Eugene Dubois

From Academic Kids

Eugene Dubois (January 28, 1858 - December 16, 1940) was a Dutch anatomist, who earned world-wide fame with the discovery of Homo erectus in Java in 1891.

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Eugene Dubois

Eugene Dubois was born in the town of Eijsden in the Netherlands in 1858. The son of a pharmacist, he was fascinated by natural history from an early age. He was excellent student and graduated as a doctor in 1884. Shortly after graduating he was appointed an anatomy lecturer at Amsterdam University where he taught anatomy. But his real interest lay elsewhere, so, only a year later he gave it up to go to the Dutch East Indies ( Indonesia) in search of the remains of the missing link between human and ape.

He first chose the East Indies because, like Darwin and many others, he felt that humans had evolved in the tropics. He believed that humans were closely related to gibbons, which are found in Indonesia. A fossil ape that had been found in India also encouraged him to believe that Asia would be a good place to look for hominid fossils. And, as a Dutchman, a Dutch colony like Indonesia was a convenient place for him to live and work.

Dubois joined the Dutch Army as a medical officer, and he and his wife and baby arrived at the island of Sumatra in December 1887. When he had spare time from his medical duties, he searched for fossils. Early results were promising, and the government assigned him two engineers and 50 forced labourers to help him, but the results were disappointing due to the difficult conditions. The region was densely forested without paths, water was short, one of the engineers was transferred because he was useless and the other one died, and many of his labourers ran away or were sick. Some fossils were found, but they were of fairly recent date.

Dubois decided prospects would be better in Java, and got himself transferred there in 1890. One reason for going there had been a human skull which a mining engineer had found at Wadjak in 1888. Dubois started searching in the same place, and found a second less complete skull. Following this, he started searching in more open areas, especially a site on the banks of the Solo River which proved productive. Once again, he had been assigned two engineers and a crew of convict labourers to help him. (This time the engineers were both competent and managed to stay alive.)

In September 1890, his workers found a human, or human-like, fossil at Koedoeng Broeboes. This consisted of the right side of the chin of a lower jaw and three attached teeth. In August 1891 he found a primate molar tooth. Two months later and one meter away was found an intact skullcap, the fossil which would be known as Java Man. In August 1892, a third primate fossil, an almost complete left thigh bone, was found between 10 and 15 meters away from the skullcap.

In 1894 Dubois published a description of his fossils, naming them Pithecanthropus erectus, describing it as neither ape nor human, but something intermediate. In 1895 he returned to Europe to promote the fossil and his interpretation. A few scientists enthusiastically endorsed Dubois' work, but most disagreed with his interpretation. Almost everyone agreed that the femur was effectively indistinguishable from a human femur, but it was widely doubted whether it had, as Dubois claimed, come from the same individual as the skullcap. Some French scientists cautiously accepted that Dubois might be right. German scientists tended to the view that the skullcap was that of a giant ape such as a gibbon, while English scientists tended to view it as a human, coming from either a primitive or a pathological individual, but there were plenty of other opinions. Many scientists pointed out similarities between the Java Man skullcap and Neandertal fossils.

He worked in Sumatra and Java from 1888 to 1895 for the Dutch colonial administration and discovered in a three year period starting from 1891 to 1893 remain of Homo erectus (Java Man) near the village of Trinil, Java. The remains included skull cap, femur, and a few molars and Dubois was convinced that he had found the missing link.

On his return to Europe in 1895 and actively promoted his 'missing link theory'. This was the first evidence of human evolution, although some scientists supported him but most were skeptical. Dismayed by the poor reception, he buried the specimens he had collected under his floorboards and refused to show them to anyone and moved to other areas of research. By the time his theory gained acceptance he had already changed his Dubois nl:Eugene Dubois ja:ユージン・デュポア sv:Eugne Dubois


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