Unearthing giants; post-cranial evidence of Gigantopithecus blacki in southern China

  • Westaway, Kira (Primary Chief Investigator)
  • Zhang, Yingqi (Chief Investigator)
  • Joannes-Boyau, Renaud (Chief Investigator)

Project: Research

Project Details

Description

Gigantopithecus blacki was the largest and most magnificent of all our primate ancestors and roamed the subtropical forests of southern China from ~2.0 million-300,000 years ago (Rink et al., 2008; Sun et al., 2014). An enigmatic and mysterious hominoid that is unique amongst all fossil and living apes (Ciochon et al., 1990) and the only hominid to have gone extinct in the Pleistocene. All other genera of great apes (Pan, Gorilla, Pongo and Homo) are still around today, including our own species. Despite its inability to survive, this hominid, recently phylogenetically grouped with pongines (Welker et al., 2019), plays an important role in the primate family tree. But we understand very little of its morphology and behaviour, thus making it challenging to establish its place in the human evolutionary story. Its limited fossil record, even with over 85 years of searching, is restricted to four mandibles and almost two thousand isolated teeth (Zhang et al. 2016; Zhang & Harrison 2017). No post-cranial material has ever been found, this means that its size, morphology and behaviour are only estimations, which remains a large gap in our understanding of this mighty giant. The hunt for post-cranial G. blacki material is paramount for understanding its evolution, its ecology, its survival and ultimately its extinction. This project builds on 12 years of exploration and excavation in the Chongzuo region of China to unearth post-cranial G. blacki. It aims to excavate and date two caves within the same tower karst, which present the greatest opportunity since work started for discovering post-cranial material. This potential discovery will help us to understand the most mysterious and elusive of all the primate family.

Short titleUnearthing giants
StatusActive
Effective start/end date1/09/211/09/22