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University of Iowa News Release

April 13, 2004

UI's Russell Ciochon Maps Famed Early Man Cave Site

Russell L. Ciochon, professor of anthropology in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and his colleagues have constructed the first 3-D, computerized map of its kind plotting the locations where early human remains have been unearthed since the 1930s at the famed Dragon Bone Hill site in China.

Ciochon's work will be published in the May issue of the Journal of Human Evolution (vol. 46, no. 5, pp. 519-549). The article will appear on Science Direct's website later this week (doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2004.01.007). The paper is currently available in PDF format at In addition, Ciochon and his colleagues will present his new findings during a Friday, April 16, symposium at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Tampa, Fla.

The 3-D map of Dragon Bone Hill Locality 1, where the remains of at least 51 human fossils were recovered, likely will aid future archaeologists and paleontologists, especially because scientists had thought all excavation records of the site had been lost.

Ciochon says: "The ancient cave site of Dragon Bone Hill, China, now a United Nations World Heritage site, sat for hundreds of thousands of years before Western scientists began exposing its fossils in the 1920's. By 1937, it had become the largest paleoanthropological excavation in history. Tragically, all of the early human fossils were lost or destroyed during the chaos of World War II, along with the records and written data from the site. Or so it was thought."

In 1999, Ciochon and colleague Noel T. Boaz, professor of anatomy at Ross School of Medicine, discovered that Chinese excavation director, Lanpo Jia, had copied maps and geological data during the Japanese occupation of Beijing between 1937 and 1941 and had preserved the data at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing. With the collaboration of Professors Xu Qinqi and Liu Jinyi, Ciochon and Boaz were able to obtain all of Jia's transcribed maps, digitize the data, and assemble -- for the first time -- a 3-D reconstruction of the site and all its hominid points of discovery, termed "loci."

"For many years, the site of Dragon Bone Hill was generally acknowledged as providing the earliest evidence for the human use of fire," Ciochon says. "The team's new view of this classic site changes many notions of the behavior of our early Homo erectus ancestors. Instead of the hunter postulated by earlier theorists, Homo erectus at Dragon Bone Hill was sometimes the prey of giant cave hyenas, sometimes using fire to keep these large carnivores at bay long enough to scavenge kills from them."

The construction of the 3-D model was accomplished using sophisticated 3-D computer modeling programs. The model was constructed by UI undergraduate Nathan Totten and rendered into video by UI graduate student Wan Eui Hong under the direction of Ciochon and Boaz.

Ciochon plans to conduct further research on the site with the assistance of the UI College of Engineering's Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering 3-D virtual reality group, headed by Professor Karim Abdel-Malek.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009,