How Gigantopithecus Became Extinct

We don't know about Sasquatch, but we know a giant ape we call Gigantopithecus roamed South Asia until about 300,000 years ago. Gigantopithecus resembled a ten-foot-tall orangutan and weighed about three times as much as a large gorilla. What happened to these great apes?
The features of the dentition—large, flat molars, thick dental enamel, a deep, massive jaw—indicate Gigantopithecus probably ate tough, fibrous plants (similar to Paranthropus). More evidence came in 1990, when Russell Ciochon, a biological anthropologist at the University of Iowa, and colleagues (PDF) placed samples of the ape’s teeth under a scanning electron microscope to look for opal phytoliths, microscopic silica structures that form in plant cells. Based on the types of phyoliths the researchers found stuck to the teeth, they concluded Gigantopithecus had a mixed diet of fruits and seeds from the fig family Moraceae and some kind of grasses, probably bamboo. The combination of tough and sugary foods helps explain why so many of the giant ape’s teeth were riddled with cavities. And numerous pits on Gigantopithecus‘s teeth—a sign of incomplete dental development caused by malnuntrition or food shortages—corroborate the bamboo diet. Ciochon’s team noted bamboo species today periodically experience mass die-offs, which affect the health of pandas. The same thing could have happened to Gigantopithecus.

Read more about Gigantopithecus at Smithsonian's Hominid Hunting blog. Link

(Image credit: Flickr user Lindsay Holmwood)

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