Gigantopithecus

Gigantopithecus

[jahy-gan-toh-pi-thee-kuhs, -pith-i-kuhs, ji-]

Gigantopithecus is an extinct genus of ape that existed from roughly one million years to as recently as three-hundred thousand years ago, in what is now China, India, and Vietnam, placing Gigantopithecus in the same time frame and geographical location as several hominid species. The fossil record suggests that the Gigantopithecus blacki species were the largest apes that ever lived, standing up to and weighing up to .

Fossil remains

The first Gigantopithecus remains described by an anthropologist were found in 1935 by Ralph von Koenigswald in an apothecary shop, fossilized teeth and bones are often ground into powder and used in some branches of Traditional Chinese medicine. Von Koenigswald named the theorized species Gigantopithecus.

Since then relatively few fossils of Gigantopithecus have been recovered. Aside from the molars recovered in Chinese traditional medicine shops, Liucheng Cave in Liuzhou, China has produced numerous Gigantopithecus blacki teeth as well as several jawbones. Other sites yielding significant finds were in Vietnam and India. These finds suggest the range of Gigantopithecus was southeast Asia.

In 1955 forty-seven Gigantopithecus blacki teeth were found among a shipment of 'dragon bones' in China. Tracing these teeth to their source resulted in recovery of more teeth and a rather complete large mandible. By 1958, three mandibles and more than 1,300 teeth had been recovered. Gigantopithecus remains have come from sites in the Hubei Province, Guangxi Province and Sichuan Province--from warehouses for Chinese medicinal products as well as from cave deposits. Not all Chinese remains have been dated to the same time period, and the fossils in Hubei appear to be of a later date than elsewhere in China. The Hubei teeth are also larger.

Morphology

Based on the fossil evidence, it is believed that adult male Gigantopithecus blacki stood about tall and weighed as much as , making the species two to three times heavier than modern gorillas and nearly five times heavier than the orangutan, its closest living relative. The species was highly sexually dimorphic, with adult females roughly half the weight of males. Due to wide interspecies differences in the relationship between tooth and body size, some argue that it is more likely that Gigantopithecus was much smaller, at roughly .

Evidence of a separate species, Gigantopithecus giganteus, has been found in northern India and China. In the Guangxi region of China, teeth of this species were discovered in limestone formations in Daxin and Wuming, north of Nanning. Despite the name, it is believed that giganteus was approximately half the size of blacki.

The jaws of Gigantopithecus are deep and very thick. The molars are low crowned and flat and exhibit heavy enamel suitable for tough grinding. The premolars are broad and flat and configured similarly to the molars. The canine teeth are neither pointed nor sharp, while the incisors are small, peglike and closely aligned. The features of teeth and jaws suggested that the animal was adapted to chewing tough, fibrous food by cutting, crushing and grinding it. Gigantopithecus teeth also have a large number of cavities, similar to those found in giant pandas, whose diet, which includes a large amount of bamboo, may be similar to that of Gigantopithecus.

In addition to bamboo, Gigantopithecus consumed other vegetable foods, a fact proven by the analysis of the phytoliths adhering to its teeth. An examination of the microscopic scratches and gritty plant remains embedded in Gigantopithecus teeth suggests that they ingested seeds and fruit as well as bamboo.

Although it is not known why Gigantopithecus died out, researchers believe that climate change and resource competition with better adapted species were the main culprits.

Gigantopithecines in cryptozoology

Some cryptozoologists believe gigantopithecines are the legendary primates known in various geographic locations as Bigfoot, Yowie, Yeren, Skunk Ape or Yeti.

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