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Prehistory

Remote Ancestors of the Chinese People

How human beings came to exist has always been a major concern in human history. In the past, people believed that divine beings created everything in the world, including themselves. In the West, an omnipresent God was the supreme creator, while Chinese believed that Goddess Nüwa created human beings by molding them from clay. In the mid-19th century, fossils were discovered that showed similarities between human beings and apes, indicating that perhaps human beings had evolved from primates. Over the course of time these fossils allowed scientists to draw a fairly complete picture of human evolution. An early human ancestor was a creature called Aegyptopithecus. One branch - Pithecus - evolved into the modern gorilla and chimpanzee; the other branch into Ramapithecus, Australopithecus and then Homo Erectus who appeared two million years ago. Homo Erectus further evolved from early Homo Sapiens to late Homo Sapiens, then finally into modern human beings about ten thousand years ago. With the development of the Theory of Evolution, traditional beliefs about creation were turned on their head.

In China, the first find of primitive human fossils took place in the 1920s. In the subsequent eighty years, excavations have revealed late Homo Sapiens (Shandingdong and Liujiang Man), early Homo Sapiens (Dingcun and Maba Man) as well as Homo Erectus (Yuanmou and Peking Man). Apart from these fossils, a dozen Pithecus fossils were brought to light, including Lufeng Pithecus both of Ramapithecus and Dryopithecus, Kaiyuan Pithecus of Ramapithecus and Baoshan Pithecus, a transitional type from Ramapithecus to Australopithecus. Together these primitive human and Pithecus fossils tell a roughly intact story of the evolution of man. These human fossils even bore some common characteristics of the Mongoloid Race. This substantiates the theory that mainland China was the cradle of the Chinese people.

Primitive human beings followed many of the habits of animals. They lived in caves, ate wild fruits, moved in small groups and practised promiscuity. But they knew how to make tools and used stone artefacts to hunt animals and process food. They also learnt how to make fire and used bone needles for stitching animal furs to cover their bodies. It was at this stage that primitive forms of religion and aesthetic senses came into being.