Nature 136, 577-577 (12 October 1935) | doi:10.1038/136577b0

Food of Peking Man


AN interesting light is thrown on the mode of life of Peking man in a communication by Dr. Ralph W. Chaney, of the Department of Palaeontology, University of California, and research associate of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C., which is issued in the News Service Bulletin of the Institution. It would appear that Peking man supplemented the meat diet provided by the game animals of the hills and plains by vegetable food, which he obtained as a ‘food-gatherer’. About twenty feet above the lowest level of human occupation in the Chou-kou-tien cave and in a breccia containing numerous quartz artefacts and bone fragments, there is a layer several inches thick, made up of thousands of fragments of the shells of seeds. The markings on the shells indicate that they are hackberry seeds, globular bodies smaller than peas. The modern hackberry (Celtis) occurs as a small tree in the forests both of North America and Asia, but is most characteristic as a shrub on semi-arid slopes and stream borders. As it is improbable that they could have been introduced into the cave by any other agency than animals or man, it may safely be assumed that they formed part of the food of one or the other, their shells having been crushed while being eaten. In the United States the berries are extensively used as food by birds, rodents and the Indians, especially in the south-west. The most common use is as a flavouring for meat or bread. In order to eliminate the possibility of these seeds having been introduced into the cave by rodents, experimental observations have been made in which it was found that monkeys alone broke up the shells in a manner corresponding to that in which the shells in the cave had been broken. It is, therefore, more than probable that the seeds were brought to the cave by human agency and that the hackberry seeds afford the earliest known example of a vegetable food used by primitive man.