some apelike and humanlike
The original Pithecanthropus skull (T2) and femur (T3) reported by
Dubois were found in situ, and thus there is at least some basis for
saying they are perhaps as old as the early Middle Pleistocene
Trinil beds of the Kabuh formation. The original position of the
other femurs is poorly documented, but they are said to have been
excavated from the same Trinil beds as T2 and T3.
In any case, the
original femur (T3), described as fully human, was not found in
close connection with the primitive skull and displays anatomical
features that distinguish it from the femur of Homo erectus.
is, therefore, no good reason to connect the skull with the T3 femur
or any of the other femurs, all of which are described as identical
to those of anatomically modern humans.
Consequently, the T2 skull
and T3 femur can be said to indicate the presence of two kinds of
hominids in Java during the early Middle Pleistocene—one with an
apelike head and the other with legs like those of anatomically
modern humans. Following the typical practice of giving a species
identification on the basis of partial skeletal remains, we can say
that the T3 femur provides evidence for the presence of Homo sapiens
sapiens in Java around 800,000 years ago.
Up to now, no creature
except Homo sapiens sapiens is known to have possessed the kind of
femur found in the early Middle Pleistocene Trinil beds of Java.