Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: Cast of a lower jawbone of the largest ape ever (Pleistocene, southern China)

March 17th, 2013

Gigantopithecus_blacki_mandible_010112The above is one of my favorite “fossils”, a commercially-available cast of the lower jawbone of Gigantopithecus blacki, a giant extinct ape. It was produced from an actual Pleistocene fossil found in a cave near Liucheng, Guangxi, in southern China. I like it especially because it is sometimes associated with the mythical “Bigfoot”.

Gigantopithecus blacki was the largest ape that ever lived: up to three meters tall and weighing over 500 kilograms. (G. blacki is known only from teeth and mandibles such as that shown above, so these size estimates are based on scaling.) It was a contemporary with early versions of our own species, which must have led to a few astounding encounters for our ancestors. G. blacki was two or three times heavier than the largest gorillas today.

Gigantopithecus blacki appears to have lived in bamboo forests. Striations on its teeth, and the occasional phytolith stuck in the enamel, shows that this species was a vegetarian. It may have even had a lifestyle much like today’s pandas.

The molars of Gigantopithecus blacki look surprisingly like ours with their multiple cusps and broad surfaces. This is the result of convergent evolution and not an indication of a recent common ancestry. (They are analogous features, not homologous.) G. blacki is now classified in the Subfamily Ponginae with their cousins the orangutans.

What is most fun about Gigantopithecus these days is its association with the “Bigfoot” illusion. Look at how seriously the people at the “Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization” take the possible connection of Gigantopithecus and Bigfoot. Despite their objections, we really can wonder why we’ve never found evidence of this giant ape in North America, including bones, teeth, legitimate footprints or real photographs. A living three-meter tall ape is a bit difficult for science to have missed! (Unless, of course, Bigfoot has supernatural powers.)

References:

Coichon, R. 1991. The ape that was – Asian fossils reveal humanity’s giant cousin. Natural History 100: 54–62.

Ciochon, R., et al. 1996. Dated co-occurrence of Homo erectus and Gigantopithecus from Tham Khuyen Cave, Vietnam. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 93: 3016–3020.

Jin, C., et al. 2009. A newly discovered Gigantopithecus fauna from Sanhe Cave, Chongzuo, Guangxi, South China. Chinese Science Bulletin 54: 788-797.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply