It is three meters tall and has up to three hundred kilograms of muscle covered in orange hair. These were the measurements of the largest primate to ever walk the Earth, Gigantopithecus.Gigantopithecus blackie). It lived in the forests of southeastern China hundreds of thousands of years ago and disappeared under mysterious circumstances. New study Led by Chinese and Australian scientists it has just been published in the journal nature Solves the mystery of the giant's disappearance that has been suggested as the origin of the Yeti legend.
Research on Gigantopithecus began in 1935, when German paleontologist Gustav Heinrich Ralph von Königswald bought some teeth that were supposed to be dragon teeth in a shop in Hong Kong. They were actually the teeth of a huge primate named A Gigantopithecus blackie. Since then, four jaws and two thousand pieces of teeth have been found in various caves in China.
A study of the proteins found in these remains, led by Catalan biologist Tomás Márquez y Bonet and published in 2019, placed this ape in the orangutan branch. They separated from it ten million years ago and evolved independently, retaining their resemblance, but also acquiring features close to those of other great apes such as gorillas and even humans
Destructive change in vegetation
To find the reason behind the giant's disappearance, scientists worked on three different fronts. First, they used six different dating techniques to place the fossil remains found in 11 caves back in time. “Without consistent dating, you are simply looking for clues in the wrong places,” Keira Westaway, a researcher at Macquarie University in Australia and co-author of the study, said in a statement. This allowed them to see that over time, there were fewer and fewer remains of Gigantopithecus, until it disappeared sometime between 295,000 and 215,000 years ago.
They then analyzed pollen remains in the sediments where the primate fossils were found and concluded that there had been a change in vegetation. Two million years ago, the time when the oldest giant fossils were found, the region's landscape consisted mostly of moist forests with some patches of grassland and enjoyed stable climate conditions throughout the year.
According to anatomical studies of the oldest teeth, the giant found that fruits and other plant foods are very rich in fiber. But between 700,000 and 600,000 years ago, vegetation changed and grasslands gave way to forests. Under these conditions, water ceased to be an abundant resource and the seasons began to differentiate.
To study the effects of this change in the numbers of the giant ape, the researchers analyzed the teeth and compared them with the remains of the teeth of the orangutan that lived with this giant ape at that time. Bongo Willow Ritchie. Evidence of a low-diversity, water-poor diet as well as signs of stress were found in the teeth of the younger giant, while orangutan teeth showed none of these signs.
Everything suggests, then, that the giant, a primate that specialized in feeding on fruits, was unable to adapt to consume food sources in the new environment, such as tubers. In the few remaining forested areas, it was unable to reach all the fruits either because its enormous size prevented it from climbing trees. Orangutans, on the other hand, adapted to a more flexible diet and continued to eat fruit they obtained from the treetops. “J Blackie “It was a great specialist who, compared to orangutans, had greater flexibility in adaptation, which ultimately led to extinction,” said paleontologist from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and co-author of the work Yingqi Zhang.
“The article is very interesting, because in the case of the giant, dates were one of the things we were lacking,” says Jordi Serralunga, an archaeologist, naturalist, explorer and professor at the Open University of Catalonia and the Autonomous University of Barcelona. “Changing the vegetation is key, because primates are basically vegetarians,” he adds.
Serralunga wrote the book with writer Gabe Martinez Invisible animals (Nórdica Libros and Capitán Swing, 2021), in which they explore the lives of extinct, legendary or hard-to-see animals. A section of the book is devoted to the yeti, a mythical being once associated with the giant. In fact, Serralunga explains, “In Bhutan, when people reproduce the yeti’s face, it looks very similar to a primate’s face.”
In order for the hypothesis that the giant is the origin of the Iceman legend to gain credibility, it will be necessary to find fossil evidence that this giant ape lived with humans in the region. Dating the giant's extinction to more than 200,000 years ago, the new study suggests, further complicates the matter because, in principle, A wise man They did not reach Asia until 80 thousand years ago. However, the result is based on the remains of 11 caves. There may be more that have yet to be found. “I always say that it is necessary to continue research because the Himalayas are very large and perhaps fossil remains of gigantopitecus from a more recent era can be found,” says Serralunga.