Rear view of Sinanthropus

Rear views of a gorilla, Peking Man, and modern human

Rear views of the skulls of a female gorilla, Weidenreich's Peking Man reconstruction, and a modern human. (Taken from Fossil Men, Boule and Vallois 1957)

The following quote from Bowden (1981) is given as evidence that Peking Man is a monkey:

"Looked at from behind, the top of the skull of Sinanthropus is of grossly triangular shape like that of monkeys, rather than oval-shaped, as in man." (Teilhard de Chardin 1930)

Teilhard de Chardin's original report on the first Peking Man skull was published in Revue des Questions Scientifiques in 1930. It and many other essays were republished in his book L'Apparition de l'Homme in 1956. The above translation was made by O'Connell (1969) from this book.

Bowden references the above quote as having come from The Appearance of Man, a 1965 English translation of Teilhard's book. However this is not the case, because in the English translation, the passage corresponding to the above quote is:

"... viewed from the back (in 'norma occipitalis') the Sinanthropus skull has a roughly triangular shape (like that of the simians) rather than an ovoid one (like that of present-day men)."

Clearly, instead of using the authorized English translation of the book which he had referenced, Bowden had copied O'Connell's translation of the French version. The two versions are quite different. O'Connell says that the skull had a "grossly triangular shape like that of monkeys", while the authorized translation refers to "a roughly triangular shape (like that of the simians)".

Although I do not have a copy of the original French article, I believe I can reconstruct what has happened. In both cases, O'Connell is at fault, having made mistranslations which favored his case.

The word 'simian' can refer to both apes and monkeys, and in the context of Teilhard' article, 'apes' is certainly the intended meaning. In the original French, the word used could have been either 'simien' or 'singe'. Although the word 'singe' is usually translated as 'monkey', it can mean either 'ape' or 'monkey', since French has no word for 'ape'. 'simien', like 'simian' in English, refers to both apes and monkeys. There is no reason to believe that Boule and Vallois were comparing Sinanthropus to a monkey, rather than an ape.

More importantly, the word "grossly" was almost surely translated from French word "grossi╦rement". This is another mistake by O'Connell, because this word is more accurately translated as "roughly", as was done in the English translation of Teilhard's book. Thus a phrase whose original meaning was that the Peking Man skull had a roughly apelike shape (which is correct) became, after O'Connell's incorrect translation, a statement that the skull had a grossly monkey-like shape. For both O'Connell and Bowden, this statement then became a major justification for their claims that the Peking Man skull was that of a monkey.

Such a claim is breathtakingly incompetent. The cranium in question (Skull III) had a capacity of 915 cc, over twice the size of an average chimp skull, and monkey skulls are considerably smaller than those of chimps. Any competent, or even incompetent, anatomist would instantly recognize that none of the Peking Man skulls (the others are all larger than Skull III) could possibly belong to a monkey.

O'Connell did even worse with a quote translated from Marcellin Boule (1937). According to O'Connell, Boule said:

"To this fantastic hypothesis (of Abb╚ Breuil and Fr. Teilhard de Chardin), that the owners of the monkey-like skulls were the authors of the large-scale industry, I take the liberty of preferring an opinion more in conformity with the conclusions from my studies, which is that the hunter (who battered the skulls) was a real man and that the cut stones, etc., were his handiwork" (O'Connell 1969, claiming to be quoting Boule 1937)

O'Connell went on to say that Boule's verdict had been that Sinanthropus was a macaque or monkey. This is incorrect; Boule's conclusion in 1937 was that Sinanthropus had been intermediate between apes and humans:

"It is nonetheless evident that, by the volume of their brain as by what we know of the anatomical structure of their skull, Sinanthropus and his brother Pithecanthropus are interposed, in the series of superior primates, between the great apes and the Hominiens". (Boule 1937, p.21, my translation)

O'Connell's quote is not so much a mistranslation as a fabrication. The above quote appears nowhere in Boule's article; the closest approximation is the following:

"To this hypothesis, as fantastic as it is ingenious, I permit myself to prefer this one, which seems to me as satisfying while being simpler and more in conformity with the totality of our knowledge: the hunter was a true man, of whom we have found the stone industry and who made Sinanthropus his victim." (Boule 1937, p.20, my translation)

O'Connell's misquote, particularly the reference to "monkey-like" skulls which he had fabricated, became the major justification for Gish's later claims that Peking Man was a large monkey or ape (Gish 1979). Gish dropped the quote from his later books (1985, 1995), but did not abandon the claim which had been based upon it.


Boule M. (1937): Le Sinanthrope. L'Anthropologie, 47:1-22

Boule M. and Vallois H. (1957): Fossil Men. Ed. 4. New York: Dryden Press.

Bowden M. (1981): Ape-men: fact or fallacy? Ed. 2. Bromley,Kent: Sovereign.

Gish D.T. (1979): Evolution: the fossils say no! Ed. 3. San Diego: Creation-Life Publishers.

Gish D.T. (1985): Evolution: the challenge of the fossil record. El Cajon, CA: Creation-Life Publishers.

Gish D.T. (1995): Evolution: the fossils still say no! El Cajon, CA: Institute for Creation Research.

O'Connell, P. (1969): Science of Today and the Problems of Genesis. Hawthorne, CA: Christian Book Club of America

Teilhard de Chardin P. (1930): Sinanthropus pekinensis: an important discovery in human palaeontology. Revue des Questions Scientifiques, July 20: (discovery of the first Peking Man skull; reprinted in English translation in The Appearance of Man, 1965)

Creationist arguments about Peking Man

The 'Monkey Quote' of Marcellin Boule

This page is part of the Fossil Hominids FAQ at the Archive.

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