“Essentially, Mr. Janus, you are looking for two men. One is maybe a million years old and the other one has him.” (180)
Sitting on a dusty thrift store shelf in CA, The Search for Peking Man immediately grabbed my attention as one of those potentially enthralling books that, through trials and adventure, would teach me a topic about which I know virtually nothing, in this case archaeology. The fact that it would be set predominantly in China added to my curiosity, so I grabbed it. The blurbs on its cover and in its “Preface” promising to be a book that the reader wouldn’t be able to put down were nearly accurate. Janus’ method of writing as he relates his story is as fast-paced as I’ve seen as he reports not only the history of the loss of the Peking Man during World War II, but also the process of his attempts at recovering the bones.
These bones, uncovered from a remote Chinese landscape in the 1920s, were reported to have predated any human relics ever found up to that point. Thankfully for me, a strong moral opponent to the theories of evolution that give humanity less-than-human ancestors, The Search for Peking Man has virtually nothing to say about dating or evolution, but is instead entirely interested in relating the intrigue of one of recent archaeology’s most captivating mysteries. During the invasion of the Japanese at the outset of WWII, the bones were shipped in crates along a route that can be followed only up to a certain point. Rumors abound regarding what happened to those crates, whether they were ravaged by the Japanese (like everything else not rooted into the ground), destroyed in battle, or spirited away by some concerned Chinese citizen or American marine. [Possible spoiler alert:] Although Janus never recovers the bones, he is somehow confident that the relics were not destroyed during any one of the myriad of disasters they likely experienced. He summarizes his hunch, a hunch that caused him to spend several years and loads of money, this way: “I’m certain that human passions–whether patriotism or greed–have protected the fossils from being destroyed or thrown away” (209).
Whether such human passions as patriotism or greed have saved the dusty old bones of Peking Man from likely disaster has yet to be determined, for even now in 2013, nearly 100 years after their initial unearthing and 70 years after their subsequent disappearance, the bones remain to be found. I’m not adventurous (or wealthy) enough to pick up the scent from Janus or other treasure hunters, but a real-life mystery such as this is bound to get a guy like me excited at the possibilities. Enjoy the book if you’re in for a light, a-little-out-there read.