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Gigantopithecus ("giant ape") was a large ape that might have been able to walk bipedally. It lived in China, India, and other parts of southeast Asia. There are a total of three species of Gigantopithecus, the most famous being Gigantopithecus blacki. It is believed that this animal ate bamboo as do pandas and was a relative of the orang utan of Sumatra and Borneo. It live alongside a species of primitive man known as Homo habilis that lived in Asia at the same time, 4 - 1 million years ago. Some have suggested that this ape still exists, stalking the Himalayas as the Yeti and the bamboo forests of China as the Yeren. Some researchers take this even further by suggesting it crossed the Bering Land Bridge into North America, establishing itself as the well-known Sasquatch, or Bigfoot.
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.
Characteristics of the genusEdit
Gigantopithecus's method of locomotion is uncertain, as no pelvic or leg bones have been found. The dominant view is that it walked on all fours like modern gorillas and chimpanzees; however, a minority opinion favor bipedal locomotion, most notably championed by the late Grover Krantz, but it should be noted that this assumption is based only on the very few jawbone remains found, all of which are U-shaped and widen towards the rear. This allows room for the windpipe to be within the jaw, allowing the skull to sit squarely upon a fully-erect spine like modern humans, rather than roughly in front of it, like the other great apes.
There are presently three (extinct) named species of Gigantopithecus: Gigantopithecus blacki, Gigantopithecus bilaspurensis, and Gigantopithecus giganteus.
Gigantopithecus blacki (Greek and Latin for "Black's Giant Ape") is an extinct species of ape. The only known fossils of G. blacki are a few teeth and mandibles found in cave sites in Southeast Asia. As the name suggests, these are appreciably larger than those of living gorillas, but the exact size and structure of the rest of the body can only be estimated in the absence of additional findings. Dating methods have shown that G. blacki existed for about a million years, going extinct about 100,000 years ago after having been contemporary with (anatomically) modern humans (Homo sapiens) for tens of thousands of years, and co-existing with H. erectus before the appearance of H. sapiens.
Based on the fossil evidence, it is believed that adult male Gigantopithecus blacki stood about 3 m (9.8 ft) tall and weighed as much as 540 kg (1,200 lb), 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[weasel words] that it is more likely that Gigantopithecus was much smaller, at roughly 1.8 m (5.9 ft).
The species lived in Asia and probably inhabited bamboo forests, since its fossils are often found alongside those of extinct ancestors of the panda. Most evidence points to Gigantopithecus being a plant-eater.
Its appearance is not known, because of the fragmentary nature of its fossil remains. It is possible that it resembled modern gorillas, because of its supposedly similar lifestyle. Some scientists, however, think that it probably looked more like its closest modern relative, the orangutan. Being so large, it is possible that Gigantopithecus had few or no enemies when fully grown. However, younger, weak or injured individuals may have been vulnerable to predation by tigers, pythons, crocodiles, Dinofelis, hyenas, bears, and Homo erectus.
In the past, it had been thought that G. blacki was an ancestor of humans, on the basis of molar evidence; this is now regarded a result of convergent evolution. G. blacki is now placed in the subfamily Ponginae along with the orangutan.
Gigantopithecus bilaspurensis is a very large fossil ape identified from a few jaw bones and teeth from India. G. bilaspurensis lived about 6 to 9 million years ago in the Miocene. It is related to Gigantopithecus blacki.
Gigantopithecus giganteus is a large extinct species of ape that lived in what is now India. This animal is known only from teeth and jawbones. Based on the slim fossil finds, it was a large, ground-dwelling herbivore that ate primarily bamboo and foliage. It was approximately half the size of its Chinese relative, Gigantopithecus blacki.
Also a recent fossil was found (2000) with another fossil of a different species inside of it (the specimen has yet to be identified) which poses that they might have been carnivores.
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.
There is evidence that Gigantopithecus co-existed with early Homo sapiens but the cryptozoological theories that gigantopithecines survived to this day as creatures such as Sasquatch or Yeti are generally rejected as pseudoscientific.