Eugene Dubois and the Java Man

Eugene Dubois

Eugene Dubois

On January 28, 1858, Dutch paleoanthropologist and geologist Eugene Dubois was born. Dubois earned worldwide fame for his discovery of Pithecanthropus erectus (later redesignated Homo erectus), or Java Man. Although hominid fossils had been found and studied before, Dubois was the first anthropologist to embark upon a purposeful search for them.

Eugene Dubois was born in Eijsden, Netherlands. He is said to have been fascinated by natural history early and studied medicine, graduating in 1884. Dubois was appointed anatomy lecturer at Amsterdam University, but soon gave up his position in order to travel to the Dutch East Indies and look for fossils of human ancestors. It is not really clear, why Eugene Dubois made this decision. Some believe that Dubois disliked his teaching position. He possibly chose the East Indies, now Indonesia, because many scientists believed that humans could have evolved in the tropics.

He joined the Dutch Army as a medical officer and Dubois along with his family arrived at Sumatra in late 1887. Since the first studies conducted by Dubois in his spare time were successful, the government assigned a team of engineers and labourers to help him. Unfortunately, the area was densely forested and theey were short on water. After many workers ran away and one of his engineers died, the scientist only found a few fossils and he decided that in java they might be more successful. He was transferred there in 1890 and began searching near Solo River with a new team which proved to be more successful.

In September of the same year, at Koedoeng Broeboes, Dubois’ workers found a human-like fossil. In the next year, Dubois found a tooth, a skullcap, the fossil which became widely known as the java Man. Dubois published works on his fossils which he named ‘Pithecanthropus erectus’ in 1894. He described it as something between an ape and a human. The scientist started to promote his findings one year later in Europe, and even though some contemporaries welcomed his work, most disagreed with Dubois. However, Eugene Dubois kept promoting his work, traveling thorugh Europe, and his position received more and more support. In 1897, Eugene Dubois was awarded an honorary doctorate in botany and zoology by the University of Amsterdam, and in 1899 became a professor there in crystallography, mineralogy, geology and paleontology.

After ceasing to discuss Java Man and basically hiding the fossils at his home, Dubois allowed acced to Java Man in the 1920s. It became a gain a topic of debate after similar fossils have been found. In 1929, the first Peking Man fossils were found and in the 1930s, other pithecanthropine fossils were found in Java at Sangiran.

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